Prairie Rivers of Iowa Has Had a Busy and Productive 2023

Prairie Rivers of Iowa Has Had a Busy and Productive 2023

Hello and Happy 2023,

Prairie Rivers of Iowa has had a busy and productive 2023 in Iowa, working on a variety of important initiatives related to creating a healthier natural environment and preserving the rich cultural heritage of Iowa.   As we end this year, we have touched kids, families, landowners, historic homeowners and business owners, communities, natural resource professionals, like-minded not-for-profits and oversaw a national prairie conference in Iowa.

Here’s a summary of some of the key accomplishments and initiatives this year:

EDUCATIONAL VIDEO SERIES – We created a weekly video series for YouTube and Instagram The Clean Water Act: 50 Years, 50 Facts. We produced 45 short videos filmed at dozens of locations (including knee deep in a marsh) and featuring 5 music parodies.  The educational videos covered various aspects of water conservation, law and policy.

Water Testing Ioway Creek Near Stratford in Hamitlon County

MONTHLY STREAM MONITORINGConducted monthly monitoring of at least 15 streams, providing updates in the Prairie Rivers monthly newsletter.  Additionally, coordinated volunteer “snapshots” with neighboring counties and supported school groups interested in water monitoring. Additionally, we published a 65-page report analyzing water quality data, including a novel way of looking at the data.

SECURED A NATIONAL FOUNDATION GRANT – This grant assists us in building a network for interpreting water quality monitoring data.  Seven partners joined Prairie Rivers to focus at sharing best practices, looking for tools to monitor E. coli in our streams, providing a monthly opportunity to express their concerns and planning for an Iowa Water Summit in 2024.

Ioway Creek Cleanup

TWO TRASH CLEANUPS — (1) May 2023 — Cleaned Ioway Creek by canoe, S. Grand to S. 16th St (Ames), 40 participants.  The trash collected weighed 3,020 pounds and included 20 tires and three rims. Partners included: Story County Conservation, Skunk River Paddlers, the City of Ames, Outdoor Alliance of Story County.  (2) August 14, 2023 – Cleaned a tributary of Ioway Creek in Stuart Smith Park (Ames), on foot, nine volunteers, 350 pounds of trash removed.  Partners included Iowa Rivers Revival, Green Iowa AmeriCorps and the City of Ames.

POLLINATOR CONSERVATION Launched a 10-year plan involving over 40 persons serving on a committee to support pollinator conservation.  This plan is aimed at conserving pollinators and their habitats, which are crucial for the environment.  You can see the plan at www.prrcd.org.

Monarch Magic Family Fun Event on September 9th, 2023

MONARCH MAGIC Held the first Monarch tagging event in September, where over 300 kids, their families, and others learned about pollinators and tagged 146 Monarchs.  We had 10 sponsors and partners at Ada Hayden Heritage Park and plan to do it again in 2024.

HISTORIC RESOURCE PRESERVATIONReceived a grant from Iowa Cultural Affairs and successfully surveyed 319 historic listings on the Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway.  In 2024, we will present the findings to elected officials and other interested persons in the 43 communities along the Byway to inform and develop a plan for the restoration and preservation of these important Iowa heritage properties.

BYWAY COORDINATOR AND PROJECTS – Hired a new Byway Coordinator, Jeanie Hau, who is actively working to support our Byway projects.  Prairie Rivers signed a new contract with the Iowa DOT to support work on the Iowa Valley Scenic Byway extending our efforts to preserve Iowa’s heritage.  This Byway begins on Highway 30, Montour turnoff, and travels through the Amana Colonies for a total of 77 miles.

TRAVELING EXHIBITThe Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway traveling exhibit called The Promise Road:  How the Lincoln Highway Changed America has been displayed at various locations, allowing visitors to learn about the rich history of this historic road.  It’s available for display in museums, libraries, and other community spaces.  So far the exhibit has traveled to Jefferson, Grand Junction, State Center, Nevada, Linn County Historical Society: The History Center, Cedar Rapids History Museum, Nevada Library, Marion Public Library, Carroll Public Library, Harrison County Welcome Center, and currently at the Council Bluffs Public Library.

Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway Traveling Exhibit

We cannot do this work without your support!

