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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Yellow wood sorrel

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Aug 27, 2014 at 18:08:41 PM CDT

Today's featured plant is native to much of North America and is edible in limited quantities. In fact, one experienced forager called this plant and its close relatives "my favorite wild edible." After the jump I've enclosed several pictures of Yellow wood sorrel (Oxalis stricta).

As a bonus, I included two shots of American bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum), one of my all-time favorite Iowa wildflowers. It's a common sight in wooded areas and along many shady bike trails throughout the summer.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Hoary vervain

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Aug 20, 2014 at 20:47:02 PM CDT

A native or restored prairie in full late summer glory is gorgeous, but I also have a soft spot for wildflowers that can survive some of the toughest conditions humans have inflicted on the landscape. Today's featured plant flourishes in overgrazed pastures and on roadsides with poor soil, and is native to most of the continental United States. After the jump I've posted several pictures of Hoary vervain (Verbena stricta), which blooms across most of Iowa from late June to September.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: St. John's Wort

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Aug 13, 2014 at 14:10:00 PM CDT

Today's featured wildflower has been used medicinally for thousands of years and is still a common herbal remedy for depression. That said, St. John's Wort can limit the effectiveness of many prescription medications, and some drug interactions could even be dangerous.

The St. John's Wort family (Hypericaceae) includes Spotted St. John's Wort (Hypericum punctatum), which is native to most of the eastern U.S., and Common St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum), a European native that has spread across most of North America. The plants are easily confused, because common St. John's Wort can also have spots, though more faint than on spotted St. John's Wort.

I think the photographs I've posted below depict common St. John's Wort. The Illinois Wildflowers website describes the leaves and flowers in detail and notes that the plant is common in "mesic to dry sand prairies, barren savannas, degraded weedy meadows, gravelly areas along railroads and roadsides, pastures and abandoned fields, and sterile waste areas. There is a preference for disturbed areas with little vegetation." That description applies to the part of the Meredith bike trail where I took these pictures a few weeks ago. Note to farmers: sheep and goats "readily graze" this plant but can die from a toxic reaction. Because common St. John's Wort can be invasive, it is considered a noxious weed in some states to the west of Iowa.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Partridge pea

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Aug 06, 2014 at 20:49:47 PM CDT

Iowa naturalist Eileen Miller has graciously contributed more of her photographs and commentary for this week's wildflower diary. Today's featured plant is Partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata). In the pictures after the jump, you can see the bright yellow flowers and frequent pollinators in incredible detail. For central Iowans who want to get a closer look at this plant, lots of partridge pea are blooming near the south edge of Gray's Lake in Des Moines, and along the Meredith bike trail nearby.

Until I read Eileen's text, I never knew that partridge pea plants produce nectar outside the flowers.

This post is also an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Tall cinquefoil

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 30, 2014 at 22:01:00 PM CDT

Today's featured plant is native to most of North America and can thrive in a wide variety of soils and habitats. After the jump I've posted several pictures of tall cinquefoil (Potentilla arguta), a member of the rose family also known as white cinquefoil or prairie cinquefoil.

This post also serves as a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Wild petunia, plus May apple with fruit

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 23, 2014 at 20:22:00 PM CDT

This week's featured flower resembles a common garden planting, but wild petunia (Ruellia humilis) is native to much of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. In Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie, Sylvan Runkel and Dean Roosa note that this plant can grow "in a variety of habitats, from open woodlands to moist prairies to sand plains." According to Iowa naturalist Leland Searles, the petunias often grown in gardens are in the nightshade family (Solanaceae) and have alternate leaves. Wild petunia is a member of the acanthus family (Acanthaceae) and has opposite leaves.

Also known as hairy wild petunia, this plant isn't hard to grow in a garden, according to the Illinois Wildflowers website. A related species called smooth wild petunia has similar blossoms but smooth leaves.

