Lora Conrad

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Bidens

Lora Conrad lives on a small farm in Van Buren County.

Bidens. Whether you call them Bur Marigold or Beggarticks or one of a dozen different common names, they are all Bidens varieties. One year an explosion of many bright yellow flowers but another year, nary a one. That is a characteristic that Bidens cernua and Bidens aristosa have in common…along with making awns with multiple points all the better to grab anything hairy or clothed that walks by.

These are the two Bidens I see the most in Van Buren County. B. aristosa and B. cernua both have lovely bright yellow rays. However, they look different enough to tell them apart on the basis of the flowers alone, as shown in this side by side comparison. (Each is discussed separately below.)

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Jacob's Ladder

Lora Conrad lives on a small farm in Van Buren County.

The many soft blue flowers shining through the green on the forest floor in early spring just might be a lovely native spring blooming perennial you don’t want to miss: Spreading Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans).

In Iowa, its common name is just Jacob’s Ladder, as it is the only species of the Polemonium genus native to this state. It also has common names of Greek Valerian and Creeping Polemonium. The Polemonium genus is a member of the Phlox family. The Greek Valerian name is a transfer of a name used for a similar plant in the Polemonium genus in England by Europeans in the Americas.

The name Jacob’s Ladder refers to the leaves. Early Europeans believed they resembled Jacob’s Ladder in the biblical story of Jacob’s dream about a ladder leading to heaven. Though that may be a bit over the top, the little plant is “heavenly,” and the common name has stuck for this species and another two members of the Polemonium genus.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Coralberry

Lora Conrad lives on a small farm in Van Buren County.

Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) is a deciduous shrub that is native to the Eastern U.S. and much of the Midwest, including Iowa. Its common name describes its fruit or drupe. Other names used for it include Buckbrush and Indian Currant. It is a member of the Honeysuckle plant family. It is more common in southern Iowa, as shown on this map from the Biota of North America Program (BONAP).

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Allium canadense (Wild onion or Wild garlic)

Lora Conrad lives on a small farm in Van Buren County.

Allium canadense is known by many common names: wild garlic, meadow garlic, wild onion, Canadian onion.

Whatever name you use, this wild Allium is the one you are most likely to find in Iowa. It is not a ramp and not a nodding onion. Several other wild Alliums are native to Iowa (including Allium stellatum, which is also called wild onion), but those are not very common.

This map from the Biota of North America Program (BONAP) shows the native range of Allium canadense in Iowa.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Fragile fern

Lora Conrad profiles a delicate native plant that is often overlooked.

Cystopteris protrusa (formerly C. fragilis var. protrusa) is variously called Southern Fragile Fern, Creeping Fragile Fern, Lowland Brittle Fern, and Southern Bladder Fern, as well as just Fragile Fern which we will use here. It is a relatively easy fern to identify as it grows in early spring and grows in soil, not on rock ledges.

Once you have seen the structure of the frond, you are likely to recognize it in the future. It is found in oak and hickory woodlands, both high quality natural habitat and significantly degraded woodlands. It is widely distributed in Iowa as documented by this BONAP (Biota of North America Program) map dated 2014.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Great Waterleaf

Lora Conrad features a native perennial at different stages of development.

Great Waterleaf aka Appendaged Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum appendiculatum) is one of only two native Hydrophyllum species in Iowa. The other is Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), which Bleeding Heartland featured here.

Great Waterleaf is a native perennial that thrives in partial shade in rich woodlands. Most photos enclosed below were made on a north facing slope of wooded land just above the Des Moines River in Van Buren County. Others were made in a similar site in Lee County. According to BONAP, it is found more in the eastern two-thirds of Iowa.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: The Croton Unit of Shimek State Forest

Join Lora Conrad for a walk through the Croton Unit of Shimek State Forest to photograph and identify plants growing in this “premier woodland wildflower location.”

“Shimek State Forest is located in Lee and Van Buren counties in southeast Iowa. The forest served as a base for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s and 1940s, where they planted thousands of acres of hardwoods and conifers for demonstration purposes. Named after early Iowa conservationist Dr. Bohumil Shimek, the forest offers bountiful outdoor recreation opportunities… ”

So goes the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ understated introduction to Shimek State Forest which is 9,448 acres spread across five forest units.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: American Burnweed

Lora Conrad profiles a weedy native plant that favors disturbed ground.

