5 MORE of Iowa’s most invasive species (and how to get rid of them)

We listened to your comments! Here are five more threatening invasive species in Iowa.

Autumn Olive

Autumn Olive

Autumn Olive
Identification: This shrub or small tree holds dark green, oval-shaped leaves, small, yellow or white flowers and bountiful reddish/pink fruits. 
Threat: Autumn Olive can survive in areas with poor soil quality, including along roads, pastures, open woodlands and prairies. The plant can survive without much water and is known to invade woodlands or grasslands.  
Removal: Small, sprouted plants can be pulled by hand, while larger shrubs require cutting. Apply herbicide to the leaves or freshly cut stumps, being careful not to affect native plants.  

Frank Mayfield

Creeping Charlie. Photo by Frank Mayfield via Flickr Creative Commons.

Creeping Charlie
Identification: Round, shiny leaves with a scalloped edge, and small purple flowers.
Threat: Although creeping charlie oftentimes doesn’t pose much of a threat to natural areas, this fast-growing ground cover can easily overtake grass, native gardens and landscaping in your yard.
Removal: There are several different ways to combat creeping charlie, and the best method depends on where the weed is located. In small areas, such as a flower bed, hand-removal can be beneficial, but make sure to completely remove the root system or the plant can regenerate. A thick layer of mulch in between plants can also choke out the weed. For grassy areas, herbicide treatment in fall and spring works well. Direct competition from a native prairie plot or garden has also proven to be successful. Keep in mind that creeping charlie is a persistent plant, and it usually requires a few years to completely eradicate.

Annie Roonie

Wild Parsnip. Photo by Annie Roonie via Flickr Creative Commons.

Wild Parsnip
Identification: Large, celery-like leaves and stems with small, yellow flowers. Usually two to five feet high. 
Threat: Wild parsnip is typically found along roadsides, in pastures and prairies or on field edges. They produce many seeds, which allows the plant to easily spread. The weed’s fluids also contain psoralen, a substance that causes skin to burn when exposed to sunlight. These burns often lead to severe blistering. 
Removal: Before attempting to remove wild parsnip, be sure to cover up any exposed skin. Then, work to eliminate seed production of the plant. This can be achieved through hand-pulling, digging out the roots or repeated mowing when the plant is flowering.  

Japanese Knotweed 1

Japanese Knotweed

Japanese Knotweed
Identification: Hollow, brown, bamboo-like stems with greenish-white flowers. Mature plants can grow up to 10 feet tall.
Threat: Japanese Knotweed was introduced in the late 1800’s and was used for landscaping and erosion control. The plant has deep roots–up to nine feet–and spreads quickly. Knotweed colonies can grow in such dense clusters that they crowd out any other native plant life. The state of Iowa passed a law in 2013 prohibiting the import or sale of certain invasive ornamental plants, including Japanese Knotweed.
Removal: The plant should be cut down and the stump treated with herbicide. This method prevents re-sprouting, but may need to be done more than once. Small infested areas can also be covered with tarp to hinder growth.

Paw Paw

Leafy Spurge. Photo by Paw Paw via Flickr Creative Commons.

Leafy Spurge
Identification: This branching perennial features smooth stems and yellow flowers. 
Threat: Leafy Spurge shades out other plants, devours available water and nutrients and releases toxins that prevent other plants growth. The herb invades prairies, savannas, pastures, fields and roadsides. 
Removal: Introducing natural insect enemies of leafy spurge has been proven effective in some areas, but this requires professional assistance. Systemic herbicides are also effective, especially when applied in June as flowers and seeds are developing, or when the plant is moving its nutrients to the root in September. 

For more information about these species and other invasives in Iowa, check out the Iowa DNR’s guides.

Looking to learn more about invasive species? Contact Land Stewardship Director Ryan Schmidt at rschmidt@inhf.org or 515-288-1846, ext. 13.


5 of Iowa’s most invasive species (and how to get rid of them)

garlic mustard

An infestation of Garlic Mustard.

Invasive plant species are like the common cold: They’re easily caught, undesirable and if left untreated, can lead to something much more serious. Across Iowa, a variety of species threaten our native ecosystems. These weeds dominate and choke out wild and native plants, leading to less diverse native natural areas.

The following are five of the most common and threatening invasive species in Iowa.

Continue reading

6 nature podcasts you should be listening to


Photo courtesy of Patrick Breitenbach

Listen up: it’s time we talk about podcasts. These episodic audio shows are taking the Internet by storm with the likes of Serial and Radiolab, but here at INHF we challenged ourselves to find the best podcasts for nature enthusiasts.