I've posted below several pictures of wild petunia blooming, along with a couple of flowers I hope the Bleeding Heartland community will help me identify. As a bonus, I included a shot of fruit growing on May apples, also known as umbrella plants. May apples are one of my favorite spring wildflowers, but deer or other wildlife tend to eat all the fruit from the plants closest to my corner of Windsor Heights. I was lucky to find a stand of untouched May apples a couple of weeks ago while hunting for black raspberries. Supposedly you can make preserves from ripe May apple fruit, but I've never tried it, nor have I tried eating the fruit raw. This blogger found out the hard way that the seeds are toxic.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Yellow jewelweed (Pale touch-me-not)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 22:57:41 PM CDT

Dry and unseasonably cool weather has made this a perfect week to get out and see summer wildflowers. One of my summer favorites, American bellflower, is prevalent along most of the wooded trails in central Iowa. Dozens of prairie flower species are in bloom, and you can find many in small city plantings (for instance, around Gray's Lake in Des Moines and on nearby trails) if you don't have time to get to a native or restored prairie.

This week's featured native plant thrives in wooded areas where the ground is moist, and prefers partial sun. Yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) is also commonly known as pale touch-me-not or pale jewelweed. It's reportedly less common than orange jewelweed, a closely related plant. For centuries, various Native American tribes used jewelweed to soothe itches from poison ivy rashes, mosquito bites, and hives. I know hikers who swear by it. Conveniently, the plant often grows near poison ivy and stinging nettle, legendary skin irritants. This post on Nature Labs explains how to use jewelweed and includes more detail on its medicinal properties.

Incidentally, the common name "touch-me-not" doesn't mean plants in this family are harmful to touch. Rather, the name was inspired by "the sensitive triggering of seeds from the ripe capsule," which tends to explode when touched.  

After the jump I've enclosed several photos of yellow jewelweed, growing along a stretch of the Windsor Heights bike trail. Although I've walked or ridden my bicycle by the spot literally hundreds of times in the last dozen years, I never noticed this plant growing there until this summer--which should come in handy, now that the mosquitoes are out in force.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: White avens and black raspberries

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 09, 2014 at 21:59:30 PM CDT

This week, Bleeding Heartland features two native plants that are hallmarks of early summer in Iowa woodlands. Both are members of the rose family, and both are frequently found along woodland edges, stream banks or fence rows. They prefer dappled sunlight rather than full sun or deep shade.

Follow me after the jump for pictures of white avens and black raspberries. The white avens are blooming all over the place now. Raspberry shrubs flower in the late spring but produce their ripened fruit around late June or early July.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Purple meadow rue

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jul 02, 2014 at 21:39:10 PM CDT

Most of Iowa will get a break from the rain over the next few days, and temperatures will be milk, so I hope many of you will be able to spend time outdoors over the holiday weekend. A huge variety of summer wildflowers are blooming in Iowa woodlands and prairies. The most conspicuous include masses of elderberry bushes flowering along central Iowa bike trails and stream banks, and butterfly milkweed, forming clusters of bright orange in prairies and along some roads and highways.

Today's featured wildflower can grow in many different habitats, including wet prairies, meadows, swamps, or woodlands, especially lowland woods near streams. I found this patch of purple meadow rue (Thalictrum dasycarpum) a few weeks ago along the Clive Greenbelt trail, between 86th St and 100th St.

This is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Wild rose

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 25, 2014 at 21:53:02 PM CDT

Since I started Bleeding Heartland's weekly wildflower series in 2012, I've planned to feature Iowa's state flower, the wild rose. However, for whatever reason I never ran across this plant at the peak of its blooming period when I had my camera handy. This year I was determined to catch some wild rose blossoms, so a couple of weeks ago I headed down to the Stamps Family Farm near Chariton (Lucas County), having received a tip that roses were flowering. Fortunately for me, the rain let up just before I arrived.

