Leland Searles

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Illinois bundleflower

Leland Searles works for Meskwaki Natural Resources as an Environmental Specialist Senior. He continues his efforts as a consultant and owner of Leeward Solutions, LLC, a business that offers services in ecological planning and design, field identification and inventory of plants, and natural stream restoration. For more information, see Leeward’s website at http://www.leewardecology.com. All photos of Illinois Bundleflower featured here are Leland’s work and are published with permission.

Illinois Bundleflower (Desmanthus illinoensis) is a somewhat misnamed plant that includes parts of Iowa in its range. While it is found in Illinois, the center of its distribution might be in southern Kansas or Oklahoma. It grows from Mexico north to the Dakotas and east to Illinois and Mississippi. Further east, it occurs as a “species waif,” a plant that requires human management to survive or else disappears in a few generations because it is poorly adapted. Perhaps “Central Plains Bundleflower” would be more apt.

In Iowa, Desmanthus illinoensis has been recorded in four southeastern counties, using the maps at the Biota of North America Project (BONAP), five central Iowa counties, and a brace of counties in the southwest, northwest, and west. It seems to be unevenly distributed, although the gaps may mean only that no herbarium specimens have been collected in those counties.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Sedges

Leland Searles is consultant and owner of Leeward Solutions, LLC, a company that offers regulatory and non-regulatory environmental services. For more information, see Leeward’s website at http://www.leewardecology.com. All photos of sedges enclosed below are Leland’s work and published with permission.

You have walked on them, looked at them, maybe even pulled the seed stem to nibble on the tender base, as though it were a grass. But it isn’t.

Sedges are an important, often overlooked group of native plants. In Iowa there are at least 125 species belonging to one genus, Carex.

Carex sedges often are overlooked because they look so much like grasses. And with wide variation in their appearance and very tiny details, they are a daunting group of plants to learn. But with patience, those details also lead to small moments of awe and wonder at the different symmetries and adaptations of each.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Horsetails and Scouring rushes

Leland Searles is a photographer and ecological consultant with expertise in botany, hydrology, soils, streams, and wildlife. -promoted by Laura Belin

The horsetails and scouring rushes (genus Equisetum) are rather odd plants on the Midwestern landscape, because they look like nothing else. They are related, by their genetic makeup and reproductive means, to the ferns. Occasionally, scouring rushes grow in dense colonies in the roadsides, where their dark green color and parallel vertical growth are a contrast with the other plants on their margins. A few plants manage to rise in the midst of such colonies, but these plants often are very dominant in the space they occupy.

Horsetails and scouring rushes have historical uses for several tasks, and they have provided medicines for some ailments, although those sometimes contradict each other. In general, the medicinal purposes are not backed by scientific evidence – only the testimonials of herbalists and the recorded uses by ethnobotanists who studied small-scale cultural groups in North America and elsewhere.

Yet the frequent occurrence of at least two species makes them deserving of attention as a native plant species.

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When the floodgates open

Leland Searles is a photographer and ecological consultant with expertise in botany, hydrology, soils, streams, and wildlife. -promoted by Laura Belin

“The only thing we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.” (Georg Hegel, German philosopher)

There are too many potential topics for this blog, the third in a series, and that leads to a certain amount of indecisiveness. Until something happens. That something is the flooding that has already occurred in the Midwest this year, and the expectation of more to come. So far, western Iowa, eastern Nebraska, and northwestern Missouri have experienced the worst of it, with a much larger area affected to some extent.

The degree of flooding in the Missouri basin this year is nearly unrivaled in the record books. Still, I want to push this point: we should have known, and we should have acted to prevent it or mitigate it. Dams do not work in the long run, and when the system of dams was built along the Missouri in the 1940s and 1950s, the year 2019 was a long time off. We are now in “the long run” that no one then foresaw.

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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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Guest Wildflower Post: Northern Prickly-Ash or Toothache Tree

(Wednesday is the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, so special thanks to naturalist and photographer Leland Searles for contributing this week's wildflower post early. In case you missed it, I highly recommend his previous contribution to the Iowa wildflower Wednesday series. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Have you taken a walk in the woods with a toothache? Relief may have been nearby. This guest wildflower blog, like my last one, doesn’t describe a colorful, flashy flowering plant. Instead, you will read about Common or Northern Prickly-Ash, sometimes called “Toothache-Tree.” Its scientific name is Zanthoxylum americanum, meaning “American yellow-wood.”

First, the details of identification. Prickly-Ash grows in dry to moist (but not usually wet) woodlands, in places where sun shines: woods edges, clearings, gully and stream banks, and sometimes in open disturbed sites. Often you’ll find more than one because it spreads from underground roots, as well as seeds. During the growing season, two features readily identify it: paired thorns along the twigs, especially at leaf nodes, and long, compound leaves that are feather- or pinnate-compound. Walking through a patch of this woody understory tree, you may notice the thorns raking your clothes. It is not nearly as unpleasant as getting snagged by a Multifora Rose, which may stop you dead in your tracks.

Unlike ashes (its namesake), walnuts, hickories, and other trees and shrubs, it sports attractive, dark-green, shiny leaflets that tend to be oval, but tapering to the base and tip (most obvious on the leaflets near the end of the frond), and the leaflets closest to the stem are shorter and smaller than the leaflets near the tip. There are usually 5 to 11 leaflets on each leaf.

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A Little Vietnam in Dallas County

(Terrifying comment on the lack of basic safety awareness among some Iowa gun enthusiasts. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Yesterday I conducted a wetlands delineation for the Iowa DNR at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Area, along the South Raccoon between Adel and Redfield. Among the highlights: a good plant list that included a new sedge species, Carex oligocarpa; numerous butterflies, including Tiger and Black Swallowtails, American Lady, Spring Azure, Eastern Comma, and Red Admiral; experience with riparian soils; and overall a good day.

The most memorable part came in the last 15 minutes. Four 20-something year-olds noisily stopped about 450 feet away on the old canoe access road and began making sounds that could have been firecrackers. When the first clear rifle report came, I knew that this was no mere Independence Day warm-up. At least two bullets hit within 100 yards of me and a third whizzed overhead as I crouched behind a low dirt pile.

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