Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 17 comments

"Verbesina helianthoides. It's having a great year. My prairie reconstruction site has an increasing amount of it. This is the plant several sources claim is a "savanna" or "open woodland" plant, but it thrives in many prairies."

From the Diamond Grove Prairie southeast of Joplin, Missouri, that I visited on June 4, here’s a flowering colony of gravelweed, Verbesina helianthoides. If the genus name is familiar, you may be remembering the Verbesina virginica whose wintry ice trick I’ve documented in these pages several times. Below is a closer look at the faded and frazzled buckeye butterfly, Junonia coenia, that’s not easily noticed in the overview above.

Thanks to Scott Lenharth for identifying the gravelweed, also known as yellow crownbeard, about which he added the following:

It’s having a great year.  My prairie reconstruction site has an increasing amount of it.  This is the plant several sources claim is a “savanna” or “open woodland” plant, but it thrives in many prairies.

Verbesina helianthoides. It's having a great year. My prairie reconstruction site has an increasing amount of it. This is the plant several sources claim is a "savanna" or "open woodland" plant, but it thrives in many prairies.

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

July 2, 2016 at 5:11 AM

17 Responses

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  1. These certainly look bright and perky, but I found a description of their tendency to become ragged and unkempt over time: a bit like the butterfly. The name “gravelweed” reminds me of the silverleaf nightshade I found recently, growing straight up through the asphalt on the shoulder of the road.

    I’m glad for the link to Diamond Grove. My next trip has to be a trip to KC to visit my aunt, and Diamond Grove couldn’t be more convenient. A turn south rather than north, east of Joplin, and I’m there. I was interested to see that Diamond Grove contains “mima mounds” — the same as the pimple mounds at Nash that Bill Carr talks about here.


    July 2, 2016 at 6:47 AM

    • Even in this view I can feel that tendency of the flowers to get ragged and unkempt. I could say the same about the photographer.

      It’s always impressive, even if common, to see the way plants can grow up through seemingly daunting obstacles. For mountain pinks, for example, it’s a way of life. I’m glad you got to see it with a silverleaf nightshade.

      We’d hoped to get to Kansas City to say hi to a former student of mine who was just finishing his second year of seven in becoming a brain surgeon, but we didn’t make it that far west on this trip. How convenient for you that Diamond Grove is so close to your route to Kansas City. I wish I’d been able to spend more time there.

      I see that the photographer for the Bill Carr video was Lisa Spangler, whom I know well.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 2, 2016 at 7:04 AM

    • Check out Agnes’s comment below for more places to visit in that part of Missouri.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 2, 2016 at 8:01 AM

  2. So glad that you had a chance to visit Diamond Grove Prairie with Scott. He knows and loves the Missouri prairies just as he did the Texas prairies when he lived here. I just got back from a quick trip to Missouri but managed to squeeze in a nice visit with Scott. I introduced him to a small privately owned prairie not far from Diamond Grove. I hope to get back up there in the Fall. There is always something to see.

    For anyone interested in prairies, traveling to Missouri, check out both Missouri Department of Conservation and Missouri Prairie Foundation websites. All the prairies I’ve visited are open to wander at will. If you are in the Diamond Grove Prairie area, another great place to visit just a bit further east off the V Highway is the George Washington Carver National Monument. A great visitors center. He was a great man!


    July 2, 2016 at 7:49 AM

    • Yes, Scott e-mailed me to say you’d visited with him at Diamond Grove also. Too bad we couldn’t have synchronized our visits; it would’ve been just like old times, only on a different prairie. I was sorry not to have been able to stay longer but we had hundreds of miles still to drive that afternoon.

      Thanks for your references for other natural places in Missouri. It’s great that you’re going to go back in the fall.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 2, 2016 at 8:16 AM

    • Thanks for the added information, Agnes. I’m heading to Kansas City to visit an elderly aunt in the fall. My route takes me near Diamond Grove, and I’m planning to stop. I’ll have some time to explore further, so the websites you mentioned will be helpful. I’m very, very fond of “wandering at will.”


      July 9, 2016 at 7:43 AM

  3. That’s an interesting name for such an attractive flower. Until reading about it growing in savannas and woodlands, I would have guessed it to be a roadside plant growing in poor soils.

    That is a sad buckeye. I always wonder what story one of these damaged flutterbys would tell. Predator, flying through brambles, wind?

    Steve Gingold

    July 2, 2016 at 11:59 AM

    • Scott gave me the scientific name and when I looked it up I found that the common name is gravelweed. The Austin area has several dozen native species with “weed” in at least one of their common names, but none of them here are called gravelweed. Many of the “weeds” that we do have are attractive in spite of that epithet. Milkweed is a familiar example.

      As for the bedraggled buckeye, I’ve often noticed that butterflies in that condition still apparently function normally and seem to have no trouble flying about. They may, however, be nearing the ends of their lives.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 2, 2016 at 1:10 PM

      • Regarding the names, I don’t consider anything with the name “weed” to be a weed in the common sense. And, of course, there is this awesome piece of wisdom…”What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson

        Yes, I do think they function fully, although it might be a little tougher to attract a vain mate. Many have very short lives anyway although we all know that Monarchs survive long trips, no doubt with some loss of scales.

        Steve Gingold

        July 2, 2016 at 1:57 PM

        • Yay for Emerson. For several years I’ve thought of doing a photo book that would include only plants with “weed” in their name.

          Steve Schwartzman

          July 2, 2016 at 5:26 PM

  4. I often see butterflies whose wings look ragged like this. Is this just normal ‘wear and tear’?

    Birder's Journey

    July 2, 2016 at 5:08 PM

    • I don’t know much about butterflies but I’ve seen enough ragged ones to think it’s normal wear and tear. From a butterfly’s perspective it’s probably a good thing because the raggedness indicates a long life.

      Steve Schwartzman

      July 2, 2016 at 5:25 PM

  5. Now that is a handsome butterfly enjoying that gravel weed 😄


    July 4, 2016 at 1:47 AM

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