Whether you’re just starting to subscribe or have been on the bandwagon for years, we hope you’ll find a program that piques your interest.

Continue reading

Where to find local prairie seeds

Narrow Leaf Purple Coneflower JulyFrom purple coneflower to butterfly milkweed, Iowa is home to beautiful native prairie plants. These forbs and grasses not only look pretty, but also provide habitat for Iowa’s pollinators and songbirds. Enjoy all these species have to offer by planting your own! Whether you’re looking to start a native garden or a full-fledged landscape, the right seeds can make all the difference.

INHF thinks having not just native, but local seeds is important for planting. Local simply means seeds that are sourced as close as possible to where they will be planted. This allows for plants to grow in areas that are well suited to accommodate their needs. Continue reading

Help wildlife this tax season with the Chickadee Check-off

chickadeeThis holiday season, it’s time to give back — to chickadees and other non-game wildlife! On this year’s state income tax forms, you can help non-game diversity programs by checking off your support and contributing a donation. In the past, the money raised through the Chickadee Check-off has sponsored the restoration of the river otter, peregrine falcon and the trumpeter swan. But those are only a few of the many success stories.

The Iowa DNR lists the types of projects that the Chickadee Check-off has sponsored on their website. Here are a few events, projects and programs that the check-off has funded:

  • “Educational Wildlife Appreciation events held all over the state such as: Bald Eagle Watch Days, Pelican Fest and Prairie Chicken Day
  • Designation of Bird Conservation Areas in key areas around the state supporting increased habitat for all types of birds
  • Multiple research projects on birds, butterflies, bobcats, fish, amphibians and reptiles
  • Population monitoring of species status and populations through research projects and volunteer surveys
  • Acquisition of important lands for public use in wildlife watching, hunting, hiking and fishing”
  • Read more here

On the tax form, those wishing to donate can choose the amount they’d like to give to protect and restore non-game species and wildlife. Although still generally called the Chickadee Check-off, today’s Iowa 1040 simply refers to the term “Fish/Wildlife” fund near the end of the tax form. Though the name has changed, the mission is still the same.

For official instructions and descriptions of all the tax check-offs please visit the Iowa Department of Revenue’s website. You may also download a state tax form from their site.


How to make a healthy prairie

One of our main goals at INHF is to preserve, protect and restore Iowa’s prairies. In addition to creating beautiful landscapes, a thriving prairie ecosystem can prevent soil erosion, provide crucial habitat for wildlife and insects and promote water quality.

We’ve put together a hypothetical recipe for a healthy Iowan prairie. Our mix contains a balanced combination of grasses, sedges and forbs. Each ingredient was hand-selected for a central Iowa ecosystem, and the ideal ratio of grasses to flowering plants promotes optimal prairie health.

We used a grass, sedge and switchgrass mix, and eight varieties of forbs. Each forb serves a specific purpose. Milkweed, for example, provides a food source for pollinators. The greater the diversity, the more resistant the prairie will be to encroaching invasive species.

Want to concoct your own prairie? Contact a local conservation specialist or find a prairie seed dealer, listed under “Services,” here.


INHF projects receive REAP funding

Every year, REAP funding benefits Iowa’s great outdoors. This fall, a handful of REAP grants were awarded to INHF projects. Many of these projects are adjacent to rivers and waterways, and their protection will help to improve water quality in these areas. The INHF projects that received REAP grants are:


An Oak tree on the Doyle addition in Guthrie County.

Springbrook Wildlife Management Area, Doyle addition
Guthrie County

An added 48 acres of land adjacent to Springbrook State Park and Springbrook Wildlife Management Area, the Doyle addition brings the entire complex up to 1,413 acres of protected land. The area is known for its wildlife habitat and contiguous oak/hickory wood. Continue reading

Stargazing in Iowa

At the end of September, the total lunar eclipse mesmerized astronomy novices and experts alike. Yet as cool as the blood moon was, it was just one instance of the incredible events that occur in the night sky.

Stargazing is an inexpensive and fun family activity perfect for crisp fall nights, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Below, we’ve compiled a handy guide to get your adventure started.


Photo by David DeHetre via Flickr Creative Commons

“The best places to stargaze are in dark locations away from light pollution of cities,” says Emilee Richardson, Marketing and Communications manager for the Science Center of Iowa. “Within the city, big parks are the best places for viewing.”

