Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Cream wild indigo (Cream false indigo)

This week’s featured wildflower eluded me for years. The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge has some plantings near the nature center, and I’ve seen the seed pods during the summer, but every spring I miss the blooming period. Good fortune struck on the way home from the downtown Des Moines farmers market last Saturday. Approaching Gray’s Lake on the Meredith bike trail, I saw some bushy plants with ivory-colored flowers. John Pearson of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources later confirmed the ID as Cream wild indigo (Baptisia bracteata), also known as cream false indigo, longbract wild indigo, and plains wild indigo.

This "exquisite perennial" has been described as "a spectacular specimen in the flower garden." Cream wild indigo is native to most of the Midwest, plains and southern states. I enclose below more pictures of this "showy and attractive" prairie plant.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Showy Orchis, A Preacher in the Pulpit

I am thrilled to have Marla Mertz share her stunning pictures and description of a native plant I’ve never seen "in real life." -promoted by desmoinesdem

When someone comments about an orchid, what do you envision in your mind; beauty, grace, delicate, romantic, exotic, tropical? Seeing beautiful orchids in a gardening center or store, I always have to stop and look at each individual one. If I were to a choose one I don’t think I could…each one is more beautiful than the other. It becomes very personal and sometimes it takes a connection to one over the other.

Did you know that Iowa has 32 species of native orchids? According to Bill Witt, author of “Iowa’s Wild Orchids,” an article written for the Iowa Natural Heritage magazine, "Orchids are among the most prolific of all families in the plant kingdom. Over 20,000 species inhabit almost every imaginable habitat to be found between the polar ice caps, from cold, alpine regions to the deserts. Iowa’s orchids, too have matched themselves to just about every available niche, from the white oak swamps of Muscatine and Lee counties to the dry, windswept Loess Hills of Monona and Plymouth counties."

In 1995, I had the great opportunity to extend my career as the Naturalist for Marion County, Iowa. I had only been working out of the Cordova Park office a short while when a very kind gentleman stopped by to introduce himself and extend an invitation to come to his Christmas tree farm the following spring. He didn’t hold back his welcoming gesture and enthusiasm, and it wasn’t an invitation to see the trees, it was an invite to introduce me to a special woodland orchid growing on his farm called the Showy orchis.

This venture and the gentleman’s enthusiasm inspired a 20 year affair with the Showy orchis. I located one beautiful orchis at Cordova Park, which, unfortunately met its demise with some timber management and clearing. I didn’t know that the plant’s demise would create such personal turmoil. Over the course of the next 19 years I have tromped the earth at Cordova Park searching for more of these hidden treasures. Naturally, some come and go due to successional changes, but I have never located more than five in a year.

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Weekend open thread: Mother's Day edition

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone in the Bleeding Heartland community who is celebrating this weekend. Although abolitionist and feminist Julia Ward Howe originally envisioned the holiday as a "Day of Peace," our culture approaches today as a time to thank mothers with cards, phone calls, visits, or gifts. In lieu of a traditional bouquet of flowers, I offer wild geranium, a native plant now blooming in many wooded areas, and a shout out to some of the mothers who are active in Iowa political life.

These Iowa mothers now hold state or federal office: U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, State Auditor Mary Mosiman, State Senators Rita Hart, Pam Jochum, Liz Mathis, Janet Petersen, Amanda Ragan, Amy Sinclair, and Mary Jo Wilhelm, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, State Representatives Deborah Berry, Timi Brown-Powers, Nancy Dunkel, Ruth Ann Gaines, Mary Gaskill, Lisa Heddens, Megan Jones, Vicki Lensing, Mary Mascher, Helen Miller, Linda Miller, Dawn Pettengill, Patti Ruff, Kirsten Running-Marquardt, Sandy Salmon, Sharon Steckman, Sally Stutsman, Phyllis Thede, Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, Cindy Winckler, and Mary Wolfe.

