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: Wild and crazy wild cucumber

Luther College Associate Professor Beth Lynch shares her knowledge and photographs of a native vine related to cultivated squashes, gourds, and cucumbers. -promoted by desmoinesdem

In August I received a phone call from a woman I did not know asking about a plant. It turned out that she was sitting in my friend Phil’s kitchen, having just made the drive from the Twin Cities to Decorah. On the drive, she had seen massive mounds of a flowering vine clinging to trees and shrubs along the roadside and was sure it must be the first wave of an invasion.

In fact, what she and many others noticed this summer was the exuberant growth of the native wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata). This plant is native to eastern North America, but for some reason people seemed to really take note of it this year. It has likely become more common because it is well suited to nutrient-rich, disturbed landscapes created by humans.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Stiff Gentian

Katie Byerly shares her knowledge and photographs of yet another wildflower I’ve never seen in the wild. -promoted by desmoinesdem

In his book The Secrets of Wildflowers, Jack Sanders calls Gentians the Royal Family of Wildflowers. Gentians are named after King Gentius, who ruled as the last Illyrian King from 181 to 168 BCE. It is believed that Gentius discoverd medicinal value from the plant and used it as an antidote to poison and in the dressing of wounds.

If we follow the belief that Gentians are the royal family of the wildflowers, I’d like to imagine the handsome King Fringed Gentian ruling his flower kingdom with his beautiful pale Queen Cream Gentian at his side. His brother Prince Bottled Gentian leads the flower army and is known for his strength. And then there is their rigid cousin Duke Stiff Gentian … he is often overlooked as part of the Gentian family as he quietly rules his northern counties.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Rose mallow

Just before Halloween last year, Beth Lynch contributed a fascinating post about witch hazel, a native plant that blooms in the fall.

Since most Iowa wildflowers have gone to seed by late October, I’m reaching back to the late summer for this week’s edition. Marla Mertz took all of these photos in August while exploring prairie habitats in Wilcox Wildlife Area (Marion County).

Rose mallow (Hibiscus laevis) is native to most of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. Sometimes known as halberdleaf or halberd-leaved rose mallow, it thrives in “marshes, swamps, low areas along rivers and ponds, and soggy islands in the middle of rivers or ponds.” According to the Minnesota Wildflowers site, this plant is a “Robust grower but needs some water in dry weather.” The Illinois Wildflowers site concurs: “The preference is full or partial sun, fertile soil, and wet conditions. Flowers require exposure to sunlight to open up properly. This wetland species doesn’t like to dry out.”

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Grass of Parnassus

Katie Byerly shares her images of a rare wetland plant she researched and photographed this summer. -promoted by desmoinesdem

“It’s pinstriped!” was a comment regarding my picture of Grass of Parnassus, posted in the Iowa Wildflower Report Facebook group. Its green-veined petals makes this plant easy to identify… if you can find it.

Marsh Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia glauca), also called Fen Grass of Parnassus or Bog-Stars, grows in wet calcareous habitats like fens, open ground water seepage areas, and wet prairies. The Minnesota Wildflowers and Illinois Wildflowers webpages both comment on the rarity of these habitats and subsequently this flower. Calcareous means to contain calcium carbonate occurring on chalk or limestone, and that’s exactly where I found my grass of Parnassus.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Royal catchfly

Today’s featured flower doesn’t exactly belong in Iowa. But unlike most of the non-natives Bleeding Heartland has profiled for this series, it isn’t a European transplant. Although royal catchfly (Silene regia) is native to states south and east of us, it became popular in prairie plantings or restorations here because of its brilliant color. You are are unlikely to overlook these bright red, star-shaped flowers or confuse them with anything else blooming on an Iowa landscape during the summer.

Over the years, I’ve tried and mostly failed to take good pictures of red or deep pink flowers. The petals often come out looking flat, like a Matisse painting. I’ve learned that this is a common problem for amateur photographers. Fortunately, several wildflower enthusiasts stepped up to share their images of royal catchfly from different parts of the state.

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