Today, we are asking you as a supporter to make an end-of-year gift of $50.00 to Prairie Rivers of Iowa.  Your support shows us to keep up the good work!   You can make a gift here online or by going to our donation page for additional options. We know that as good stewards of the land, you see how important this work is today.

It is so important for a not-for-profit to receive gifts from individuals. Hearing from you encourages and supports our very difficult work in support of the natural and cultural resources in Iowa.
Thank you!

Board of Directors
Reed Riskedahl, President
Mark Rasmussen, Treasurer
Doug Cooper, Secretary
Erv Klaas
Bob Ausberger
Chuck Stewart
Rick Dietz
Jim Richardson
Christopher Barber

Staff
Mike Kellner, Marketing and Public Relations
Dan Haug, Water Quality Specialist
Jessica Butters, Pollinator Conservation Specialist
Jeanie Hau, Lincoln Highway National Heritage Byway & Iowa Valley Scenic Byway Coordinator
Carman Rosburg, Office Manager
Daniel Huber, Technology
Shellie Orngard, Historic Properties Consultant

One-Time Donate to Prairie Rivers of Iowa
How to Have a Delightful Halloween Hike

How to Have a Delightful Halloween Hike

As the rays of summer creep towards the embers of autumn, now is a great time to go on a long walk to breathe in the changing of the seasons. While most people will be putting up lights and hoarding candy for Halloween, you can hit the trails to see some of the most interesting and spooky beings found naturally, right here in Iowa! Here we compile all things October to give you the best time to hike, where to find fairy fires and ghostly plants, and facts about curious birds this autumn.

Fantastic Foliage and When to Find It

To enjoy the best fall leaf display, the best practice is to go for a walk each day. If this is impossible, or you love planning, check the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Fall Color Report online (or sign up for email updates on their report page).

Toadstools at Twilight

Did you know that Iowa is home to glowing mushrooms?! The Jack-O’-Lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens) is pumpkin-orange in daylight, and lights up at night! Its light, also called fox fire or fairy fire, is created through bioluminescence. Remember that mushrooms are merely the reproductive parts of fungi. The majority of the fungus is actually underground. To find Jack-O’-Lantern mushrooms, search forests during the day for orange, classic-shaped mushrooms at the base of trees, and then return to areas where you found them on a dark night (with a friend for safety!). Give your eyes time to adjust after you put your lights out – the glow comes from the gills (on the underside of the mushroom) and will be faint. Please don’t harvest the mushrooms – they are poisonous.

Glowing Jack-O-Lantern

Glowing Jack-O’-Lanterns on a dark night

Peculiar Plants

Some native plants you can see now in central Iowa, with quintessential Halloween-like names, include “false boneset,” “doll’s eyes,” and “ghost plant.” False boneset (Brickellia eupatorioides) is named for the fact that its bone-colored flowers and plant structure resemble “true” boneset flowers. However, it is in a different genus of plants. False boneset is an important late-blooming flower for pollinators, and has a fluffy white display after flowering. It also does not spread aggressively, making it a great addition to pollinator gardens.

Sweetheart Underwing Moth

False boneset in bloom

“Doll’s eyes” (white baneberry, Actaea pachypoda), is native to eastern Iowa. This small shrub produces white berries with a large black spot in the center, looking eerily like doll eyes. Adding to this eeriness, the “eyes” are poisonous to mammals, including humans. The closely related red baneberry (Actaea rubra) is native to central Iowa and sometimes produces white berries as well. Berries of both plants are eaten by birds, who don’t digest the poisonous seeds. You can find both plants in forested, shady areas with deep leaf layers.

Reversed Haploa Moth

Doll’s Eyes keep watch in the forest

Ghost plants (Monotropa uniflora) are the star of our peculiar plant category. This plant is truly ghostly white, containing no chlorophyll (read: no green color) for photosynthesis. So how does it get its nutrients? It steals it from fungi! The fungi (specifically, mycorrhizae) share nutrients with neighboring tree roots, and the ghost plant taps into this nutrition-sharing system to help itself. October is near the end of this plant’s flowering season, but the best chances of finding it are in undisturbed forest areas with a deep organic layer.