Known variously as American Burnweed or Fireweed or Pilewort, Erechtites hieraciifolius (Senecio hieraciifolius is an earlier synonym) is found throughout Iowa as well as states east of Iowa. The names burnweed and fireweed result from its penchant for occurring in recently burned areas.

Why the other common name? Well, some indigenous peoples extracted oil from the plant and used it to treat piles, also known as hemorrhoids, thus the moniker pilewort.

It is a native summer annual in much of the U.S., as well as Central and South America. With its penchant for disturbed soil, you may see it sprinkled about or exploding in great numbers in recently disturbed soils, replanted prairies, roadsides, open woods, and renovated wetlands. It follows human habitation and disturbance of the soil. While considered “weedy,” it is not invasive. It tends to fade away as new plantings get more established. Despite its obvious appreciation for replanted prairies and native status, it is not listed in the UI “Iowa Prairie Plants” online.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: What is that plant, flower, or fruit?

Lora Conrad reviews nine useful resources for plant identification in Iowa.

Whether you are new to learning about Iowa wildflowers and native shrubs and trees or have been studying them as a hobby for some years, you are sure to see a plant or flower that you just can’t identify. Before posting a question for the experts on your local wildflower or flora Facebook page, you might want to see what you can learn about the plant and determine yourself.

Three types of resources are widely available: plant identification applications for a smart phone, public web pages from authoritative sources, and books. Each source can be useful but not always sufficient.

The purpose of this article is to compare the reference books that have helped me most in identifying plants in the woodlands, prairies, waysides, river banks, and roadsides of Iowa, as well as in my untamed yard. These are recommendations from a determined wildflower enthusiast—not from a botanist. So with that caveat, please read on.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: American pokeweed (Poke)

I learned a lot from Lora Conrad‘s pictures and commentary about a native plant that some consider a nuisance. -promoted by Laura Belin

Do you call it Pokeweed or Pokesalad? That tells your attitude about Poke—do you yank it out / cut it down, or do you look forward to clipping young leaves and cooking them (carefully) as a side dish?

American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) also has numerous other, though less common names, including pokeberry, polk salad, and poke sallet, both of which seem to be corruptions of poke salad. The name “Poke” most likely comes from the Algonquian word pokan, meaning bloody.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Prairie trillium (Trillium recurvatum)

Lora Conrad shares spectacular photographs of a hard-to-find spring wildflower. -promoted by Laura Belin

The first spring you spot one in bloom, you will be spellbound. A strange but enthralling flower with sepals down and petals up in an unlikely maroon or wine-red color atop three mottled leaves on a single skinny scape perhaps a foot high. You’ve just found a Trillium recurvatum!

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Wahoo

Many thanks to Lora Conrad for wrapping up this year’s wildflower series with an informative piece about a beautiful tree. Iowa wildflower Wednesday will return sometime during the spring of 2019. Happy Thanksgiving to the Bleeding Heartland community! -promoted by desmoinesdem

Driving along a rocky dusty Iowa back road along the banks of the Des Moines River in Van Buren County about eighteen years ago, I spotted the brightest possible pink glowing from a small tree amid the drab, frost-killed brush….. and came to an immediate stop (it’s a very quiet road.) There this rather frail, otherwise naked little tree sat with probably a hundred bright seed pods beginning to burst open. What could it be?

Upon talking with an elderly neighbor native to the area, I learned it was commonly called a Wahoo – a name that is an appropriate expression when one sees its unusual beauty for the first time. However, the word Wahoo probably derives from a Dakota word meaning “arrow-wood.”

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Deptford Pink

Thanks to Lora Conrad for sharing these gorgeous pictures. -promoted by desmoinesdem

One summer about 15 years ago, I was walking a path at the Pioneer Ridge Nature Center near Ottumwa and saw among the green plants one stunningly bright, tiny pink flower. Finding out what it was took years! It was not listed in any of the wildflower reference books I had at the time. After seeing more of the tiny bright flowers over the years and then obtaining internet access to wildflower databases, my efforts produced a name and its origins. The brilliant little Deptford pink (Dianthus armeria) is indeed wild, naturalized and, according to uswildflowers.com, is found sprinkled about in 47 of the 50 states—but it is not native to North America. It’s from Europe and is fairly common in western and central Europe but in decline in England.

Its name came from a case of mistaken identity by a 17th century botanist who described another Dianthus that was common around Deptford, England at the time.

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