See how much light pollution is in your area with this handy map. And if you’re looking for something a little extra, check out these spots with low amounts of light across the state:

Eastern Iowa Observatory and Learning Center
Run by the Cedar Amateur Astronomers, an observatory in Cedar Rapids. The facility holds two telescopes and hosts public observation nights as well as guest speakers. Check out their website for a schedule of upcoming events.

Preparation Canyon State Park
Those looking for a challenge can head to Preparation Canyon State Park in western Iowa. This fairly untouched part of Loess Hills has walk-in campsites so gazers can easily spend a night under the stars.

Nine Eagles State Park
This park in the southern part of the state is open year-round and is the perfect spot for a night of stargazing. Far away from city lights, Nine Eagles is one of the lesser light-polluted parts of the state. Stargazers can stay the night at one of the campsites or simply lay down a blanket for a few hours.

Drake Municipal Observatory
You can even stargaze in the city! The City of Des Moines and Drake University’s observatory offers an eight and a half inch refracting telescope. The center is open to the public on Friday nights, and each week features a lecture and sky viewing, weather permitting. Check out the Fall schedule here.

When it comes down to it, there’s really not much you need besides a dark sky and your eyes. However, a few tools (that you likely already have at home) can make the experience more enjoyable:

When planets and stars are literally light-years away, they can be hard to spot with the naked eye. You can amp up your seeing power with binoculars or a telescope. Not only will you be able to see in more detail, but you can also focus in on a specific planet or part of the sky.

The sky is most clear during the winter months, so if you’re looking for the best view, bundle up and bring some blankets to keep warm. Hot is chocolate optional, but highly recommended.

Star Chart
Especially if you’re just starting out, a star chart can help you identify constellations in the sky. They vary from month to month, and plenty of free, printable versions can be found on the Internet, like the one here. You can also find several Star Chart apps, but the light from your phone might make it harder for your eyes to adjust to the dark and see the stars.

Stargazing is very much dependent on the weather, so be sure to go on a clear, cloudless night to optimize viewing.

According to Richardson, it’s also important to give your eyes time to adjust to the dark, which can take up to 20 minutes. “This is especially important if you’re trying to catch meteor showers,” Richardson said.

Be sure to check out any up-and-coming astronomical events to help plan your night under the stars. Richardson likes to use the Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events to keep track of what’s going on in the night sky.

Happy stargazing! 


REAP In Your Region: Region 10

For the next six weeks, INHF will be sharing the impact Iowa’s REAP program has in communities throughout the state. The Iowa DNR is hosting regional REAP Assemblies until Nov. 5, local meetings that allow residents to learn more about REAP and play a role in the programs policies and projects.


Region 10
Benton, Iowa, Johnson, Jones, Linn, Washington

REAP Assembly – Oxford
Oct. 8, 2015 | Open house: 6-6:30 p.m., Assembly: 6:30-8 p.m.
Conservation Education Center – Kent Park (2048 Highway 6 NW, Oxford, IA 52322) Continue reading

History Lesson: Raccoon River Valley Trail

Here’s your history lesson for the day. Throwback to when the Raccoon River Valley Trail wasn’t even a trail! Check out the story of how an old railroad right-of-way became one of Iowa’s most popular recreation destinations.RRVT2 (1)

In the late 1870s and early ’80s, a railroad route was built to connect Des Moines with the northwest corner of the state. The line became popular, and after changing hands a few times, the “Milwaukee Road” railroad company took over and widened the track to standard dimensions.

For over half a century, the route was a success. But in the early 1950s, when cars became the preferred method of travel, the Milwaukee Line was discontinued for passengers.

The line stayed in use for freight trains, and was bought out once again by the Chicago and Northwestern Transportation Company in 1982. After some economic misfortune, however, the company considered abandoning the route.

That’s when the Central Iowa Energy Cooperative (CIECO) stepped in. They purchased the right-of-way in 1987. After collaboration with the county conservation boards, CIECO agreed to develop a multi-use trail on the tracks, so long as the need for a new railroad didn’t arise.

The trail came together piece by piece, and it now stretches 89 miles—with more additions on the way. INHF helped the county conservation boards purchase the right-of-way from CIECO in 2001.

The Raccoon River Valley Trail is a destination for bikers, skiers, birdwatchers or any Iowan looking to enjoy the great outdoors. Though its history may already linger far in the past, there is still plenty to be written.