Plant of the Week

Plant of the Week- Gromwells

The grass is green and the forbs are flowery.  I have no excuses.

It’s time for “Plant of the Week” again.  Say “hello” to my yellow friend, the Gromwell.

One of the first yellow flowers in the Sandhills.  Gromwells (also called Hoary Puccoons).

One of the first yellow flowers in the Sandhills. Gromwells (also called Hoary Puccoons).

The Gromwell flowers early in the spring- it (and the mustards) are usually the first shot of color.

The flowers are rich and saturated in their yellow.  Each flower has 5 petals.  The dark green leaves are rough, like a cat’s tongue.  In the fall, the leaves turn brown and curl.  At the base of the leaf (where the leaf attaches to the stem) a small, white, and hard seed will form.

Scientific name: Lithospermum canescens.

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Plant of the Week- Common Evening Primrose

The cool and wet spring and summer have been good for the “Common Evening Primrose”.  (I used to hate writing this long name on our high school range judging score cards- there just wasn’t enough room on the little space for the name.)

Common evening primroseThe road ditches are full of the bright yellow flowers.  The color is bright and clean and refreshing against the dark green grass leaves.  However, I would never want to paint my walls this color.

Also known as the “Fourcorner Evening Primrose” because of the four yellow petals.

This plant is a biennial, meaning the plant only lives for two years. Most biennials flower the second year.

The flowers will turn into green bananas, full of seeds.  I’ve also heard this referred to as the “Banana Plant”.

Did the primose do well at your place?

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Plant of the Week- Needleandthread

Let’s continue on our journey of Plant ID with another cool-season, bunch grass.

This grass is a favorite among youngsters, especially if you have siblings.

Needleandthread seedheadYes, I’m talking about “Needleandthread”.  Those seeds with the long awns and sharp tip turn brown and harden as the summer progresses.

Most ranch kids remember riding through the pasture, reaching off their saddle, grabbing and grabbing until you had a nice handful of needleandthread seeds, and then loping past your brother (or sister).  If you were good (and they weren’t paying attention), you could get a perfect bulleyes of hundreds of “needles” stuck in the back of their shirt.

Of course, your siblings will retaliate and get even with you.  They might even gang up on you.  Do you take blow after blow of needles?  This is why you ride the fastest horse…to run away.

For the more mature rancher, needleandthread is an excellent source of protein and energy early in the spring.  So how do you tell if you have needleandthread without the seedhead?

It grows in a bunch.

It heads out in the spring- usually May.

It has a ligule.  This is the best way to tell.

Needleandthread liguleSee that paper-like thing sticking up?  That is called a “ligule”.  When you pull down the leaf blade, the paper rabbit ears stick out.

Ligule = Needleandthread.  (Of course other plants have ligules, but not very many.)

So go forth, and commence impaling your siblings with nature’s darts!

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Plant of the Week- Prairie Junegrass

Thank you to my loyal reader who reminded me it is summer and “Plant of the Week” should include some grasses.

Here is the first 2014 “Plant of the Week”.  I boycotted anything house remodeling related this week and got outside to take some grass pictures.

Prairie Junegrass is a bunchgrass, which means it only reproduces through seeds.  And it grows in a bunch.

Prairie JunegrassTrue to its name, Prairie Junegrass puts up seedheads in June.  These seedhead are pollinating, so they are bushy and yellow.  Once pollination is over, the seedheads will close up and turn a brownish-tan color.

This is a very hard plant for me to identify if there is not a seedhead.  The leaves are shorter, fleshy, and deeply veined.  No ligules or auricles or special color.

Prairie junegrass is tasty to cattle, so if a pasture is overgrazed you won’t see this plant, or at least just the leaves.

There are just a few cool-season grasses that cattle LOVE in the Sandhills.  They prefer to eat them before the seedhead comes out, when it is just leaves.  Prairie junegrass is one of them.  Needleandthread and western wheatgrass are the others.

Cool-season grasses like to grow during Warm Days and Cool Nights.  They also like water and need good spring rains (and previous fall rains) to take off.  We have had all three, so the junegrass is looking good this year.Size reference P JunegrassPrairie junegrass is a short grass.  Only knee high to a toddler.

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First rose of the season

I saw my first prairie rose driving to work.

Think of the most wonderful meal you have ever eaten, the most beautiful painting you every saw… that is what roses do to your sense of smell.

Just look at those colors!  The rose ranges from pale pink to hot pink.

Just look at those colors! The rose ranges from pale pink to hot pink.

It is the most wonderful, hypnotic smell in the world.

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Plant of the Week- Cudweed Sagewort

It looks simple, plain, maybe even a little boring.

But crush the leaf of the Cudweed Sagewort and WHOOO-EEEE! The overwhelming smell of… Thanksgiving?

The aroma of turkey dressing, with flecks of celery, and fragrance of sage. The leaves smell like sage!

Baby cudweed

The name of this plant suddenly makes sense (haha- smelling “scents”- get it).

Loosely translated in Latin, “wort” means “in the leaf”. So sagewort means “sage in the leaf”.

Cudweed sagewort

Above is a picture of the sagewort as a mature plant with small seeds.

Warning: a little gal was doing some plant ID with me and swelled up like a balloon when she smelled the crushed leaves. So if you have allergies like she did, you might want to pass on the smell test.

