Category Archives: Sowing Seed

‘Prairie Therapy’ Soothes Psychiatrist, Autistic Son Article

When psychiatrist Elizabeth Reeve needs to unwind and recharge her mental batteries, she heads to the prairie.

Not the wild prairie, but the one she and her husband have painstakingly restored at their weekend home in southeastern Minnesota.

“It’s therapeutic — an opportunity to get outside and think in a different way,” she said.

She loves walking its five gently rolling acres and seeing what’s blooming and growing.

The prairie helps Reeve maintain the balance she needs to juggle a very full life. In addition to her practice, which focuses on autism and other developmental disabilities, she recently was named Minnesota’s Psychiatrist of the Year by her peers and published a book, a survival guide for kids with autism spectrum disorders and their parents.

It’s a subject Reeve knows not just clinically but personally, from raising an autistic son herself. Born during her residency, he’s now 24 and lives at home.

“Having a disabled adult child changes your perspective — it changes the whole plan,” Reeve said.

In a way, that changed plan helped lead Reeve’s family to the prairie. “We were looking for land to build on when we retired,” she said. “My son doesn’t drive. He has to live in an urban environment because he takes the bus. The long-term plan is he’ll have the house (in Minneapolis) and we’ll retire down here.”

Reeve and her husband, Mark Conway, alpine-ski-racing coach for the Minneapolis school district, were driving in the rural area when they saw a “for sale” sign. They liked the 1995-built house with its post-and-beam construction, and the 20 wooded acres surrounding it. The previous owner, who built the house, had already started a prairie restoration on what used to be a cornfield.

Reeve, an avid gardener, and Conway decided to buy the land and continue the restoration. Their work includes “burns,” torching the landscape to eliminate non-native plants. “The natives have deep roots; they’ll come back, but the noxious weeds are superficial,” Reeve said.

“You need a crew, so it doesn’t get out of control,” Reeve said. “The first year I was absolutely terrified. Afterwards it looked like a lava field.”

It was hard to imagine that the scorched earth would ever support life again. But before long, native plants began to reappear, denser and more vigorous than ever.

Last year, the couple did a second burn and Reeve took part, donning a firefighter’s suit, laying a “water line” around the perimeter, then using a flamethrower to ignite the landscape.

The two prairie burns have transformed their landscape dramatically, Reeve said. They now have 50 to 60 native species, including wildflowers, native grasses and medicinal plants.

“We’ve worked really hard to expand the diversity,” Reeve said.

She also harvests seeds, drying them and scattering them to produce more native prairie plants.

Reeve is fascinated by the variety of native species now thriving on their land. She points out a compass plant, so-named because it orients its leaves to point north-south, and a purple hyssop. “If you smell the leaves, they smell like licorice,” she said. When she finds a new one, she marks it with a little flag. “So in theory, I can find them again,” she said.

When Reeve isn’t tending the prairie, she’s tending their large garden.

“We don’t buy any vegetables,” she said. “There’s nothing better than out-of-the-garden fried red potatoes for breakfast.”

Does she ever, like, relax on weekends?

“This is relaxing,” she said with a smile.

Being outdoors in the natural world restores balance and well-being for their whole family, she said. Her adult son loves splitting wood. Her younger son, Luke, likes playing “Star Wars” on the prairie and helping reseed the native plants, sometimes both at the same time.

Kids, and in particular, kids with ADHD, benefit from being outside, doing physical things, Reeve said, rather than being inside playing with electronic devices all day. “Research shows that lack of (outdoor activity) decreases people’s creativity,” she said. “It’s not rocket science. People who get out and take a walk feel better than people sitting inside all day.”

Spending time in her prairie helped her write her book, she said, and she hopes to write a second. “I want to do a book for high-school students and young adults with autism — helping them live with it,” she said.

Even the drive back to workday reality, on rural roads vs. a crowded rush-hour freeway, is a relaxing transition, she said. “I’m absolutely fresher Monday after being here. It starts the whole week off completely differently.”

Article By Kim Palmer
Minneapolis Star Tribune

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2013: Year of the Gerbera Article

Few flowers capture the hearts of people more than Gerbera Daisies since the daisy shape is such a familiar form and is easily drawn by artists of all abilities. Combine the pleasing shape of Gerbera with bright luminous colors and you have an irresistible plant for today’s gardens. Gerbera is an extensive genus and a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae). There are approximately 30 species in the wild, extending to South America, Africa and tropical Asia. The meanings of Gerbera flowers come from those attributed to the general daisy family. These meanings include innocence and purity. Daisies are also a classic symbol of beauty. In addition, Gerberas hold an added meaning of cheerfulness, which stems from the assortment of colors available.

