Volunteer spotlight: ISU students volunteer for “magical” day

Six Iowa State University Natural Resource and Ecology Management (NREM) graduate students used their skills to help open up and restore a remnant prairie on a March day this spring on a Boone County woodland just 20 minutes from campus. This is the fifth time ISU’s NREM students have worked on the site.


Students from ISU’s Natural Resource and Ecology Management department and INHF staffers work with David Marlow to reclaim a hilltop on the Gardner Property in Boone County. (Gifford the dog was a big help, too.)

“What is interesting about this student group,” INHF Volunteer Coordinator Mary Runkel said, “is that even with students flowing through the program and graduating each year, the passion and knowledge never seems to leave because the leadership is handed down and new energy emerges.” Continue reading

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. Continue reading

What’s in Bloom: Woodlands

This is our second 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.

May is Iowa Wildflower Month! The Iowa Prairie Network has a calendar of events throughout the month designed to introduce Iowa’s woodland and prairie wildflowers. To get a head start, check out what’s blooming in the woodlands:

Rue anemone

The hardiness of the Rue anemone originates in its thick tuberous root system that allows for a rapid start each spring. These beauties are difficult to transplant and should be allowed to thrive in their natural habitats. Photo by Mary Runkel.

Rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides) blooms on dry, open slopes during March through June. It is also called an anemone or windflower. The flowers bloom on individual stalks with two or three flowers in each cluster. The flowers have 5-10 petal-like sepals which provide a shallow saucer-like formation with several yellow-green stamens in the center. These hardy flowers’ strength originates with its thick tuberous root system that allows for a rapid start each spring. As hardy as the root system appears, the flowers are difficult to transplant and should be allowed to thrive in their natural habitats. Though no medicinal uses have been found for the Rue anemone, the tubers were gathered by early settlers and Native Americans as a food source. Continue reading

RAVEs define Earth Day 2015

Engaged citizens committed Random Acts of Volunteering for Earth (RAVE) to clear invasive species, collect garbage, restore habitats, inform interested individuals and establish formal ties with two colleges from April 18-25 – Earth Day activities at their finest.

With the help of Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation board and staff members, the cooperative efforts demonstrated how common goals, restoration knowledge and elbow grease can help restore our Mother Earth’s precious resources. Continue reading

An early Earth Day celebration


INHF staff and volunteers collect seed at Turin Loess Hills State Preserve and Wildlife Management Area in Monona County.

According to an article in The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Earth Day started in 1970 when San Francisco activist John McConnell and Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson separately asked Americans to join in a grassroots environmental demonstration. McConnell chose the spring equinox, March 21, 1970, and Nelson chose April 22. Millions of people participated, and today Earth Day continues to be widely celebrated with events on both dates. Continue reading

Volunteer spotlight: Folks at Faulkes Heritage Woods

Walking through snow in Iowa in early March turns into a rewarding experience for these 17 volunteers from INHF, Trees Forever, the City of Marion Parks and Rec. and Winding Pathways, LLC. The group cleaned Japanese barberry from Faulkes Heritage Woods near Marion.

One of the best kept secrets in Linn County is the 110-acre Faulkes Heritage Woods – located on the Cedar Rapids/Marion border just south of Highway 100 and east of I-380.

On a snowy Saturday in March, 17 volunteers from INHF, Trees Forever, the City of Marion Parks and Recreation and Winding Pathways, LLC, enlisted hand saws and loppers to spring clean the invasive Japanese barberry from the area. Continue reading

The restorative powers of a prescribed burn: Part 1

Snyder burn1

INHF Land Stewardship Specialist Ryan Schmidt carries a drip torch during a prescribed burn at Snyder Heritage Farm in Polk County.

Wild fires are an integral part of our natural landscape because they allow prairie grasses to renew and invigorate soil, according to Ryan Schmidt, INHF Land Stewardship Specialist.

Historically American Indians and Mother Earth’s lightening shows took care of burn projects by turning vast prairie lands into dark, barren landscapes that allowed new, fertile spouts of grasses and wild flowers to emerge. The large-scale roar of ancient fires gave prairies and woodlands the time and space to repopulate as natural habitats and to naturally remove invasive species.

This year INHF staff members are tentatively planning 20-25 burns from March through May. Burns, covering areas smaller than an acre or plots larger than 200 acres, should be completed by mid-May.

The ecological restoration of oak savannas through prescribed burns also brings opportunities for growth from natural seed banks, according to Erin Van Waus, INHF Land Stewardship Director. She said oaks are tolerant of prairie fires and their naturally expansive canopy offer protection for the bottom layer of the savanna.

The INHF land stewardship staff checks over an oak savanna shortly after a prescribed burn in Polk County.

The INHF land stewardship staff checks over an oak savanna shortly after a prescribed burn at Snyder Heritage Farm in Polk County.

To picture a savanna, think of Little House on the Prairie’s Pa Ingalls selecting a cool oasis of Bottle Brush and Big Bluestem grasses dotted with Columbines and Sweet William flowers and protected by a stand of majestic oak trees. Though the definition of an oak savanna is debatable, one resource says if more than one-half of the ground of a forested area is in the sun at noon in midsummer, the vegetation is a savanna. If the canopy has greater than 50-percent tree canopy coverage, the vegetation is a woodland or forest.

According to an article by Molly McGovern published in the Iowa Natural Heritage Magazine in Summer 2003, savannas were nearly eliminated in the Midwest within 50-80 years of European settlers arriving on the land as the trees were either cleared for plowing or logged for building.