Common Buckeye

Pale Ghost Plants on the forest floor

Alluring Animals

The harbinger of spooky season is the caw of the crow. Though present year-round, they are more appreciated during the twilight of the year. Seemingly ominous with their dark feathers and willingness to scavenge, these birds are in fact quite endearing. Not only are they intelligent enough to create and use tools to get food, but their offspring, once grown, normally return the next year to help tend to their younger siblings! Maybe groups of crows should be called “families” rather than “murders.” Lastly, how can you tell the difference between a crow and a raven? Firstly, ravens aren’t really found in Iowa – the closest area of their range is in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin. Secondly, the classic “caw” sound is distinctly crow, while ravens croak instead.

Swallowtail Caterpillar

A crow perches in a young tree

October is a lovely time of year, providing unparalleled weather and colors to enjoy Iowa’s outdoors. It is easy to agree with Aldo Leopold’s musing, that “…other months were constituted mainly as a fitting interlude between Octobers.” May you soak up this golden month of the year, and all it has to offer!

Container Gardening for Pollinators

Container Gardening for Pollinators

How to Support Pollinators with Limited Space

Most pollinator garden guides are for those who have the space, time, and energy to implement a large garden into a backyard or front lawn. Those of us who rent, have small yards, or can’t commit as much time to gardening are normally left out of the conversation – until now! Apartment dwellers and busy homeowners alike have the ability to provide important resources to pollinators through container gardening! Below we outline some reasons why container gardening is important, give some gardening tips, list fantastic native pollinator plants, and provide links to inspiring resources to help turn your porch or balcony into an beautiful pollinator habitat!

Bloodroot flower in pot

The Importance of Container Gardens

Container gardeners fulfill unmet pollinator needs

If you live in a large, uniform area such as a rental complex or a grass-turf suburbia, it is all the more important to provide native habitat! These areas are full of concrete and frequently-mowed grass, making the area inhospitable to most pollinators. By growing a container garden, you contribute an important “stepping stone” for pollinators by providing them with nectar and pollen resources to help them move through your neighborhood.

Balcony gardens are inspiring

Have you ever looked at your neighbor’s porch or balcony and been inspired to add solar lights or a hammock to your own? You can do the same by inspiring your neighbors to start a pollinator garden! Apartment balconies are highly visible, giving you the perfect opportunity to showcase your efforts and spread the word about how your neighbors can help pollinators. The more people providing native habitat in your area, the more likely you will be able to start enjoying butterfly and bee sightings!

They are great learning experiences

Everyone starts somewhere. It can be daunting to start growing plants you are unfamiliar with. Additionally, you may be aware of topics surrounding native and nonnative plants, invasive plants, local ecotype… the list goes on. How “correct” do you have to be to get started? In my opinion, it is a great loss to miss out on a learning experience about native plants due to the fact that you were afraid of not being “correct” enough. The more you try, the more you learn, and pollinators desperately need more people learning about them and the plants they rely on if they are going to survive in the future. Also, because you will be growing plants in a container and trying to incorporate native plants, it is less likely that a plant would escape its container and cause issues. Caution is important and it shows that you care, but don’t be afraid, do what you can, and use this article as a starting point to get a pollinator container garden going!

Container Garden Tips:

Plan Ahead and Make Room

Start planning for next year’s container garden now, so you can get a jump on ordering seed or plugs! Also, use pots measuring about 18 inches wide and 18 inches deep or larger; prairie plants have deep roots.

Think Diversity

Provide a range of bloom times, colors, flower shapes, and plant structures to support as many pollinators as possible. This also provides you with a beautiful, dynamic garden space throughout the growing season. It may also increase your chances at seeing polliantors!

Grow Native Plants

Incorporating plants native to Iowa is fantastic, but utilizing native plants with a local ecotype is even better. Local ecotype means that the plant (and its resulting seed) was grown within a certain area, making it well-adapted to that area. To find local ecotype seed,  find nurseries and greenhouses within 150-200 miles of your home, and ask where they source their seed.

 Provide with Patience

It can take a few years for a native plant to bloom if started from seed, whether planted in a pot or the ground. This makes creating a native garden very rewarding! If starting from seed sounds daunting, plan your plant list now, and use plugs instead of seeds for the next growing season. This route is more expensive but gives you a nearly instant pollinator garden.

