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.

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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.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Ox-eye (False sunflower)

Large yellow flowerheads are abundant this time of year along roadsides and on almost any Iowa prairie, even small remnants or restoration projects. You may find cup plants, compass plants, yellow coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, brown-eyed Susans, rosinweed (soon to be featured at Bleeding Heartland), Jerusalem artichokes, common sunflowers, Maximilian sunflowers, or today’s plant.

Ox-eye (Heliopsis helianthoides) is native to most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. Also known as false sunflower, oxeye sunflower, smooth oxeye, or sweet smooth oxeye, it has a longer blooming period than many prairie flowers. The shape of the leaves and the raised flower centers, which are yellow or orange, help distinguish ox-eye from other members of the aster family with yellow flowerheads. Ox-eye grows in wooded areas and on disturbed ground as well as in prairies.

A huge colony of ox-eye is thriving at a rest stop on the north side of I-80 near Bettendorf (Scott County), where I took most of the enclosed pictures in July. As a bonus, I included a few shots of goldenrod plants with an unusual feature.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: On Finding a Clematis pitcheri (Leatherleaf)

Whether you are a novice or seasoned professional, finding a "new" species is exciting for nature-lovers. Many thanks to Leland Searles for sharing this essay and beautiful photos. -promoted by desmoinesdem

At the end of a hot, dusty day on the gravel roads of Marion County, I braked the Honda van to a stop at a t-intersection. I had pushed hard to finish as many miles of roadside survey as possible, stopping each quarter mile to note the vegetation on each side of the road. Mostly I saw brome and reed canary grass, wild parsnip and wild carrot, giant ragweed and sheep fescue. Often enough there were stands of Jerusalem artichoke or common milkweed.

The t-intersection brought a decision. Do I drive a half mile on the county hardtop to a short, unnamed gravel road, one that I missed two days earlier, and have a look? I could see it from the stop sign: a sea of crop land on either side, an old fenceline leading a quarter mile to a farmstead. Not a big deal. Time to go home.

Sometimes a whimsical curiosity emerges, gently, gaining force, wanting recognition. I drove the half mile, turned and rolled twenty feet to a stop, looked out the window onto the fence and soybeans that were almost neon in the yellowing light. Not much here.

Curiosity again. What’s ahead in fifty feet? The accelerator moved gently down. Another stop. Brome grass out the driver’s window, the fenceline on the other side. Something between me and the fence, a native sedge, already gone to seed, its yellow leaves standing out among the darker grasses. Probably Carex grisea. Not very interesting. I should head home.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Pointed-leaf tick trefoil

Like last week’s featured wildflowers, today’s plant thrives in wooded areas and has delicate, faint pink flowers. Pointed-leaf tick trefoil (Desmodium glutinosum) is native to most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. I found the colony pictured below near the main road through Maquoketa Caves State Park (Jackson County).

As a bonus, I included two photos of a non-native plant with much brighter pink flowers, which I saw recently in a seep (wet area) at Whiterock Conservancy near Coon Rapids (Carroll County).

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Canada germander (American germander)

Following Marla Mertz’s post last week about a spectacular and rare prairie plant, I wanted to feature some unassuming wildflowers common in a range of wet habitats.

Nine species of germander are native to North America, but according to John Pearson of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, only one (Teucrium canadense) is native to Iowa. (Pearson added that other kinds of germander may be found in gardens.)

Sometimes called American germander or wood sage, Canada germander often grows in ditches, at woodland edges, or next to streams. I took all of the enclosed pictures along North Walnut Creek, near where the Windsor Heights bike trail passes under College Drive.

Side note for nature lovers riding RAGBRAI next week: please keep an eye out for Milkweed Matters volunteers handing out common milkweed seed balls for bicyclists to cast in unmowed ditches along the route. Monarch butterflies depend on milkweed plants to reproduce.

We now return to your regularly scheduled edition of Iowa wildflower Wednesday.

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