If you don’t want to smell the leaves, you can identify the plant by its white-silver color. The leaves are also covered with small hairs.

Between the strong sage taste and the hairy feel of the leaves, Cudweed Sagewort is not the cattle’s favorite food to eat.

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Plant of the Week- Sand Bluestem

The Bluestem family covers the entire state, ranging from little bluestem (found in every county), big bluestem (found in wet meadows or farther east in better soils and more rain), or my favorite that lives only in the Sandhills of Nebraska.

Sand bluestem

Sand Bluestem!

Unlike its cousin (Big), Sand Bluestem is a icy, blue/grey colour. (I been reading a lot of Curious George lately and the British spelling is rubbing off on me!) The blue color is actually wax that you can rub off with your finger. The wax keeps the plant from losing water in the hot, hot sun.

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Big bluestem is a deeper, richer green and turns a dark red color in the fall.

Some call it “Turkey Track grass”, as the seedhead looks like a track left by a turkey foot. The seedhead is just starting to “fuzz” out. After frost, the seeds are fluffy and big, like a furry tan cat that licked an electrical socket.

Closeup sand bluestem

For now, the plant is pollinating. I feel sorry for all you out there with allergies. Even the Sand Bluestem is your nemesis!

Sand Bluestem is a vital grass to have on your grazing lands. It is a tall, warm season grass with lots of production in the summer. And what a variety of color for one grass!

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Plant of the Week- Goldenrods

Plants of the Week is back!

The fall is bringing in a combination of yellows, oranges, and reds.

This week, we focus on the YELLOW.

Stiff goldenrod

Yes, ladies and gentleman, the goldenrod! This particular goldenrod grows in the wetter bottoms or in better, clayey soil. The flowers make an umbrella shape.

I dug up a stiff goldenrod this spring and planted it in my flowerbed. It has done extremely well- the blooms are so heavy the flowers are bending over from the weight.

But if you are more interested in our state flower, here is Missouri goldenrod.
Stiff goldenrod

I also planted Missouri goldenrod in my flowerbed several years ago, after the invasion of grasshoppers ate every single flower I planted. (FYI- marigolds are not grasshopper intolerant.)

Unlike its cousin (Stiff), Missouri goldenrod is rhizomatous. That means it spreads through underground roots.

It has taken over my flowerbed.

The goldenrods are a bright, sunny yellow in the pastures right now. A beautiful state flower indeed.

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Plant of the Week- Annual Sunflower

We drove through the pastures in the Mule, and the sunflower pollen covered the dash. I had large yellow dots from holding ReeRee’s sunflowers on my jeans. Like dry powered paint dubs.

The sun sets through a field of annual sunflowers.

The sun sets through a field of annual sunflowers.

The sunflowers are “annuals” or grow every year from seed. There is another type of Sandhill sunflower called the “Stiff Sunflower”, but it is a perennial with a single flower at the top and the leave are straight across from each other on the stem.

The sunflower usually doesn’t bloom until late August, the same time we had to start back to country school. Some oldtimers say that means the rest of the summer will be hot and dry. Some oldtimers say it means it will be wet. I guess one of them is right…

So for now, just enjoy the colorful and abundant annual sunflower.

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Plant of the Week- Yuccas Gone Wild

Yuccas Gone Wild- the theme for 2013! The weather conditions and rains have been just right. I have never seen so many blooms on the yucca plants before.

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The yucca (also called “small soapweed”) has a huge root that taps into the groundwater, and long leaves with sharp ends, and in June the pale, creamy flower blooms. The yuccas can be quite tall (this year the blooms are over 4 foot tall).

The yucca are green all year, but in this picture (taken in May), the tall towers of waxy flowers are absent.

The yucca are green all year, but in this picture (taken in May), the tall towers of waxy flowers are absent.

There is a moth that only pollinates the yucca flowers. This moth then lays its eggs in the pods (that form later), and the larvae of the moth eats the seeds of the yucca. Kind of a weird setup, but both benefit from the arrangement.

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Cows love love love the pods that form (they look like a large green egg where each flower is). The cows will run to the yucca plant to eat flowers or the pods. Moving cows is difficult when pods are present, because the cows just camp out until they have eaten their fill.

Some ranchers call the towers of pods- “Cow Candy”.

If cows or other animals don’t eat the pods, the pods turn brown and the blackened seeds fall to the ground.

The flower, turned green pod, turns to a brown vessel in the fall.  You can see there are 6 places the very black seeds live.

The flower, turned green pod, turns to a brown vessel in the fall. You can see there are 6 places the very black seeds lived.

I collected seed for a professor in Illinios and it took forever to collect a handful of seeds. The larvae bored right through the middle of the seeds. Most of the seeds had already fell out, but one or two seeds would be left in the brown pods if you looked hard enough. He said the plants are doing great and all the seeds sprouted. He wondered how the yucca was not a noxious weed in the Sandhills. (I told him our rainfall and soil and his lack of grazing animals probably kept our numbers in check better.)

If you want to look like a very strong person, ask someone to pull off a yucca leaf from the outside of the plant. (They won’t be able to pull it out.) Then you reach inside, where the new growth and shorter leaves are, and these leaves will pull right out. Wear gloves though- those leaves will cut.

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