Iowa wildflower Wednesday: A walk by the woods at midsummer

If you can stand the heat, early July is an excellent time for wildflower spotting in Iowa. Prairie habitats are exploding in color now, but this week I decided to focus on plants that can often be viewed from the shade at woodland edges.

I took all of the pictures enclosed below between July 1 and July 8 near wooded trails in Windsor Heights, Clive, Urbandale, or West Des Moines.

We begin our tour with one of my all-time favorites: American bellflower. These plants only just started flowering and have a relatively long blooming season, so you should be able to enjoy them for quite a few weeks. The plants can exceed six feet in height, so they stand out along the trail.

Certain flowering plants can be even taller. A lot of elderberry shrubs are blooming now, and they can be ten or twelve feet tall. This plant’s umbels (clusters of small white flowers) were fortunately close to my height.

Pokeweed plants can also grow much taller than any human. These flowers were more accessible.

Moving to the medium-sized woodland plants that are flowering now, 2020 seems to be an excellent year for Canada germander (also known as American germander). I can’t remember seeing so many colonies.

Daisy fleabane has been blooming for some time, but you can still find some plants with flowers just emerging. These plants can be in semi-shade or in more sunny patches.

Another plant that likes the sun is Carolina horsenettle. Although it’s on Iowa’s noxious weed list, it’s native to most of the United States.

The Windsor Heights and Urbandale bike trails are blessed with lots of yellow jewelweed, and I noticed the first flowers in the past several days. This plant is closely related to the jewelweed with orange flowers, and juice from its leaves and stems have the same anti-itch properties. The species with orange flowers tends to thrive in wetter habitats.

Hedge bindweed vines are starting to show large white flowers.

A side view of the flowers reveals large bracts, which is the easiest way to distinguish this native species from the non-native field bindweed.

White avens flowers are much smaller, and we’re getting near the end of this plant’s blooming period in central Iowa. Most of the flowers on this plant are gone, and you can see the fruit starting to develop. The purple flower in the background is wild petunia.

Even smaller that white avens are the flowers on catnip plants. I was excited to find several colonies of these recently and will publish a separate post on catnip soon. If you get close to these plants, you may notice a minty smell even without crushing a leaf.

Moving to woodland plants with tiny white flowers: I’ve seen lots of enchanter’s nightshade blooming lately.

Virginia stickseed flowers are also so small that they can easily be overlooked. This is one of the most intensely disliked plants I’ve ever written about, because the flowers will develop into sticky burs that can tangle pet hair or ruin a sweater.

I wanted to close out this post with some pictures of non-native plants that have become widespread in Iowa. You may see chicory in wooded areas, but it’s equally likely to be growing in full sun along roadsides.

Queen Anne’s lace is often found near roads too.

Dame’s rocket usually blooms in May and June, but I did find a few flowers hanging around on July 7.

Burdock plants can be large and will develop large sticky burs in the late summer and fall.

The highly invasive crown vetch is out in force now.

Birdsfoot trefoil (the yellow flowers here) and white clover plants are usually very close to the ground.

Tags: Wildflowers
  • Thank you for this really nice woodland flower tour...

    …and it is ridiculous that Carolina horsenettle is on the Iowa noxious weed list. Of course the list in general reflects political clout and outdated thinking rather than weed science or current Iowa landscape realities. But true reform won’t be possible as long as Iowa is essentially ruled by a certain farm organization.

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