After the jump I've enclosed photographs of native wild roses, along with a few pictures of multiflora roses. Rosa multiflora is considered an invasive species in much of North America, native to eastern Asia and brought here "as garden plants and as root stock for ornamental roses." It's on the noxious weed list of Iowa and several neighboring states and is a common sight out in the country.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Hoary puccoon and fringed puccoon

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 18, 2014 at 14:05:00 PM CDT

Thanks to Iowa naturalist Eileen Miller, Bleeding Heartland is able to feature two more native plants I've never seen in person--only in wildflower guides. Eileen contributed the commentary about hoary puccoon and fringed puccoon as well as the beautiful photographs below.

This is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Beardtongue (Penstemon)

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 11, 2014 at 21:24:28 PM CDT

This week's featured wildflower can be grown in gardens without too much trouble and is popular with many species of bees. According to Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands by Sylvan Runkel and Alvin Bull, Penstemon species are commonly called beardtongue because "One of the five stamens is sterile and does not produce pollen. It is often modified into a hairy or bearded tongue and probably attracts insects." The blue or purple lines sometimes seen inside the tubular flowers are also believed to "function as nectar guides to visiting insects."

After the jump I've enclosed several pictures of beardtongue in bloom, not far from Gray's Lake in Des Moines. The last two photos show this wildflower near other plants I haven't identified. If you know what they are, please post a comment in this thread or send me an e-mail: desmoinesdem AT yahoo.com.

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Golden Corydalis

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Jun 04, 2014 at 18:21:00 PM CDT

To match this exciting week in Iowa politics, it's only fitting to share an exciting wildfower. Eileen Miller contributed the spectacular photographs of Golden Corydalis (Corydalis aurea), as well as the commentary. Although this plant is native to Iowa and much of North America, I've never seen it in real life--only in wildflower guides.

This post is also an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Golden Alexanders

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 28, 2014 at 20:45:00 PM CDT

Today's featured wildflower comes courtesy of Leland Searles, a photographer, birder, naturalist, Iowa Master Conservationist, Master River Steward, and owner of the ecological consulting firm Leeward Ecology. He contributed the photographs and commentary below about Golden Alexanders, a brilliant yellow spring wildflower. You can view more of his photography here. Lee also put together the Raccoon River Watershed Phenology calendar, which is a must-have for Iowans who love native plants and any wildlife (mammals, birds, reptiles, insects).

This post is also a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Violets

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 21, 2014 at 20:15:00 PM CDT

After dandelions, violets may be the native plants most frequently spotted on Iowa homeowners' lawns. While we usually think of violets as being blue or purple, I've also seen many yellow and white violets around the neighborhood and along bike paths. According to Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands by Sylvan Rukel and Alvin Bull, "Numerous [violet] species found in the state are highly variable and frequently hybridize. Identification is highly technical." So, I haven't attempted to figure out which species in the large Viola family are represented in the pictures below. They have one thing in common: heart-shaped leaves with toothed edges. These leaves often remain long after violets have stopped blooming in early to mid-summer.

Violets have frequently been used in traditional medicine and in some modern herbal remedies, but I've never tried ingesting any form of this plant.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Swamp buttercup

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 14, 2014 at 20:06:00 PM CDT

Warm, dry weather is in the forecast for most of Iowa later this week, so it's a perfect time to go look for spring wildflowers in parks and along trails. Today's featured wildflower is a buttercup I spotted along the Bill Riley trail in Des Moines, in between Greenwood Park and Water Works Park. Several photos are after the jump. At the end of this post, I couldn't resist including one shot of swamp buttercup next to what may be the most despised Iowa wildflower.

Morel mushroom hunters have been finding treasures in Iowa woods this past week, or so I hear. If you come across any garlic mustard while you're out and about, now's the time to pull this invasive plant up and throw it away in garbage bags. Recent rains will have loosened the soil, and the garlic mustard roots are not too deep to pull out. Also, while I've seen many plants flowering, I haven't seen any gone to seed so far this year.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.  