Heel and Save Seeds

Successfully overwintering grown native plants in pots is difficult; research the term “heeling” for info on how to overwinter pots with more success, or overwinter them in an unheated garage. You could also donate your potted plants to someone who can plant them in the ground in early fall. Remember you can collect seeds from your plants to use next year.

Leave it for the Bees

In the fall, leave potted plants outdoors until November and do not cut back dried-up vegetation. Place pots back outside in April, and only cut back stems and leaves when nightly temperatures consistently reach 50°F. Doing this increases the survival of any pollinators that may have decided to nest in your plants; it gives them a chance to emerge and start the next generation of pollinators!

Pollinator Plants for Container Gardens:

The following plants are mainly tallgrass prairie plants native to Story County, Iowa, and grouped by sunlight requirements. Remember to never take plants from natural areas in an attempt to transplant them into your garden. Natural and wild areas are increasingly scarce, making the plants in them vitally important to pollinators and other wildlife!

Full Sun:

The following native plant species are for balconies and patios that receive full sun during the day. They are also mostly tolerant of drier soils, which is handy as container plants in sunny areas tend to dry out faster than shady areas.

Common NameBloom Period
Butterfly weedJune – August
Species NameDetails
Asclepias tuberosaSupports monarch butterfly caterpillars

 

Butterfly weed
Common NameBloom Period
Narrow-leaved purple coneflowerJuly
Species NameDetails
Echinacea angustifoliaLocal alternative to Echinacea purpurea
Narrow-leaved purple coneflower
Common NameBloom Period
Bee balmJuly – August
Species NameDetails
Monarda fistulosaBee and butterfly magnet

 

Bee balm
Common NameBloom Period
Rattlesnake masterJuly – August
Species NameDetails
Eryngium yuccifoliumAdds unique shape to garden, supports many kinds of pollinators 
Rattlesnake master
Common NameBloom Period
Dwarf blazing starJuly – September
Species NameDetails
Liatris cylindracea Attracts butterflies and bees very well

 

Dwarf blazing star
Common NameBloom Period
Little bluestemWarm-season grass
Species NameDetails
Schizachyrium scopariumSilvery-green bunch grass; turns orange with hints of purple in fall. Supports butterfly caterpillars. 
Little bluestem in summer and autumn

Partial Sun:

The following native plant species are for balconies and patios that receive partial sun during the day. They are also tolerate medium to wet soil. Most pollinator plants love full sun; the following plants require sunlight and tolerate some shade. If you have shade for a majority of the day, you could try researching native woodland flowers.

Common NameBloom Period
Wild geraniumMay
Species NameDetails
Geranium maculatumThis flower blooms before most, making it an important pollinator food source in spring
Wild geranium
Common NameBloom Period
Golden AlexanderMay – June
Species NameDetails
Zizia aureaAs a member of the carrot family, it provides for the black swallowtail butterfly’s caterpillars
Golden Alexander
Common NameBloom Period
Black-eyed SusanJune – July
Species NameDetails
Rudbeckia hirtaProvides great landing pad for butterflies
Black-eyed Susan
Common NameBloom Period
Great lobeliaAugust – September
Species NameDetails
Lobelia siphiliticaIt’s tube shape and blue color make it a favorite among bumble bees
Great lobelia
Common NameBloom Period
Showy goldenrodAugust – October
Species NameDetails
Solidago speciosaCan bloom into October; important food source for late-season pollinators
Showy goldenrod
Common NameBloom Period
Bicknell’s sedgeFruits in late May
Species NameDetails
Carex bicknelliiProvides great cover for all pollinators; possible host plant of some declining butterfly species
Bicknell's sedge

Inspirational Resources!

The Missouri Botanical Garden showcases examples of different pot designs and teaches how to expertly arrange native species together to create a beautifully unique and cohesive look:

Build your own personalized container plant list by finding plant species native to your county at this URL. This website is a digitized version of the book Prairie Plants of Iowa (published 1999) with text and maps by Paul Christiansen and drawings by Mark Müller:

Have fun planning next year’s container garden!