What’s in Bloom: May

This is our third installment of “What’s in Bloom.” From time to time, INHF volunteer Catherine Wilson will let you know about native plants that are in bloom around Iowa.

Soft rains and warm weather continue encouraging wild prairie and woodland flowers to emerge from their winter rest. This week we will look for Pusseytoes, Wood betony, Bastard toadflax and Prairie smoke during prairie walks.

Pusseytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolis) is a member of the daisy family and grows on clay soil,  rocky ridges or on dry, disturbed woodland sites from April to June. This rosette looking flowers is also called everlasting, ladies tobacco and immortelle. The leaves and flowering stem are covered with fine white hairs that give it a gray cast.The flowering stalk rises from the center of the basal rosette. Because this flower is normally unisexual reproduction occurs by leaf-bearing stolons which allow dense colonies to form. The Meskwaki made tea from the leaves to protect new mothers from sickness and the oils and glucosides were used to aid digestion. This plant is used a a soil anchor on dry, poor soil.¹

Wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis) flowers from April to June in upland, acidic soils and woodland clearings throughout the central U.S. The plant is also called snaffles, beefsteak plant and lousewort.This perennial rises 6 to 18 inches tall in the right circumstances. Their fernlike appearance results from the long, narrow 5-inch leaves which radiate in an alternating fashion up the stem from the midrib. The leaves are silvery green and may be red wine colored in the early spring before changing to green. The upper lip of the greenish-yellow flowers darken to a purple or red color as they mature but the lower lip remains yellow. A 2/3-inch long fruit capsule contains several seeds.The Meskwaki and Prairie Potawatomi made tea by boiling the entire plant and used to it reduce swelling and tumors.The Native Amemricans also made a poultice to treat rattlesnake bites, a magic charm and even as a love charm.¹

The delicate appearance of the Bastard toadflax hides its parasitic nature as it uses nutrients from roots of many other plants, trees and shrubs.

The delicate appearance of the Bastard toadflax hides its parasitic nature as it uses nutrients from roots of many other plants, trees and shrubs.

Bastard toadflax (Comandra umbellata) blooms from April to July in dry ground, open woods or sandy soil. This wildflower grows to a foot in height and is also known as the comandra and the star toadflax. This plant is parasitic on the roots of many other plants, trees and shrubs.The small white flowers form small clusters at the tips of the flowering stems. Though the flower has no petals, its five sepals occur around the rim of the structure that later becomes a nut-like fruit. Native Americans used the fruit as a trail snack because they were small and easy to carry. They also brewed tea from the leaves or sucked on the immature flowers like a cough drop or for respiratory problems. Bastard toadflax repopulates by rhizomes and form dense stands. After the seeds mature in midsummer, the plant dies back.¹

Prairie smoke fruit has plume-like 2-inch long gray tails that resemble feather dusters and a hooked sitcktight that clings to animal fur and clothing.

Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum) is a member of the rose family and is identified by five oval petals that vary from reddish brown to pink, yellow or flesh-colored. It begins blooming in April and continues through June. The fruit has plume-like 2-inch long gray tails that resemble feather dusters and posses a hooked sticktight that clings to clothing or animal fur. It is also called old man’s whiskers and Johnny smokers. The flowering stems and plentiful basal leaves grow from 6 to 16 inches tall from perennial rootstock . The leaves have petioles with 7 to 15 leaflets arranged along a midrib four to nine inches long. Early settlers drank tea made from Prairie smoke to curtail colic, for digestive tract ailments and uterine hemorrhage. It contains tanin and is used as a powerful astringent.¹

1. Runkel, S., & Roosa, D. (2009). Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie (Second ed., pp. 11-31). Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press.


Up in the Blufflands

Limestone bluffs along the Upper Iowa River in Winneshiek County (Photo by Clint Farlinger)

Limestone bluffs line the Upper Iowa River in Winneshiek County. (Photo by Clint Farlinger)

In passing, the split-level building in Decorah seems nondescript. The only sign indicating INHF’s presence was hurriedly printed and taped to the door. But this minimalism is by design. “We’re just not there all the time,” says INHF Blufflands Director Brian Fankhauser of the new INHF blufflands office. Instead, Fankhauser and his new assistant, Jered Bourquin, are out in the field more often than not. Continue reading

Loess Hills Prairie Seminar

The sun sets over the Loess Hills in Monona County. (Photo by Robert Buman)

The sun sets over the Loess Hills in Monona County. (Photo by Robert Buman)

“Honoring Prairie and the Hills”

Whether avid prairie enthusiast or curious nature lover, you’re invited to join INHF at the 39th Loess Hills Prairie Seminar from Friday, May 29, to Sunday, May 31. Events will be held at the Loess Hills Wildlife Management Area northeast of Onawa and in Onawa at West Monona High School.

The Northwest Area Education Agency sponsors the seminar annually and invites educators, students, park and conservation persons, community leaders, and citizens. A living memorial to found Carolyn Frerichs Benne, a Western Hills Area Education Agency environmental educator, the prairie seminar brings together 300 people of all ages every year to promote conservation, environmental and science education.

Events for families and Iowa citizens of all ages are scheduled throughout the weekend, including campfires on Friday and Saturday nights, a silent auction and breakout sessions about birds, plants, insects, photography, history, soil, geology, ecology, prairie management, journaling, Native American heritage, landscaping and more

INHF members will lead two of the breakout sessions on Saturday, May 30, at the Outdoor Seminar Site:

8:15 a.m. | Landowners’ Conservation Options
INHF Land Stewardship Director Erin Van Waus will shed light on how and why people choose permanent protection for land they own. An introduction to land donations, bequests and conservation easements will be given, as INHF serves landowners who face these decisions.
10:15 a.m. | Place, Purpose and Prairie
INHF Loess Hills Land Conservation Consultant Tim Sproul and INHF Volunteer Coordinator Mary Runkel will tell the tale of INHF using the story of Turin Prairie. They will share how and why we do what we do.