These Iowa mothers are running for state or federal office this year: U.S. Senate candidate Patty Judge, U.S. House candidates Monica Vernon (IA-01) and Kim Weaver (IA-04), Iowa Senate candidates Susan Bangert, Pam Dearden Conner, Rene Gadelha, Miyoko Hikiji, and Bonnie Sadler, Iowa House candidates Perla Alarcon-Flory, Jane Bloomingdale, Claire Celsi, Sondra Childs-Smith, Paula Dreeszen, Carrie Duncan, Deb Duncan, Jeannine Eldrenkamp, Kristi Hager, Jan Heikes, Ashley Hinson, Barbara Hovland, Sara Huddleston, Jennifer Konfrst, Shannon Lundgren, Heather Matson, Teresa Meyer, Maridith Morris, Amy Nielsen, Andrea Phillips, Stacie Stokes, and Sherrie Taha.

Mother’s Day is painful for many people. If you are the mother of a child who has died, I recommend Cronesense’s personal reflection on "the other side of the coin," a piece by Frankenoid, "Mother’s Day in the Land of the Bereaved," or Sheila Quirke’s "What I Know About Motherhood Now That My Child Has Died." If your beloved mother is no longer living, I recommend Hope Edelman’s Mother’s Day letter to motherless daughters or her commentary for CNN. If you have severed contact with your mother because of her toxic parenting, you may appreciate Theresa Edwards rant about "13 Things No Estranged Child Needs To Hear On Mother’s Day" and Sherry’s post on "The Dirty Little Secret."

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Wood betony (Swamp lousewort)

Wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis) is native to most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains, but I’d never seen this wildflower until Iowa naturalist and photographer Eileen Miller showed it to me during my first-ever visit to Dolliver Memorial State Park (Webster County) last spring. The plants were only starting to bloom, and by the time I got back to the park, they were past their peak.

This year I managed to get better shots of wood betony, also known as swamp betony, swamp lousewort, or Canadian lousewort. It’s probably still flowering, so if you want to find it, take the trail that leads to Dolliver’s unusual "Copperas Beds" sandstone formations, then continue across a creek until the trail eventually turns right, going up stairs the Civilian Conservation Corps built during the Great Depression. Many wood betony colonies are growing on either side of that trail as it goes uphill.

I enclose below photographs of wood betony and a couple of bonus shots of those Copperas Beds, which have minerals and petrified wood embedded in the sandstone.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Missouri gooseberry (wild gooseberry)

Spring flowers are exploding across Iowa. If you’re out in the woods this coming week, expect to see plenty of violets, spring beauties, sweet William, and littleleaf buttercup or larger buttercups. If you’re lucky, you may see some bellwort or Jack-in-the-pulpits too. Toothwort and Virginia bluebells are fading in my corner of central Iowa, but sweet Cicely and May apples (umbrella plants) are starting to bloom, and buds have formed on wild geranium and Virginia waterleaf.

Today’s featured flowering plant is a shrub native to much of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. In Iowa, it usually blooms in April or May. Missouri gooseberry (Ribes missouriense) plants produce fruit that is sour but edible for humans. However, it’s a challenge to harvest the berries before the birds pick the bushes clean.

After the pictures of Missouri gooseberry, I’ve enclosed a couple of shots of another shrub you are likely to see flowering in Iowa woods now. Unfortunately, those sweet-smelling honeysuckle plants are considered invasive.

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

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Striped cream violet (striped white violet)

Aside from dandelions, violets are probably the wildflowers most likely to turn up in Iowa yards, whether you live in the city, suburb, or countryside. Common blue violet (Viola sororia) is prevalent and blooming in large numbers now. I see quite a few Downy yellow violets (Viola pubescens) near wooded areas of Windsor Heights. Today’s featured plant is native to Iowa and most states to our east, but according to John Pearson of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, it is relatively rare in our state.

I enclose below more pictures of Striped cream violet (Viola striata) in the company of other spring wildflowers.

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

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