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Snow trillium

by: desmoinesdem

Wed May 07, 2014 at 20:25:12 PM CDT

At this time of year, I love seeing the native plants change almost daily. On the Bill Riley bike trail in Des Moines yesterday, I saw lots of violets, bluebells, spring beauties, toothwort, dogtooth violets, and some buttercups that Bleeding Heartland will cover next Wednesday. In our corner of Windsor Heights we are seeing most of the above, as well as the first Jack-in-the-pulpits, bellwort, sweet William (phlox), and littleleaf buttercups blooming. Buds are developing on May apples, wild geranium, Virginia waterleaf, and even Solomon's seal. I have trouble identifying birds and insects, but we are seeing a wider variety of both, including a red admiral today. Here's the latest central Iowa butterfly forecast.

Today, Bleeding Heartland reader Eileen Miller has shared some of her photographs of snow trillium, a beautiful early spring wildflower. I've seen these blooming along the Living History Farms woodland trail (between the 1850 farm and the 1900 farm), but I've never captured good shots of them. Eileen's description of this flower is after the jump, along with her pictures.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Hepatica

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 30, 2014 at 18:22:54 PM CDT

Naturalist and Iowa outdoor enthusiast Eileen Miller has given Bleeding Heartland permission to publish her gorgeous photographs of an early spring wildflower: Hepatica. (Common variants include Hepatica nobilis and Hepatica americana). This plant can flower anytime between March and June in Iowa woodlands. This year, it started blooming relatively late because of the harsh winter.

After the jump I've posted Eileen's photographs, along with her descriptions of the plant, its stages of growth, and its pollinators. I've never managed to get such clear shots of insects on wildflowers.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday returns: Virginia bluebells

by: desmoinesdem

Wed Apr 23, 2014 at 15:56:42 PM CDT

After a brutal winter and an unusually cold March, I'm more happy than ever to see early spring wildflowers. Two weeks ago, nothing was blooming yet around my corner of Windsor Heights. About ten days ago I finally saw the first blossoms on bloodwort, which can sometimes flower in mid-March. Within the past week I've seen the first Dutchman's breeches, rue anemone, toothwort, and even a dogtooth violet flowering. I've heard reports of spring beauties opening up in central Iowa, but haven't seen any in bloom yet.

The star of today's diary may be the Iowa wildflower most commonly planted in gardens. Thomas Jefferson himself cultivated the plant at Monticello. In fact, many people are unaware that Virginia bluebells (more commonly known simply as bluebells) are a native plant in Iowa. But you can find them in wooded areas, and they will spread easily across your yard if you give them free roam and have enough moisture in your soil. Photos of this stunning flower are after the jump.

This post doubles as a mid-week open thread: all topics welcome.

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Weekend open thread: Nature in winter

by: desmoinesdem

Sun Dec 22, 2013 at 16:50:00 PM CST

What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? Across central and parts of eastern Iowa, today was this winter's first good sledding opportunity. But road conditions are iffy, and tomorrow's high temperatures will be in the single digits, so be careful if you need to venture out. Earlier this month, I posted a bunch of winter safety links here.

Today's Sunday Des Moines Register includes a feature by Mike Kilen on Leland Searles' Raccoon River Watershed Phenology calendar. In a blatant play for the reader's attention, Kilen led with the calendar's many references to animal mating. This calendar is a fantastic resource for Iowans interested in birds or native plants. You can order copies here; part of the proceeds go to the non-profit Raccoon River Watershed Association.

The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round, and they have snowshoes for visitors to borrow if you want to explore the prairie. Highly recommended. The center also holds some special events during the winter, including a guided snowshoe hike on December 28 and a bird count scheduled for January 4.

I just learned about this website containing links to Iowa natural areas, including marshes, prairie remnants and fens as well as state parks and preserves.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

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