# Nature



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: Hoar frost

Editor’s note from Laura Belin: I’m interrupting the winter hiatus of Bleeding Heartland’s wildflowers series to bring you some lovely images by a new guest photographer, Paul Laning. He first shared these pictures in the Iowa wildflower enthusiasts Facebook group, which has remained active this winter.

I’ve had professional training in photography and design and been taking pictures since 1978. I take many nature photographs, but hoar frost is one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy my art.

I took the first five pictures with my cell phone near Buffalo Center (Winnebago County). I shot the last with a Canon EOS in Clear Lake.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: A fungal takeover

Elizabeth Marilla is a mental health worker, writer, picture-taker, hiker, and mom living in Iowa. Connect with her on instagram at iowa.underfoot.

Wildflowers were a gateway to Mycophilia for me. Until very recently, I could only name and identify the most famous mushrooms I might wish for while walking around looking at wildflowers: Morel, Chanterelle, and Chicken of the Woods.

This post is dedicated the members of the Prairie States Mushroom Club, who warmly welcomed me into this bottomless new pastime during the pandemic, and who have very generously taught me many new things about the fungal biodiversity of Iowa–in particular Sarah, Glen, Roger, Marty, and Dean. These folx spotted some of the mushrooms pictured below. There are no additional forays planned for this year, but all fascinated newbies (as well as those with years of expertise) are welcome to join the club again next spring.

This post is also dedicated to the vigilant, patient, and devoted administrators of the Iowa Mushrooms Facebook page, total strangers who have been great teachers, helping me identify so many scrappy little specimens at all hours of the day and night! Impassioned beginners desperately need people like them. Luckily, it appears that the mushroom-loving community includes many genius laypeople, as well as quite a few very cool scientists.

Pictured below are ten of my favorite mushrooms found and photographed in southeast Iowa this summer and fall, with friends and often with my 3-year-old daughter. I have included a few of her recent mushroom drawings at the bottom of the post.

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An affair with the landscape

Bruce Morrison shares some of the northwest Iowa landscapes he has photographed or painted. Top image: “View From Brian’s Overlook- Sunrise No.1” – (NW Clay County – photograph – © Bruce A. Morrison)

When my wife and I moved to our little acreage in northwest Iowa nearly 20 years ago, I had already experienced a lifetime of love and reverence for the Landscape. I can still remember my summers as a youngster on the Des Moines River, which I lived above in Fort Dodge, and almost daily hikes down the railroad tracks to a friend’s farm west of town – where the Lizard Creek spread below their “night pasture”, as they called it…and met downstream with the north fork where the Chicago Northwestern track crossed the waterway’s junction.

The hillsides above the creek were favored respites to lay on in the summer sun and dry off after a swimming hole visit or after wading a good fishing hole; and many times just to watch the valley’s pair of Red-tail Hawks magically hanging in the air high overhead. The views always left me wanting to hold them fast in my memory; it was an emotion I never shook.

“Red-tail Migration” – (pencil drawing – © Bruce A. Morrison)

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Remembering Neal Smith

I was so sorry to hear that former U.S. Representative Neal Smith passed away on November 2 at the age of 101. Iowa’s longest-serving member of the U.S. House represented Polk County in Congress for 36 years, rising to the third-ranking position on the powerful Appropriations Committee. He had tremendous knowledge and wisdom. Having grown up poor during the Great Depression, he sought to use government to improve people’s lives.

I didn’t know Smith well but I always enjoyed seeing him at Democratic events, most recently at a Polk County or Third District event in 2018. The last time we spoke on the phone was in the summer of 2019, when I was working on a piece about the first passage of the Hyde amendment. At the age of 99, Smith recalled details about that 1976 House floor vote clearly.

Of all the events canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the one I was saddest about was the planned celebration of Smith’s 100th birthday at Drake University in March 2020.

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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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