Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Heath aster and Calico aster

After today’s installment, Iowa wildflower Wednesday is signing off for the winter and will return sometime in March or April. All previous posts in the series are archived here. I often hear positive feedback about the wildflower diaries. To my surprise, one that struck a chord with lots of readers this year featured Poison hemlock and Wild parsnip, a pair of potentially harmful invasive plants.

Guest authors are welcome to contribute posts anytime at Bleeding Heartland. Please get in touch if you would like to be part of Iowa wildflower Wednesday during 2016. I’d be particularly grateful if some talented photographer could capture usable shots of "plants that got away" from me: Cardinal flower (Red Lobelia), Four O’Clock, Purple poppy mallow, or Common rose mallow. I never get any depth or definition on flowers with red or deep pink petals.

In keeping with a Bleeding Heartland tradition, I’m closing out this year’s series with asters, some of which are among the latest-blooming fall wildflowers. Click through to see New England asters and Frost asters (I think) from 2012, 2013, and 2014.

According to Elizabeth Hill, the first plants you’ll see after the jump are Heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides). I took those pictures in early October at the Grinnell College Conard Environmental Research Area. Elizabeth deserves a lot of credit for Iowa wildflower Wednesday’s existence, because she inspired me to learn more about native plants.

Iowa naturalist and photographer Leland Searles identified the next plant featured today as a subspecies of Calico Aster called Symphiotrichum lateriflorum ssp. lateriflorum. They are growing near the bank of North Walnut Creek in Windsor Heights.

I have trouble distinguishing aster species with white ray flowers and yellow disk flowers, so a few mystery plants are pictured below too. They include some unidentified asters I found today just off the Windsor Heights bike trail, behind the Iowa Department of Natural Resources building on Hickman Road. Last weekend’s snowfall finished off the last few flowering black-eyed Susans and brown-eyed Susans, but even now, a few asters are in full bloom.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Late boneset

The first snow since last winter is expected to hit much of Iowa this weekend. Next week’s edition of Iowa wildflower Wednesday will be the last before this series goes on hiatus until the spring. Click here for Bleeding Heartland’s full archive of wildflower posts since March 2012, depicting more than 115 native plants and a few European invaders.

As its name suggests, late boneset (Eupatorium serotinum) blooms relatively late in the year. This plant is native to most of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. The Illinois Wildflower website explains,

The delicate flowers of Late Boneset closely resemble the flowers of other Bonesets, such as Eupatorium altissimum (Tall Boneset) and Eupatorium perfoliatum (Common Boneset), in both color and structure. These Bonesets can be distinguished readily from each other by an examination and comparison of their leaves. Tall Boneset has leaves that are pubescent, more narrow, and less coarsely serrated than Late Boneset, while Common Boneset has leaves that wrap around the stem and are without petioles.

Bleeding Heartland featured common boneset here. The stem appears to be growing through (perforating) the leaves. After looking at tall boneset leaves pictured on the Illinois Wildflowers or Minnesota Wildflowers websites, I am fairly confident I photographed late boneset plants.

I took all of the shots enclosed below between late August and mid-October near the north or south ends of the Windsor Heights bike trail. Some late boneset plants are growing in the small prairie patch in Colby Park. Many more are thriving in the larger patch of native plants behind the Iowa Department of Natural Resources building on Hickman Road.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Wild blue sage (Pitcher sage)

Credit for this week’s edition of Iowa wildflower Wednesday goes to Matt Hauge. In September, he posted a gorgeous picture of wildflowers I’d never seen before. They turned out to be Wild blue sage (Salvia azure grandiflora), also known as Pitcher sage, after "Doctor Zina Pitcher, a 19th century U.S. Army field surgeon and amateur botanist." Matt found these flowers at the Kuehn Conservation Area in Dallas County. I enclose below his picture as well as some photographs of wild blue sage I took a few days later in a field dominated by Maximilian sunflowers.

