Marla Mertz

Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Ghosts of Iowa Woodlands

Marion County Naturalist Marla Mertz presents an unusual wildflower that lacks chlorophyll. You can view her earlier contributions to Bleeding Heartland’s wildflower series here. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Venturing into the woods in late summer is not common for me, as the prairie whispers my name. A quick walk in the woods might just be a good change of pace. Hiking boots on and a camera over my shoulder, off to the woods I go. Within a few short feet of a walking trail, my eyes immediately zoomed to the ground…a snow white flower? mushroom? fungus? Kneeling to take a closer look, the flower appeared to be a fungus. My eyes gaze around the forest floor to see a few more tiny, white looking, flowers and some have tinges of color. Flower or fungus? Being easily entertained, I photographed in every way shape and form in hopes that some would help me to define this unique “something”.

What appeared to be a strange looking fungus, had all of the aspects of a true flower. Not green, but white; a clammy feeling to the touch and waxy petal looking leaves that alternate up the stem. Some were in clumps and some were singled out. Some bowed and some stood straight up. Some had a pink tinge of color and some had a dark purple to black tinge around the petal looking leaves. Some had little yellow-looking flowers within the top of the plant. After an hour of photographing and digging out the old reliables of resource books, all of these observations pointed in the direction of the Ghost Plant, also known as Indian pipe and fairy smoke. Mystery solved!…almost.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: The Alluring Fall Orchids

Marion County Naturalist Marla Mertz presents more Iowa wildflowers I’ve never seen “in real life.” I highly recommend her previous contributions to this series: Showy orchis and Queen of the Prairie. -promoted by desmoinesdem

This spring, Iowa wildflower Wednesday featured a very small, and more commonly known woodland orchid, the Showy Orchis. It is a notable early spring find, and I always look forward to visiting the woodlands for its appearance.

Some of us don’t trek the woodlands in the fall as often, as the prairies and vibrant blooms of roadsides keep us forever in awe and discovery. Late August, September and October are great times to visit the woods, and if you are looking for orchids, a sharp eye and delicate step bring fascinating finds. Iowa’s fall woodlands hold a few inconspicuous and rare little orchids. Oval ladies’-tresses (Spiranthes ovalis) and Autumn coralroot (Corallorhiza odontorhiza) are two of the most common.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: The Unmistakable Queen of the Prairie

Many thanks to Marion County Naturalist Marla Mertz for these views of a spectacular native plant. In case you missed it, check out her first contribution to this series, featuring the much smaller (but still striking) showy orchis. -promoted by desmoinesdem

The prairie presents her Queen! The Queen of the Prairie, Filipendula rubra. Filipendula: from Latin filum for “thread” and pendulus for ‘hanging,” in reference to the small tubers strung together by the fibrous roots. Rubra: from Latin, meaning “red”. The panicle of pink flowers and buds exudes her beauty in the month of June.

To some observers, one may think of cotton candy. She stands high above any prairie grasses and forbs this time of year, and your eyes can’t help but make a connection with this beauty.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Showy Orchis, A Preacher in the Pulpit

I am thrilled to have Marla Mertz share her stunning pictures and description of a native plant I’ve never seen “in real life.” -promoted by desmoinesdem

When someone comments about an orchid, what do you envision in your mind; beauty, grace, delicate, romantic, exotic, tropical? Seeing beautiful orchids in a gardening center or store, I always have to stop and look at each individual one. If I were to a choose one I don’t think I could…each one is more beautiful than the other. It becomes very personal and sometimes it takes a connection to one over the other.

Did you know that Iowa has 32 species of native orchids? According to Bill Witt, author of “Iowa’s Wild Orchids,” an article written for the Iowa Natural Heritage magazine, “Orchids are among the most prolific of all families in the plant kingdom. Over 20,000 species inhabit almost every imaginable habitat to be found between the polar ice caps, from cold, alpine regions to the deserts. Iowa’s orchids, too have matched themselves to just about every available niche, from the white oak swamps of Muscatine and Lee counties to the dry, windswept Loess Hills of Monona and Plymouth counties.”

In 1995, I had the great opportunity to extend my career as the Naturalist for Marion County, Iowa. I had only been working out of the Cordova Park office a short while when a very kind gentleman stopped by to introduce himself and extend an invitation to come to his Christmas tree farm the following spring. He didn’t hold back his welcoming gesture and enthusiasm, and it wasn’t an invitation to see the trees, it was an invite to introduce me to a special woodland orchid growing on his farm called the Showy orchis.

This venture and the gentleman’s enthusiasm inspired a 20 year affair with the Showy orchis. I located one beautiful orchis at Cordova Park, which, unfortunately met its demise with some timber management and clearing. I didn’t know that the plant’s demise would create such personal turmoil. Over the course of the next 19 years I have tromped the earth at Cordova Park searching for more of these hidden treasures. Naturally, some come and go due to successional changes, but I have never located more than five in a year.

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