Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Cow parsnip

For years, I thought today’s featured plant was a European invader, but cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) is native to most of the U.S. and Canada.

Sometimes known as common cowparsnip, these plants are easy to spot in the late spring and early summer, in part because of their large clusters of small white flowers. They also tend to be taller than anything growing nearby. (By the late summer, other woodland plants may reach similar heights.) Cow parsnip “can be found in both high quality natural areas and disturbed habitats,” but I’ve mostly seen them in the woods. I took most of these pictures near trails in Des Moines and Clive in early June.

Cow parsnip is “the native counterpart to the highly invasive non-native Giant Hogweed.” It grows taller than the non-native wild parsnip, which has yellow flowers and should be avoided unless you want to experience a horrible blistering rash.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Yellow star grass (Common goldstar)

Today’s featured plant was a new addition to my “life list” during a recent visit to Tipton Prairie in Greene County. Yellow star grass (Hypoxis hirsuta), sometimes known as common goldstar, is native to most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. I’d seen pictures of the small yellow flowers in books and on the Iowa Wildflower Report Facebook group, but I don’t think I had ever seen one in person until one of my companions called me over to a slope near the highest point of the four-acre prairie.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Alumroot

I’m excited to publish another series of photographs by Eileen Miller, who has contributed about a dozen spectacular editions of Iowa wildflower Wednesday over the years. For her first guest post here in 2017, she chose to feature Alumroot (Heuchera richardsonii) in the family Saxifragaceae, which she describes as “an intriguing native, perennial wildflower of tall grass prairies.”

Eileen took all of the photographs enclosed below in April at Tipton Prairie, a 4-acre virgin prairie in Greene County. I took the picture at the top of this post during my first-ever visit to Tipton Prairie last month.

June is a perfect time to be out in nature, but a couple of cautionary notes: be sure to put on insect repellent if you go looking for wildflowers in Iowa woods, prairies, or meadows. Also, watch where you step, because 2017 seems to be a banner year for a few dangerous plants: poison ivy, poison hemlock, and wild parsnip. I don’t know whether the mild winter or the timing of the spring rains were responsible.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Aunt Lucy (Waterpod)

After last week’s rare and spectacular featured plant (Shooting star), Iowa wildflower Wednesday returns today to the lowly and commonplace. Aunt Lucy (Ellisia nyctelea), also known as Waterpod, is native to most of the U.S. and Canada. Like wild chervil, it doesn’t stand out among other plants that bloom around the same time, so you might not notice its flowers or fruit. The Illinois Wildflowers site says of this plant,

Aunt Lucy is an oddball member of the Waterleaf family. It is not very showy and often omitted from many wildflower guides. Aunt Lucy occurs in two quite different habitats: deciduous woodlands and disturbed areas where the ground is bare or lightly mulched. In the former habitat, it is one of our native spring wildflowers, while in the latter habitat it is a minor weed of nurseries and bare open ground in cities.

I took most of the pictures enclosed below near my home in Windsor Heights. Lora Conrad, a talented photographer and wildflower enthusiast, kindly gave me permission to post a few of her pictures, taken near the Des Moines River in Van Buren County.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Shooting star

Until this month, I had never seen today’s featured wildflowers “in real life.” Shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) is as eye-catching as last week’s wild chervil is unobtrusive. Also known as prairie shooting star or pride of Ohio, the plant is native to more than 20 states east of the Rocky Mountains, but it is rarely seen outside “high-quality habitats” including prairies, upland forests, and fens.

The Illinois Wildflowers and Minnesota Wildflowers websites have botanically accurate descriptions of shooting star foliage, flowers, and seed capsules. I took all of the enclosed pictures at Rochester Cemetery in Cedar County in early May. This never-plowed patch of prairie is well worth a special trip or at least a short detour if you’re traveling along nearby I-80.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Wild chervil

This week’s featured plant is so easily overlooked that I failed to notice its flowers in my own yard for more than ten years. But once I learned to recognize wild chervil (Chaerophyllum procumbens), it seemed to pop up everywhere.

This “somewhat weedy” member of the carrot or parsley family is native to much of North America. Wild chervil is not spectacular like its relative Golden Alexanders, or even as eye-catching as Sweet Cicely, both of which bloom around the same time in the spring.

I took all of the enclosed pictures in Windsor Heights within the past few weeks.

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