Van Waus noted that a prairie burn is a two-part, interchangeable process. After staff members identify undesirable plants like Mulberry, Ironwood and Multiflora Rose that need to be eliminated, they can either remove the brush and invasive species from the area and then plan the burn or burn the area according to safety and ecological needs and then clear the brush of the unwanted plants.

Wind direction and velocity are important safety factors involved in orchestrating a prairie burn along with having humidity in a 30 percent to 45 percent range, according to Schmidt. Other concerns to keep in mind are reliable water sources, adjacent land, animals and building locations and, of course, crew members tuned into the overall structure of prairie burns.

Check back soon for Part 2 and see more pictures and video from our prescribed burn at Snyder Heritage Farm in Polk County. 


What’s in Bloom: Early Spring

This is our first 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.

As incredible as 60-degree weather feels in early March, think about the opportunity this warmth provides tender prairie flower seedlings. Despite the recent cold snap, there are still plants that can be found blooming around Iowa.

Pasque flowers are noted for their purple, blue or white sepals that appear to be pedals. Photo credit: Gary Tonhouse.

Pasque flowers (Anemone patens) bloom in March and April and grow 2 to 16 inches tall. The hairy, gray-green stems grow nearly erect from a thick, horizontal rootstock and a single, large flower emerges from the tip of a long flowerstalk. Though the flowers do not have true petals, they produce five to seven blue, purple or white sepals that form a flower about one-inch across and up to 1-1/2 inches long. Pasque flowers are broadcast by wind energy. American Indians used crushed leaves of Pasque flowers for the treatment of rheumatism, boils, burns and sore eyes. Other common names were April fool, prairie smoke, hartshorn, wild crocus and wind flower.1

Prairie Smoke - Old Man Whiskers

Prairie smoke is in the rose family and is abundant on upland prairie sites. Photo credit: Gary Tonhouse.

Prairie smoke (Geum triflorum)  bears its pink blossoms in early spring and grows equally well in sandy, loamy and clay soils though it prefers a well-drained site and full sun according to information posted on the Wisconsin Master Gardener site. This woodland flower is in the rose family and is abundant on upland prairie sites. The flowers can have as many a nine clusters of nodding reddish-pink, maroon or purple flowers on 12-18 inch stems. The plant forms a 6-10 inch cluster of foliage produced by 9-19 narrow, ferny leafs. The leaves turn red, purple and orange in late fall. Though the leaves wilt in full, hot sun, they emerge into a deep gray-green color in the cooler fall air. American Indians used an infusion of roots and crushed seed pods or pulverized roots as an eye wash, sore throat gargle, and as a tonic for menstrual cramps. Other common names are Old Man’s Whiskers, Purple Avens and Three-Flowered Avens.


Prairie dandelion, also called goat chicory and false dandelion, blooms in April and May.

Prairie dandelion (Agoseris cuspidata) blooms from April through May in dry prairies and stony hills from Wisconsin to Montana. The perennial taproot produces narrow, grasslike leaves from four to eight inches long, and the yellow dandelion-like flower tops a stout, leafless stalk that may grow to one foot in height. The long, thin pedals radiate from the sepals and form a flower that is one to two inches across and one-inch high. The pedals have a five-toothed, ragged appearance at the tips and are less numerous than a common dandelion. The tender roots of the prairie dandelion were eaten raw by early settlers and the dark, milky juice that flows from a broken stalk – similar to rubber – was chewed by American Indians. Other names were goat chicory and false dandelion.1


Pusseytoes are also called everlasting and ladies’ tobacco. Meskwaki women used the leaves to make tea to drink following childbirth.

Pusseytoes (Antennaira plantagini-folia) are low-growing perennials often found on rocky edges or dry, disturbed woodland sites and is a valuable soil anchor. Blooms decorate the landscape from late April to June. Several narrow leaves and a tight cluster of grayish flower heads emerge from the center of a base rosette and are covered with silky hairs. The gray appearance of the leaves look similar to a dusty rose and retain their color after being picked. Pusseytoes are unisexual and reproduction occurs by leaf-bearing stolons which allow dense colonies to form. Meskwaki women drank a tea produced from the leaves for two weeks after childbirth to prevent illness. Other common names are everlasting and ladies’ tobacco.1

  1. Runkel, S. (2009). Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie (Second ed., pp. 7-15). Iowa City, Iowa: University of Iowa Press.


Improvement plan: Breen Prairie reclamation


Employees from General Mills help harvest prairie seed from the Breen Prairie north of Monticello in Jones County on Oct. 8, 2014.


Prairie sage grows up to 40 inches tall and blooms August through September. The multi-branched stems are thickly covered by fuzzy grayish hairs. Some American Indians used it to treat tonsillitis, sore throats and stomach problems.

Building friendships and renewing natural habitat are two methods of environmental improvement, whether in the office or on the land.

Approximately 30 employees from General Mills in Cedar Rapids enjoyed a day out of the office last October. They went to the rolling Breen Prairie north of Monticello in Jones County to assist in an INHF seed harvest. Though sunshine and blue skies do promote team building, so does the giving back aspect of harvesting native seed for soil restoration.

Breen Prairie is a 140-acre parcel donated by Helen Reichart to INHF in 1989 with the specific intent of restoring and preserving Iowa prairie.

The General Mills team removed brush and then harvested six bulging bags of seed, including Indian grass, Prairie sage, Prairie cinquefoil, Wild quinine, Leadplant, Gray-headed coneflower and Pale purple coneflower. The seeds were dried over the winter and reseeded between corn rows as part of a prairie reclamation on Jan. 19, according to Tylar Samuels, INHF Land Stewardship Specialist.