Iowa wildflower Wednesday: American pokeweed (Poke)

I learned a lot from Lora Conrad‘s pictures and commentary about a native plant that some consider a nuisance. -promoted by Laura Belin

Do you call it Pokeweed or Pokesalad? That tells your attitude about Poke—do you yank it out / cut it down, or do you look forward to clipping young leaves and cooking them (carefully) as a side dish?

American Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) also has numerous other, though less common names, including pokeberry, polk salad, and poke sallet, both of which seem to be corruptions of poke salad. The name “Poke” most likely comes from the Algonquian word pokan, meaning bloody.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Tall green milkweed

Of the seventeen milkweed plants (Asclepias genus) that are native to Iowa, only five are widespread in our state: common milkweed, swamp milkweed, butterfly milkweed, whorled milkweed, and sand milkweed.

Today’s featured plant, Tall green milkweed (Asclepias hirtella), is considered “scarce” rather than endangered or threatened in Iowa. Its native range includes parts of eighteen states from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, plus the Canadian province of Ontario. According to the Illinois Wildflowers website, preferred habitats have exposure to full sun, with “moist to dry conditions, and sandy or gravelly soil,” including “dry-mesic railroad prairies, sand prairies, rocky glades, edges of sandy wetlands, roadsides, pastures, and abandoned fields.” This species is sometimes known as prairie milkweed.

Tall green milkweed plants typically reach a height between one and three feet, so aren’t particularly tall compared to some summer wildflowers on the prairie, such as compass plant or cup plant. But it’s taller than a related species called green milkweed ( Asclepias viridiflora). The Minnesota Wildflowers site advises that flowers of Asclepias hirtella “are different enough to avoid confusion, plus A. viridiflora is typically a shorter plant with less densely packed leaves.”

I’ve never seen tall green milkweed in the wild, so relied on other photographers for all of the images enclosed below.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Summer at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

I used to visit the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City several times a year when my children were younger, and when I regularly drove between Des Moines and Pella. But I hadn’t been there for more than a year until this week. Old friends vacationing from the east coast had heard of the place and share my love of native plants, so we spent half a day in the Prairie Learning and Visitor Center and on one of the nearby walking trails.

You can easily spend an hour or two in the center, watching a short film about the tallgrass prairie and checking out the permanent exhibits on plants and animal life. If you’re lucky, you may be able to see some of the bison herd from a large window overlooking part of the refuge. Volunteers staff the Prairie Point Nature Store, which has a fantastic collection of books (for children as well as adults), toys, t-shirts, postcards, and other small gifts. There’s no cafe or restaurant, but you can bring your own food and eat in the lunchroom.

On to the main attraction…

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Sulfur cinquefoil (Rough-fruited cinquefoil)

Among roughly 200 wildflower species featured on this website since 2012, all but a dozen have been native to North America. Today’s plant is one of the exceptions.

Sulfur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta), also known as Rough-fruited cinquefoil, is indigenous to Eurasia but can now be found in almost every U.S. state and Canadian province. Like many non-native plants, it thrives on disturbed ground. According to the Illinois Wildflowers site, “Habitats include limestone glades, pastures and abandoned fields, vacant lots, roadsides, gravelly areas along railroads, compacted soil along grassy paths or dirt roads, infrequently mowed lawns, weedy meadows, and waste areas.”

Although the U.S. Wildflowers site describes this plant as invasive, the ecological consultant Leland Searles told me, “It’s introduced but not aggressive.”

I took all of the enclosed pictures on Mike Delaney’s restored Dallas County prairie, mostly in late June. Searles speculated that this plant may have found its way there through some prairie seed mix.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Pale purple coneflower

By my count, Pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) is the 200th wildflower species featured at Bleeding Heartland since I launched this series in 2012. (I’m not counting the sedges Leland Searles profiled or Eileen Miller’s posts about insects or unusual fungi.)

I’ve published more than 200 Iowa wildflower Wednesday posts, but some native plants have been the star of the show more than once. You can scroll through all posts tagged wildflowers in reverse chronological order, or click here for a full archive on one page, alphabetized by common name.

Pale purple coneflower seemed fitting for a milestone because it a striking plant in tallgrass prairie habitats, which used to cover most of Iowa. The species is native to about two dozen states in the East, South, and Midwest. I took most of the pictures enclosed below on Mike Delaney’s restored Dallas County prairie either a couple of summers ago or in late June 2019. When I visited again this week, the pale purple coneflowers were well past their peak, and some had finished blooming.

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