Wild blue sage is native to much of the American South, Midwest, and plains states, but it is relatively rare. In fact, the plant is a state-listed "threatened" species in Illinois. Although wild blue sage does not appear on Iowa’s lists of "endangered, threatened, and special concern plants," knowledgeable people tell me they have not seen this plant often in Iowa. According to Leland Searles, wild blue sage used to grow along the Neal Smith Trail in Polk County, between the Saylorville Visitors Center and the Butterfly Garden. He does not know whether those colonies still exist.

Unseasonably warm weather this fall has produced some surprisingly late blooms in central Iowa. Scroll to the end of this post for two bonus shots of common evening primrose and goldenrods that were flowering on November 7 in Windsor Heights.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Brown-eyed Susan

A surprising number of wildflowers are still blooming in central Iowa, thanks to unseasonably warm weather for most of the autumn, with no hard frosts yet. This week’s featured plant is brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba), which is native to most of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains. Although it’s not a rare plant, black-eyed Susan is much more prevalent.

The Illinois Wildflowers website explains, "Brown-Eyed Susan can be distinguished from similar species by the smaller size of its flowerheads and the smaller number of ray florets per flowerhead. It is usually more tall and bushy than Rudbeckia hirta (Black-Eyed Susan), but it is shorter with fewer lobed leaves than Rudbeckia laciniata (Cutleaf Coneflower)." Iowa wildflower Wednesday profiled cutleaf coneflower here and black-eyed Susan earlier this fall.

The Minnesota Wildflowers website notes, "While a Minnesota species of special concern in the wild from loss of habitat to agriculture and invasive species, Brown-eyed Susan flourishes in gardens across the state. One of the best cut flowers around it can last for weeks in a kitchen vase." Gardeners may appreciate that this plant "attracts numerous nectar-seeking and pollen-seeking insects to its flowers."

I took all of the photographs enclosed below just off the Windsor Heights bike trail, behind the Iowa Department of Natural Resources building on Hickman Road. Whoever is maintaining this restored patch of native plants is doing a fantastic job. So many native species are thriving, including some wildflowers that are rare in Iowa, and I’ve hardly seen any invasive plants there all year.

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

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Blue giant hyssop (anise hyssop)

Today’s featured wildflower was new to me until a few weeks ago. I noticed a handful of plants with purple flowers blooming in the patch along the Windsor Heights bike trail, behind the Iowa Department of Natural Resources building on Hickman Road. Several people in the Raccoon River Watershed Facebook group suggested they might be Blue giant hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), also known as anise hyssop. Leland Searles told me the easiest way to identify this plant is to crush a leaf. Sure enough, a strong anise smell confirmed the ID. This member of the mint family is native to most of Canada and some northern parts of the U.S., but Searles speculated, "If the plant is anise hyssop, I suspect someone [from the DNR] ordered a moist-medic seed mix from Prairie Moon in Wisconsin. The plant is endangered in Iowa mainly because two northern counties are at the limits of its range." It’s rare in Illinois as well.

I enclose below several pictures of blue giant hyssop.

As a bonus, I also included two shots of what I believe to be the smallest white snakeroot plant in bloom I’ve ever seen. I noticed the tiny white flowers yesterday next to the curb of our street. Usually white snakeroot plants are a few feet tall before they start flowering. White snakeroot is prevalent in Iowa and won’t hurt you, provided you don’t drink milk from animals that have grazed on it. Before the connection between this native plant and "milk sickness" was understood, thousands of people (including Abraham Lincoln’s mother) died on the American frontier.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Maximilian sunflower

Today’s featured plant is native to most of the United States and Canada. In Iowa, it can start blooming as early as July and continues well into October. I took all of the enclosed pictures of Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) in mid-September at the Kuehn Conservation Area in Dallas County. Many plants still had unopened buds.

Sometimes called Maximilian’s sunflower, this plant is named after the naturalist Prince Alexander Philipp Maximilian, who described it and many other flora when he explored the American West during the 1830s.

Trigger warning for arachnophobes: this post also includes two pictures of spiders, which had spun their webs across Maximilian sunflower plants. I can’t remember seeing so many spider webs in a patch of native plants before. The coloration and the "bold, zigzag band of silk" running down almost all the webs suggest that these are female black and yellow garden spiders.

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

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