Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Ironweed (Prairie ironweed)

You don’t need to venture into a high-quality habitat to find today’s featured plant. Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) can thrive on disturbed ground and is a common sight along Iowa roads in July and August. I took about half the enclosed pictures on a restored prairie in Dallas County and most of the others after pulling over to take a closer look at ironweed growing near the shoulder of Iowa Highway 44.

Sometimes known as prairie ironweed, common ironweed, smooth ironweed, or western ironweed, this species is native to about half the U.S., including all of the upper Midwest and plains states.

At the Iowa State Fair yesterday, I chatted with a reader who enjoys my occasional wildflower posts on Twitter @desmoinesdem. Check out this thread for pictures of more than two dozen wildflowers you might find see around Iowa in early August. Here are a few plants I recently found blooming along a wooded trail. This past weekend, I briefly escaped from the Charlottesville ugliness with a thread spotlighting red, white, or blue American wildflowers.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Culver's root

The common name for today’s featured wildflowers comes from a doctor who “prescribed the plant as an effective laxative.” Some American Indian tribes used the plant medicinally long before Dr. Culver was on the scene in the 18th century, but in a time-honored tradition, our culture didn’t give them the credit for discovering its properties.

Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) is native to most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. I’ve never heard anyone call this plant by any other name, but apparently it is sometimes known as Black root or Bowman’s root.

It “tolerates most soils” and “full sun to partial shade,” so “can make an excellent back border specimen in the home garden.” Culver’s root flowers attract many kinds of pollinators, including bees, wasps, butterflies, and moths.

I took all of the enclosed photographs on a restored prairie in Dallas County.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Winged loosestrife

Late summer wildflowers are coming on strong across Iowa. During the past three weeks, I’ve seen the first flowers of 2017 on brown-eyed Susan, common evening primrose, goldenrod, ironweed, cutleaf coneflower, common sneezeweed, white snakeroot, yellow jewelweed, and even New England aster, which usually appears later and continues to produce flowers until the first frost.

Today’s featured plant is nearing the end of its blooming period for the year. Winged loosestrife (Lythrum alatum) can be found in a variety of wet habitats, such as “moist black soil prairies, marshes, fens, borders of lakes and ponds, areas along rivers and drainage ditches, and low-lying ground along railroads.” Sometimes called winged lythrum, this species is native to most of North America from the Rocky Mountains to the east coast.

I took all of the enclosed photos between late June and late July on lower ground in the prairie restoration area along the Windsor Heights trail, behind the Iowa Department of Natural Resources building on Hickman Road.

Note: winged loosestrife can be confused with purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), which is “now ranked among the most highly problematic invasive species in North America.” At the end of this post I’ve included two pictures of purple loosestrife. If this attractive plant is growing on your property, I recommend pulling it up.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Arrowhead

Sharing Eileen Miller’s photographs is always a treat, especially when she has captured wildflowers I’ve never seen. Common arrowhead, also known as broad-leaf arrowhead or duckroot, can be found across most of the U.S. and Canada.

Of the more than 150 native plants featured for Iowa wildflower Wednesday since 2012, only a few species have separate male and female flowers: bur cucumber, early meadow rue, and purple meadow rue. Thanks to Eileen, we can add arrowhead to that short list today. She wrote all of the text below.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Prairie phlox

July is a fantastic month for wildflower-spotting in Iowa. In addition to the many plants I mentioned in last week’s post, within the past few days I have seen the first blossoms of 2017 on common evening primrose, blue vervain, and cutleaf coneflower. Near the Windsor Heights trail, I also found two species I don’t recall seeing in past years: monkey flower and catnip. I hope to feature them on an upcoming Wednesday, along with Culver’s root and Joe Pye weed, which are also blooming now in many natural areas.

I took most of the pictures enclosed below in late May at Tipton Prairie in Greene County. Prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa) typically blooms in the late spring or early summer in Iowa. If you see flowers resembling it during July or August, you are probably looking at a cultivar adapted from this species.

Native to much of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains, this plant is also known as downy phlox or fragrant phlox. Its favored habitats “include moist to mesic black soil prairies, rocky open forests, Bur Oak savannas, sandy Black Oak savannas, limestone glades, thickets, abandoned fields, and prairie remnants along railroads.”

According to the Minnesota Wildflowers website, prairie phlox “does well in a garden, in sunny, sandy soil.” The flowers attract a wide variety of pollinators and sometimes ruby-throated hummingbirds. In Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie, Sylvan Runkel and Dean Roosa wrote, “The Meskwaki made a tea of the leaves and used it as a wash for treating eczema. The same sort of tea was drunk to cure eczema and to purify the blood at the same time. Also, the root was used with several other unspecified plants as part of a love potion.”

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Canada anemone (Meadow anemone)

Summer wildflowers are coming on strong now. On native or restored prairies, you may find cup plants or compass plants in bloom, along with yellow coneflowers, purple coneflowers, rattlesnake master, blazing star, black-eyed Susan, partridge pea, and several kinds of milkweed, including common, swamp, butterfly, or whorled. Along wooded trails, the purple, star-shaped blossoms of American bellflower are a frequent sight.

This week’s featured plant typically starts blooming in the late spring; in most parts of Iowa, the flowers are gone by July. Canada anemone (Anemone canadensis) is also known as meadow anemone, round-leaf thimbleweed, or windflower. This member of the buttercup family is native to most of North America, except for states in the deep South or west of the Rocky Mountains. It can thrive in a range of usually wet habitats, such as “moist prairies, sedge meadows, openings in floodplain woodlands, woodland borders, banks of streams, and swampy areas.” I took some of the enclosed pictures along bike trails in Des Moines and Clive and others on lower ground at the Tipton Prairie in Greene County.

According to the Minnesota Wildflowers website, Canada anemone “can form sizable colonies via spreading rhizomes.” The Friends of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden site advises, “In the home garden it can make a good ground cover beneath trees and shrubs but in a restricted setting it needs control due to its spreading habit. For full flowering potential, it needs a mostly sunny area.” Likewise, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s site notes that this plant “can become quite aggressive in too favorable conditions.”

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