Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Horsetails and Scouring rushes

Leland Searles is a photographer and ecological consultant with expertise in botany, hydrology, soils, streams, and wildlife. -promoted by Laura Belin

The horsetails and scouring rushes (genus Equisetum) are rather odd plants on the Midwestern landscape, because they look like nothing else. They are related, by their genetic makeup and reproductive means, to the ferns. Occasionally, scouring rushes grow in dense colonies in the roadsides, where their dark green color and parallel vertical growth are a contrast with the other plants on their margins. A few plants manage to rise in the midst of such colonies, but these plants often are very dominant in the space they occupy.

Horsetails and scouring rushes have historical uses for several tasks, and they have provided medicines for some ailments, although those sometimes contradict each other. In general, the medicinal purposes are not backed by scientific evidence – only the testimonials of herbalists and the recorded uses by ethnobotanists who studied small-scale cultural groups in North America and elsewhere.

Yet the frequent occurrence of at least two species makes them deserving of attention as a native plant species.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday returns: Cutleaf toothwort

The tenth year of Bleeding Heartland’s wildflower series kicks off with a plant that’s a common sight in Iowa woodlands, especially in April. Cutleaf toothwort (Dentaria laciniata), also known as toothwort, is native to every state east of the Rocky Mountains.

According to the Illinois Wildflowers website, favored habitats “include deciduous mesic woodlands, floodplain woodlands, wooded bluffs, and upland savannas. The presence of this species in a woodlands indicates that its soil has never been plowed under or subjected to heavy construction activities.”

The site says cutleaf toothwort “can survive some disturbance caused by occasional grazing and less disruptive activities of human society,” but tends to decline when the invasive garlic mustard becomes prevalent. (Now’s a good time to pull up garlic mustard, if the soil is soft and moist. It’s been so dry in central Iowa lately that I’ve found many of the roots break off.)

Most of the photos enclosed below were taken near my Windsor Heights home. Mary Riesberg also shared pictures she took in Hancock County, Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from Lee County.

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Recap of Iowa wildflower Wednesdays from 2020

I had big plans for the ninth year of Bleeding Heartland’s wildflowers series. Most of my ambitions didn’t pan out. I didn’t visit any of my favorite state parks or wildlife preserves and made only one trip to Mike Delaney’s restored Dallas County prairie, a plentiful source of material in the past. I also spent less time on bike trails in 2020, with no farmers market to ride to on Saturday mornings.

Other photographers stepped up to help. Many thanks to those who authored posts (Katie Byerly, Lora Conrad, Beth Lynch, Emilene Leone, Elizabeth Marilla, Bruce Dickerson, and Patrick Swanson) and those who contributed photographs for one of more of my pieces (in addition to the guest authors, Marla Mertz, Sheryl Rutledge, Leland Searles, Julie Harkey, Wendie Schneider, and Don Weiss).

Iowa wildflower Wednesday will return sometime during the spring of 2021. Please reach out if you have photographs to share, especially of native plants I haven’t featured yet. The full archive of more than 250 posts featuring more than 220 wildflower species is available here.

For those looking for wildflower pictures year round, or seeking help with plant ID, I recommend the Facebook groups Flora of Iowa or Iowa wildflower enthusiasts.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Flowering plants gone to seed

“This was my worst year ever for getting out with my camera,” I told a friend in October.

“It’s been the worst year for a lot of things,” she replied.

Most of the wildflower posts I’d planned for this fall never came together. Day after day, I kept finding reasons not to drive to a prairie or go for a bike ride on nearby wooded trails. So instead of closing out this year’s series with my own pictures of late bloomers like asters and goldenrods, I am sharing images of plants that finished flowering months ago. Katie Byerly, also known as the “Iowa Prairie Girl,” gave permission to publish the photographs enclosed below, which she took in Cerro Gordo County in early October.

Iowa wildflower Wednesday will return sometime in the spring of 2021.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Sunflowers

As November 8, 2016 approached, I prepared to profile prairie blazing star, which seemed like a fitting way to celebrate the first woman to be elected president.

This year, I was too superstitious to plan for the first post-election Iowa wildflower Wednesday. But now that Joe Biden’s path to 270 electoral votes seems clear, I want to feature one sunflower (plant from the Helianthus genus) that is native to the state in question for every batch of electoral votes Biden flipped.

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Iowa wildflower Wednesday: A walk around my pasture

When not enjoying Lamb’s Ear and other wildflowers, Bruce Dickerson is a history professor at Indian Hills Community College. -promoted by Laura Belin

I live on 25 acres in Appanoose County. Although I’m not able to do it as often as I’d like to, I try to get in some exercise by walking around my pasture and small wooded area that I own. Not a farm, but we do have a couple of horses, and I rent pasture to my Amish farrier so there are sometimes as many as ten horses keeping the grass from getting too tall.  

Anyway, while on a walk a couple of weeks ago I came across what I believe is Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantine), also called woolly hedgenettle, in the wooded area of pasture.

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