Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Flowering spurge

Last week’s featured wildflowers stand out, even in a colorful summer prairie landscape. In contrast, you could easily walk past flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata) without spotting them. The species is native to most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains and grows in a wide range of habitats. But although flowering spurge isn’t a rare plant, I don’t recall noticing it before this summer.

I took the enclosed photos in late August and early September where the edge of woods meets a restored prairie in Dallas County.

Continue Reading...

Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Tall thistle

Most thistles growing along Iowa roads or fields are invasive plants. Bull thistle and Canada thistle are on Iowa’s noxious weeds list.

But if you’re lucky, you may see a thistle that belongs in our state’s wooded or prairie habitats.

Tall thistle (Cirsium altissimum) is native to most of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. Its seeds are a "staple" food for the eastern or American goldfinch, Iowa’s state bird.

I took the pictures enclosed below in late August and early September on a restored prairie in Dallas County.

Continue Reading...

Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Biennial gaura (Biennial beeblossom)

Today’s featured plant was a new discovery for me a few weeks ago. Its tall, branching stems with many delicate flowers compelled me to pull over my bicycle, despite being hungry for breakfast at the downtown farmers market.

Biennial gaura (Oenothera gaura) is native to much of North America east of the plains states. As its name suggests, the plant has a two-year cycle, developing a "a rosette of basal leaves" during the first year and flowering the next year. You are most likely to find it in "tall grass prairie, woodland openings and river banks." Biennial gaura thrives in full sun but "tolerates many kinds of soil." Its alternate name biennial beeblossom testifies to the plant’s appeal to various insect pollinators.

I took the enclosed photos along the Meredith bike trail in Des Moines, close to the southeast end of Gray’s Lake.

Continue Reading...

Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Rosinweed

Since last Wednesday’s post featured a woodland plant with blossoms that are easy to miss, I thought it would be fun to go to the other end of the Iowa wildflowers spectrum today. Rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium) grows in prairie habitats in most of the plains and Midwestern states. These tall plants with large yellow flower heads are bound to catch your eye when they are blooming.

Rosinweed (sometimes called wholeleaf rosinweed) is one of four Silphiums. Bleeding Heartland has profiled two of the others: compass plant and cup plant. The last Silphium is prairie rosinweed, also known as prairie dock. The website of the Friends of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Minnesota has a handy comparison chart.

I took the enclosed pictures at either the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City (Jasper County) or at Whiterock Conservancy near Coon Rapids (Carroll County). You should be able to find plenty of rosinweed blooming at either location over Labor Day weekend.

Continue Reading...

Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Smooth hedge nettle

This week’s featured plant is a species I learned to identify only a few weeks ago. Far from the most impressive flowers you’ll see blooming in moist habitats during the summer, smooth hedge nettle (Stachys tenuifolia) "is easy to overlook," since it "tends to be rather small-sized and non-descript." This member of the mint family is native to most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. I took all of the enclosed pictures along the Windsor Heights or Urbandale bike trails.

The foliage of smooth hedge nettle strongly resembles that of American or Canada germander, which grows in similar wet places and was the focus of a Bleeding Heartland post last month. At first glance, the flowers are hard to tell apart too, but hedge nettle blossoms have an upper lip that is absent on germander flowers.

Some hedge nettle species are also known as woundwort. That name may ring a bell, because General Woundwort is a memorable character from the fantastic adventure story Watership Down. If the name doesn’t sound familiar, make time to read Watership Down sometime. That book has been one of my favorite novels since I read it as a child. My kids enjoyed it too when we read it together a couple of years ago.

Continue Reading...

Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Virginia mountain mint

The tiny white flowers on today’s featured plant aren’t the most impressive-looking blossoms you’ll find in late summer, but they are in a family of "deer-resistant pollinator magnets."

Virginia mountain mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum) is native to most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. Also known as common mountain mint, these plants thrive in a range of moist habitats and are "not fussy about soil texture." A wide range of insects pollinate the flowers, but mammals tend to avoid the fragrant foliage. The strong mint smell is unmistakable when you crush a few leaves. I took these pictures a few weeks ago at Whiterock Conservancy near Coon Rapids and next to the Meredith bike trail in Des Moines, close to the southeast parking lot at Gray’s Lake.

Scroll to the end of this post for two bonus shots of a much more "showy" wildflower. I was sad to learn that the native range of Royal catchfly (Silene regia) does not extend to Iowa. However, this plant with bright red flowers can be cultivated here and reportedly attracts hummingbirds. I found these growing in one of the plantings at a Gray’s Lake parking lot.

Continue Reading...
View More...