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: Winter wonderland

We interrupt the winter hiatus of Bleeding Heartland’s wildflowers series to bring you Patrick Swanson’s lovely recent pictures of his Harrison County prairie remnant. -promoted by Laura Belin

Saturday night, February 16, brought a nice snowfall to the Omaha/Council Bluffs region. We don’t often get the kind of snow events that make me want to pull out my snowshoes, but as morning broke on Sunday, I decided to throw them in the back of the car and head to the Loess Hills to see what nature provided.

As I introduced in a previous post, I have been working to restore a native prairie remnant. I had considered trying to burn a slash pile from my summer efforts clearing cedars, as I occasionally do in the winter when the weather cooperates. This day, however, the snowplow hadn’t yet cleared one of the roads I use to access the property where I intended to burn. As a result, I had to park and hike in from a different spot.

Because the snow was deeper than I expected, I bailed out on the bonfire idea, and decided instead to take my own “snow day” to trek around on my snowshoes and capture some winter photos of the prairie and woods on the property. I posted some of my pictures to the Iowa Wildflower Report Facebook group, prompting an invitation from Laura Belin to submit a blog post.

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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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Calling on RAGBRAI riders to help plant milkweed for monarchs

Monarch butterfly enthusiasts have prepared more than 50,000 balls containing common milkweed seeds for riders participating in next week’s Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). As its name suggests, common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the most prevalent among the 17 types of milkweed found in Iowa. However, the use of genetically-modified Roundup Ready corn and soybeans greatly diminished common milkweed on Iowa cropland. “Kelly Milkweed” Guilbeau and a friend scattered some milkweed seeds while doing RAGBRAI in 2014, then prepared about 2,000 balls of seed to hand out during last summer’s ride across Iowa.

Elizabeth Hill, who manages the Conard Environmental Research Area at Grinnell College, has collaborated with Guilbeau on the Milkweed Matters initiative, greatly expanded this year. I wish them every success; driving around Iowa last week, I saw huge stands of wild parsnip along too many roadsides.

I enclose below two pictures of common milkweed blooming, as well as a press release explaining where riders can pick up seed balls to toss in unmowed ditches along the RAGBRAI route, which runs across southern Iowa from July 24 through 30.

You can learn more at the Milkweed Matters website and receive regular updates on Twitter (@milkweedmatters) or Facebook. Butterfly fans can find more good links at the Monarchs in Eastern Iowa website. Although I’m not skilled at identifying butterflies, I enjoy the occasional “butterfly forecasts” by the Poweshiek Skipper Project.

P.S.- Hill will always have a special place in my heart as the accidental godmother of Bleeding Heartland’s Iowa wildflower Wednesday series.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Yucca (Soapweed yucca) and the Yucca moth

I’m always grateful when Iowa naturalist Eileen Miller shares her photography on this blog. Bleeding Heartland readers have seen her incredible eye for detail in wildflowers such as golden corydalis, hoary puccoon and fringed puccoon, marsh marigold, snow trillium, hepatica, blue cohosh, and pasque flower. She also once contributed a post featuring unusual fungi.

Eileen became an expert on wildflowers by virtue of her fascination with insects. If you or a child in your life are into bugs, I highly recommend joining the Raccoon River Watershed Facebook group, where Eileen sometimes posts unbelievable insect photo series, such as an Eastern Comma caterpillar making a shelter, some Giant Ichneumon wasps drilling into a dead tree to lay their eggs on larvae of Pigeon Horntail wasps, a male giant water bug carrying eggs on his back, or a little planthopper winged adult emerging from the last nymph stage.

Today I’m excited to share Eileen’s description and pictures of a plant and insect that are “the classic example of a plant and animal obligate symbiotic relationship where each organism requires the other to survive.”

I’ve never seen Yucca glauca, commonly known as yucca or soapweed yucca. Iowa is on the eastern edge of this plant’s native range, and in our state, yucca is found only in the Loess Hills. According to Charlie McDonald of the U.S. Forest Service website,

As the name implies, the crushed roots of soapweed yucca produce a lather that makes a good soap or shampoo. The lathering substances called saponins are found in many plants, but are exceptionally concentrated in yucca roots. The dried leaves of soapweed yucca can be woven into baskets, mats, or sandals. The strong coarse leaf fibers can be extracted to make cordage.

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