Instead of focusing on one plant this week, I’d like to share photographs from my September 12 visit to Mike Delaney’s prairie in Dallas County. Mike’s property has provided source material for lots of Bleeding Heartland posts over the years, most recently this summer’s features on showy tick trefoil and starry campion.
Every time I explore the area, I find something I hadn’t seen before. You’d never guess this land next to the Middle Raccoon River was in corn and beans for decades before Mike spent about 25 years restoring the prairie.
I wasn’t able to capture the full landscape, but the prairie grasses were thriving despite this dry summer in central Iowa.
A closer look at some Indian grass blooming.
Many of the flowerheads were past their prime.
Some flowerheads had lost all of their ray flowers.
I’m not sure what this plant is, but John Pearson of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources thought it might be a young ox-eye (false sunflower) blooming later than usual.
Even professional botanists can find it challenging to identify white asters with yellow centers. I think these are heath aster, but I would not swear by that. They don’t have the long branches that are typical for frost aster.
I thought these plants were sky-blue asters, but some characteristics suggest they are smooth blue asters. Next time I visit Mike’s prairie, I will feel the leaves to see if they are rough or smooth (one trick for distinguishing these closely related species).
New England asters were abundant in one area of the prairie. These plants have dark yellow disk flowers in the center. The ray florets are usually purple but can be pink.
Some other plants in the aster family had finished blooming long ago. Seedheads of yellow or gray-headed coneflower:
Mike has lots of common milkweed, butterfly milkweed, and whorled milkweed on his prairie. All finished blooming weeks or months ago. Here are some seeds emerging from a pod on a common milkweed plant.
Butterfly milkweed seeds beginning to take flight:
I forgot to take pictures of seed pods developing on the whorled milkweed.
Stiff goldenrod is distinctive, and Mike has a lot of it on his prairie.
More stiff goldenrod:
A picture of elm-leaved goldenrod is enclosed near the end of this post, along with other woodland wildflowers.
I missed the peak blooming period for gentian species, but many plants still had flowers. I’ve never seen so much cream gentian on Mike’s prairie. He told me later he has tried to spread the seeds over a wider area each year.
With one of those mystery asters:
Mike has quite a few bottle gentian plants too.
The black seedhead in the foreground here is a pale purple coneflower that bloomed a couple of months earlier.
Many gentian flowers never fully open, but downy gentian is an exception.
ASSORTED PRAIRIE WILDFLOWERS
Compass plants typically bloom in July. Even without the bright yellow flowerheads, these plants are striking.
Most thistles you see in Iowa fields or roadsides are invasive species, but Mike has some native thistles on his prairie. I believe these are tall thistle:
Rattlesnake master mostly blooms in July and August. These plants were past their prime:
Prairie sage, also known as white sage or silver sage:
Round-headed bush clover in the foreground, with some kind of goldenrod near the upper left corner:
I didn’t recognize these flowers, but learned later the plant is Sweet everlasting, also known as rabbit tobacco.
This may be a rabbit tobacco plant that has gone to seed. UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland user PrairieFan suggests it could be false boneset. She may be right; I’ve seen those plants on this prairie.
This is some kind of boneset, I think tall boneset.
Before heading back to my car, I spent a few minutes nosing around the wooded area on Mike’s property. Most woodland wildflowers bloom in the spring or mid-summer, but a few were still blooming in early September. Elm-leaved goldenrod:
Some kind of baby oak tree is growing on the prairie, near the woodland edge.