Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Purple prairie clover

Whereas some summer wildflowers are difficult to distinguish from one another, you can’t mistake purple prairie clover (Dalea purpurea) for anything else when it’s blooming. Beginning in June or early July, tiny purple flowers “bloom together as a flowery wreath” at the bottom of a cone-shaped spike, moving upward as the weeks pass. Sometimes known as violet prairie clover, this plant is native to much of the U.S. and Canada, except for states along the west and east coasts.

Many kinds of pollinators are attracted to purple prairie clover. The Minnesota Wildflowers website says the species “does well in a sunny home garden in average to dry soil.” The Illinois Wildflowers website notes, “The soil can contain significant amounts of loam, clay, sand, or gravel – this plant is rather indifferent to the characteristics of the soil, to which it adds nitrogen. Foliar disease is not troublesome. Purple Prairie Clover is slow to develop, but is fairly easy to manage if the site is well-drained and there is plenty of sun.”

Fun fact I hope no Bleeding Heartland readers will ever need to know: according to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, “Tea can be made from vigorous taproot to reduce fever in measles victims. This plant is highly palatable and nutritious.”

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Yellow giant hyssop

Some flowers are much more difficult to photograph than others. For years, I’ve wanted to feature yellow giant hyssop (Agastache nepetoides) in this series, but I have struggled to capture clear images of the tiny yellow flowers.

Ecological consultant Leland Searles came to the rescue. Not only is he one of Iowa’s best resources on native plants, he is also a gifted photographer. Leland has previously shared his pictures of Golden Alexanders, various sedges, northern prickly-ash, and the rare leatherleaf with Bleeding Heartland readers. This week he provided some gorgeous shots of yellow giant hyssop, including an incredible picture of a ruby-throated hummingbird sampling these flowers.

Yellow giant hyssop is native to most states in the eastern half of the United States. Leland noted that it is an “open woodland, savannah, or woods edge species.” I’ve seen some growing near trails and also deeper in the woods, in partial shade. I don’t recall finding it in plantings, but the related purple giant hyssop is now blooming in flowerbeds outside the Des Moines Public Library branch on Franklin and near the Meredith trail between Gray’s Lake and downtown Des Moines. Anise hyssop is shorter than either of its relatives and is most easily identified by the scent of a crushed leaf.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Wild quinine

Wild quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) has eluded me for years. The species is native to most states east of the Rocky Mountains, but in the wild it is mainly found in high-quality habitats or prairie restorations. There’s a colony along one of the tallgrass prairie trails at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, but I’ve never visited while these flowers are blooming.

Fortunately, Wendie Schneider and Katie Byerly found stands of wild quinine this summer and gave me permission to share their images.

Speaking of rare plants I’ve never managed to photograph, I highly recommend the last two editions of Iowa wildflower Wednesday, featuring other people’s beautiful pictures of purple milkweed and small white lady’s slipper.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Purple milkweed

For the second week in a row, I have the pleasure of sharing images of wildflowers I’ve never found in nature. Purple milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens) is not nearly as rare as the small white lady’s slipper that Katie Byerly featured last week, but it’s much less prevalent than swamp milkweed or butterfly milkweed, let alone common milkweed.

The species is native to much of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. According to the Illinois Wildflowers site, you may find purple milkweed on “lower slopes of hill prairies, meadows in wooded areas, thickets and woodland borders, bluffs and open woodlands, oak savannas, glades, and roadsides. This plant usually occurs along prairie edges near wooded areas, rather than in open prairie. It is usually found in higher quality habitats.” Alternatively, you can grow your own; Minnesota Wildflowers advises that this species “will bring the gift of insects and birds to your garden.”

Purple milkweed resembles common milkweed, but its flowers are a deeper color, “it is less hairy overall,” and its seed pods are smooth rather than prickled.

Four naturalists took the enclosed photographs in four different counties.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Small white lady's slipper

Nature enthusiast and talented photographer Katie Byerly shares images of a gorgeous and rare native plant. -promoted by desmoinesdem

Finding a new wildflower is always a treat. I was treated this spring when a wildflower friend, Ken Plagge, called to tell me that he had found a Small white lady’s slipper at Wilkinson Pioneer Park in Rock Falls (Cerro Gordo County). Also called White moccasin flower, Small white lady’s slipper (Cypripedium candidum) is a native orchid often associated with the words “rare” and “threatened.” It is found in prairie fens and wet/mesic prairies.

However, the treat did not end there. Ken and I soon found out from the Cerro Gordo County Conservation team that this flower’s presence had never been recorded at Wilkinson Pioneer Park. A short 24 hours after first seeing the plant, we were meeting with Mark Leoschke, a state botanist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, to help document the white lady’s slipper’s existence in Rock Falls.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Moth mullein

When I first photographed today’s featured wildflowers two summers ago, I hoped I had found a new (to me) native species. A friend thought the flowers might be Canada frostweed. Alas, John Pearson of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources confirmed the ID as a weed with origins in Eurasia.

Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) has become widespread throughout the U.S. and Canada. According to the Illinois Wildflowers website, the plant thrives in sub-optimal habitats, such as “pastures, abandoned fields, vacant lots, irregularly mowed lawns, areas along roadsides and railroads, and gravel bars along rivers. It prefers highly disturbed areas and is not invasive of natural areas to any significant degree.” Indeed, I’ve never seen moth mullein on a native or restored prairie. I took all of the enclosed pictures along the Meredith Trail between Water Works Park and Gray’s Lake in Des Moines, disturbed ground that was once a rail line.

Though my editorial bias favors native plants, Iowa wildflower Wednesday has occasionally showcased non-natives, even some considered undesirable weeds. After last week’s red, white, and blue extravaganza, I felt like posting pictures of pretty yellow blossoms today. (White is supposedly a common color variation for moth mullein flowers, but I’ve only ever seen the yellow variety.)

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