Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Prairie dock

Before Bleeding Heartland’s wildflower series goes on winter break, let’s revisit a late summer bloomer. Today’s featured plant is one of four native species in the Silphium branch of the aster family. (The others, which also have yellow composite flowers, are cup plant, compass plant, and rosinweed.)

Prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum), sometimes known as prairie rosinweed, is among the tallest plants on the tallgrass prairie. The U.S. Department of Agriculture lists Iowa as part of its native range. My understanding is that while prairie dock is common throughout Illinois, it doesn’t really belong in most parts of Iowa. However, I’ve seen it in several Des Moines area prairie plantings, where it blooms in August and September.

According to the Illinois Wildflowers website, prairie dock tolerates drought and “rocky or gravelly soil” well. Though “rather slow to develop,” this “long-lived plant” is “very reliable and nearly indestructible when mature.”

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Wingstem

I’ve never felt more depressed working on a wildflowers post than I did while putting the finishing touches on the November 9, 2016 edition of Iowa wildflower Wednesday.

Yesterday’s elections around Iowa and the country put me in a sunnier frame of mind, so today I am featuring the bright yellow flowerheads of wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia).

This member of the aster family is native to most states east of the Rocky Mountains. In Iowa, wingstem typically blooms in the late summer and early fall. Although these plants are sometimes called yellow ironweed, they look nothing like the bright pink or purple ironweed often seen along Iowa roads and trails during the summer.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Riddell's goldenrod

I’m thrilled to share another talented photographer’s images of a native plant I’ve never seen. Wildflower enthusiast Katie Byerly found these plants growing in Rock Falls (Cerro Gordo County) in September. Experts in the Iowa Wildflower Report Facebook group confirmed her identification of Riddell’s goldenrod (Oligoneuron riddellii), an uncommon species mostly found in Midwestern states and a couple of Canadian provinces.

The scientific name used to be Solidago riddellii, but Leland Searles explained to me, “The genus was changed to Oligoneuron for Riddell’s and Stiff Goldenrods (O. rigidum). They are unlike genus Solidago [most other goldenrods] in several ways.”

Katie went back to Rock Falls a few days ago, hunting for witch hazel after reading Beth Lynch’s post here last week. She had also hoped to find some Riddell’s goldenrod gone to seed. Alas, “the county mowed it up.” It happens. Fortunately, she captured plenty of beautiful shots earlier in the fall.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Witch hazel

Many thanks to Luther College Associate Professor Beth Lynch for adapting and sharing an article and photographs she first published in November 2013. I had no idea witch hazel was native to Iowa. Steve Peterson alerted me to Beth’s work and shared some of his own pictures of witch hazel blooming in Winneshiek County. I enclosed those at the end of this post. -promoted by desmoinesdem


I write to share with you one of my tiny joys of late fall. I took this photograph during the first week of November. What is it? A twig with some leaves, right? Look again. What are those yellow stringy things hanging from the twig? Spiders? Whiskers? Look closely.

These are the bright yellow petals of the witch hazel flowers. Think about it: flowers blooming in November! Every fall when most of the leaves have dropped from the trees and the sun is weak, I look for these cheery little flowers on the witch hazels. They bring a bit of warmth to the cold dark days when I seem to need it most. Tiny joy, indeed.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Prairie sunflower (Stiff sunflower)

Some native plants are unmistakable, but nailing down the ID on today’s wildflowers has been a challenge. When I first photographed a large colony of these plants on Mike Delaney’s restored prairie in Dallas County, I assumed they were sawtooth sunflowers (Helianthus grosseserratus) because of the serrated leaves. However, John Pearson of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources commented in the Iowa Wildflower Report Facebook group, “This may be Prairie Sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus), note reddish disc flowers. The long, leafless upper stems, however, remind me of Western Sunflower (H. occidentalis).” Leland Searles, another expert on native plants, mentioned that “sunflowers can be confusing.”

I ruled out western sunflower for a couple of reasons. Mike collected the seed that spawned this colony at Tipton Prairie, a never-plowed patch of land in Greene County in the northwestern quadrant of Iowa. But western sunflower (sometimes called fewleaf sunflower) is primarily found in the eastern part of the state. In addition, several sources confirm the central disk florets on western sunflower flowerheads are yellow. Most of the flowerheads on these plants had reddish centers, which is typical for prairie sunflowers.

Mike thought the plants might be giant sunflowers (Helianthus giganteus), but the central disk florets on that plant are darker yellow. Also, there can be more than one flowerhead at the top of the upper stems on giant sunflower plants. These plants had one flowerhead per stem, another characteristic feature of prairie sunflowers. Finally, the upper part of the stems on Mike’s plants had no leaves. Giant sunflower plants have leaves on the upper stems.

So, I’m calling these prairie sunflowers. Sometimes known as stiff sunflowers, Helianthus pauciflorus plants are native to most of the U.S. and Canada. I haven’t seen them anywhere other than on Mike’s land. Next year I hope to visit Tipton Prairie in the late summer or early fall, when they would be blooming. UPDATE: After I published this post, Mike told me he didn’t find any of these at Tipton Prairie this year, but he did find them in the “Rippey strip,” a narrow patch of native prairie several miles long next to the 144 Diagonal road near Rippey in Greene County. He believes he must have collected the original seed from the Rippey area.

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