Volunteer at G.R.A.S.S. (the Great Race Against Shrubs and Shade)


Remove woody species to keep Turin Prairie beautiful.

Join INHF, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy and other partners during the Loess Hills Prairie Seminar to explore and volunteer at Turin Prairie on Friday, May 29, at 9:00 a.m.

With thoughts of energy and impact, watch the land transform before your eyes at this annual event. Participants will work in teams to remove brush from the large hillside prairie, which may involve use of chainsaws, loppers and handsaws.

Questions about the prairie seminar should be directed to Dianne Blankenship at bennaid@hotmail.com. Questions about G.R.A.S.S. volunteer event should be directed to Mary Runkel at mrunkel@inhf.org.


Parks of Gay Lea Wilson Trail

Featured on the Iowa By Trail app, Gay Lea Wilson Trail extends for 35 miles in Polk County, through Des Moines, Altoona, Pleasant Hill and Ankeny. Along the way, six parks–we feature five here–offer riders a chance to take a break and enjoy Iowa’s natural beauty. Continue reading

Submit your photos for our 2016 calendar!


Every year, INHF celebrates the natural beauty found all over Iowa in a 12-month nature calendar. We love highlighting the best of what Iowa has to offer—scenery, wildlife and spectacular natural moments. The best part about it? Seeing our great state through your eyes—and lens.

We’ve officially opened our photo submission period for the 2016 INHF calendar! We can’t wait to see your best shots of all the Iowa land, water and wildlife you love. 

If you’re interested in submitting photos for consideration before the July 1 deadline, you’ll find helpful resources on our website for more information. Also make sure to review our general photo submission guidelines. Questions should be directed to Kerri Sorrell.


RAVE along the Great Western Trail

INHF Volunteer Coordinator Mary Runkel (second from left) with volunteers at last year's Taco RAVE.

INHF Volunteer Coordinator Mary Runkel (second from left) with volunteers at last year’s Taco RAVE.

Do you like biking? Do you like conservation? And most importantly, do you like volunteering? Then you’re in luck!

INHF, Polk County, Warren County Conservation and Bike Month will host the second annual Taco RAVE at Great Western Trail on Tuesday, May 19. From 5 p.m. to sundown, you can not only enjoy a bike ride to support conservation but also participate in a Random Act of Volunteering for Earth by picking up trash and spreading prairie seed along the trail. RAVE programs get people directly involved with their natural areas.

Participants can stop at various booths along the trail to pick up prairie seed bombs, see a live raptor and take advantage of drink specials at Outskirtz, a bar on the trail near Orilla.

Those who participate will earn a free drink at the Cumming Tap.

Parking for the Taco RAVE will be available by Orlondo’s Bar and Grill at the trailhead on Valley Drive and George Flagg Parkway near Park Avenue.

Questions about INHF’s volunteer program? Contact Mary Runkel at mrunkel@inhf.org or call 515-288-1846.


Nature Walk: Hooded Merganser Ducklings

"If you are a Hooded Merganser hen with a brood of ducklings you have a fulltime job keeping them in line.  Like wood ducks they are tree cavity nesters, and readily use wood duck houses on small ponds, streams or rivers.  This group of ten is likely only a few days old; yet can easily keep up with their mother." --- Carl Kurtz

“A Hooded Merganser hen with a brood of ducklings has a full-time job keeping them in line. Like wood ducks, they are tree cavity nesters and readily use wood duck houses on small ponds, streams or rivers. This group of ten is likely only a few days old, yet can easily keep up with its mother.” — Carl Kurtz

If you are interested in purchasing a print of this photo or requesting information on possible use of any of our “Nature Walk” photographs, please contact Carl Kurtz at cpkurtz@netins.net. View our other Nature Walk posts!


Into the Wild & Out with the Mustard

Volunteers remove invasive garlic mustard from Heritage Valley.

Volunteers remove invasive garlic mustard from Heritage Valley.

Join INHF to combat invasive garlic mustard (via hand-pull) at our third annual “Into the Wild & Out with the Mustard!” volunteer event.

When: Saturday, May 16 from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. or 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Where: Heritage Valley, an INHF-owned property 20 miles northeast of Decorah

Why: Garlic mustard, a highly-invasive, non-native plant, can seriously degrade woodlands when left unchecked. Having been described as the “most fun invasive species pull in the state,” this event is a chance to meet others passionate about Iowa’s resources, enjoy the spring outdoors and hear the “cowboy poetry” of Jon Steege during lunch. But more importantly, removing these plants helps preserve the northeastern woodlands of Iowa.

Plus! Lunch and other refreshments–including morning coffee–will be provided. Those working the second shift are welcome to come early for lunch, which will be served at noon.

How: To register, contact INHF Volunteer Coordinator Mary Runkel by May 13 at mrunkel@inhf.org or 515-288-1846.

Though those of all ages and abilities are encouraged to attend the mustard pull, volunteers should note that the terrain can be steep and uneven. Participants are asked to bring work gloves and a portable water bottle.


Conservation Easement Incentive Act moves to the Senate

At the end of last year, the enhanced deduction for conservation easement donations expired. To restore—and make permanent—this enhanced incentive, bipartisan legislation introduced the Conservation Easement Incentive Act to the U.S. House (H.R. 641) and the U.S. Senate (S. 330) in February this year. Continue reading