HISTORY

Gerbera, as we know it today, is probably originating from crossings between Gerbera jamesonii and Gerbera viridifolia. Both of these species are native to the southern part of Africa, in particular South Africa. The Gerbera genus was classified in 1737 by Gronovius and named after the German botanist, Traugott Gerber, who travelled extensively in Russia and was a friend of Carolus Linnaeus. In 1884 a rich gold deposit was discovered near Barberton, South Africa. Robert Jameson, a Scottish businessman, formed a mining company to search for gold in the Barberton area in the Kaap Valley. Near the mining operation wild Gerbera plants grew in profusion. Mr. Jameson, an amateur botanist, took interest in the wild Gerbera plants and brought some plants back with him when he returned to his residence in Durban, South Africa. These plants would later become known as the Transvaal or Barberton Daisy. The plants were initially given to the local Botanic Garden in Durban and then in 1888 sent to Kew Gardens in England. Only one plant survived the journey but fortunately another botanist, Harry Bolus, had previously sent a large number of plants to Kew in 1886 and suggested naming the species after Robert Jameson. The lead botanist at Kew, Joseph T. Hooker, agreed and soon work began in England on the development of the modern Gerbera.

BREEDING

In the beginning of the 20th century, the breeding of Gerbera accelerated when a large range of crosses were made by Adnet in France and Lynch in England. However, during the two world wars, not much breeding was done but in the early 1970’s the breeding of Gerberas accelerated again. Cut Gerbera were the main interest but Gerbera for bedding use were developed. Then in the late 1970’s breeding of potted plants began.

The first gerbera for potted plant usage began with the release of Gerbera jamesonii ‘Happipot’, an open pollinated series bred by Sakata Seed Corporation, in Yokohama, Japan. ‘Happipot’ was available in five colors and was a big hit with consumers who had never seen daisy-type flowers in colors other than white. In the early 1990’s Sakata improved on the ‘Happipot’ series with the introduction of the world’s first F1 hybrid pot Gerbera series, ‘Skipper’ and ‘Tempo’. ‘Skipper’, was a mini type for 4-inch/10 cm. pots and ‘Tempo’ was bred for slightly larger pots.

In the late 1980’s Daehnfeldt Seed Company, based in Odense, Denmark, raised the bar with the introduction of Gerbera ‘Festival’ series. ‘Festival’ offered bright colors and in an expanded color range. Initially, all Gerbera were available with green centers but in the mid-1990’s Daehnfeldt released varieties with dark centers which added a new dimension Gerbera, which increased appeal. Additional flower forms, such as semi-double and spider types, were later introduced to pique the consumer’s interest and offer her more beautiful flower forms.

FLOWER FORMS

Gerbera species bear a large flower head with rayed petals in pink, orange, yellow, gold, white, red, cream and bi-colors. The center of the flower is either green or black. The flower head has the appearance of a single flower but is actually composed of hundreds of individual flowers. Gerbera flowers are diverse and their flower heads range from 2.5 to 8 inches/6–20 cm. in diameter.

Single flowers: The main class of flowers is the single type with two layers of flower petals.

Semi-double flowers: The semi-doubles are often seen in cut flower types and some series of pot types. Semi-double flowers have extra rows of mini petals around the center eye, giving the blooms added bulk and interest.

Double flowers: Unique full flowers have 5-7 layers of flower petals that completely cover the flower head.

Spider flowers: Featuring a unique flower form with thinner and more pointed flower petals resembling sea urchins.

CUT FLOWERS

Many consumers have their first encounter with Gerbera as cut flowers since Gerbera is the fifth most used cut flower in the world (after rose, carnation, chrysanthemum, and tulip). Gerberas as cut flowers offer a rich color palette and beautiful flower forms from single to semi-double.

VEGETATIVE INTRODUCTIONS

Originally, pot type Gerberas were grown from seed This changed when an outdoor patio type from tissue culture called Gerbera jamesonii ‘Giant Spinner’ was introduced. It offers enormous pink & white flowers (8-inches/20 cm.) with a vigorous plant habit suitable for 10-inch/25 cm. pots. Additional vegetative lines from tissue culture soon followed. Florist de Kwakel B.V. introduced the ‘Landscape’ Series, a cross between potted Gerbera and cut flower types, with large flowers targeted for patio pots and large tubs. These larger flowers met a consumer need for home grown Gerbera cut flowers. The ‘Garvinea’ series is another recent introduction that has a more botanical-look with an abundance of smaller flowers on disease resistant plants.

HOME GROWING

It is not surprising that consumers would want to enjoy Gerberas in mixed containers throughout the summer growing season. Gerberas do well outdoors if given the proper care and conditions.

Media: Plant in coarse and well-drained media that is slightly acidic pH 5.5 – 6.5. A high pH results in iron chlorosis characterized by yellow striping of the upper foliage. A pH below 5.5 causes excess manganese to accumulate in the lower foliage characterized by black spotting or patches.

Exposure: Gerberas require morning sun in warmer southern climates and full sun in cooler northern locations. Do not plant them against a brick wall or near surfaces that reflect intense heat.

Moisture: Water early in the morning to allow rapid drying of foliage. Allowing moisture to remain on the leaf surface overnight invites diseases like powdery mildew.

Fertilizer: Incorporate a slow release fertilizer into the media and supplement with a liquid fertilizer every 2 weeks.

Flowering: Gerberas flower based on the amount of light the plant receives into its center. Remove excess foliage from the center throughout the season to maximize light penetration and flower production.

Diseases: Gerberas are subject to various root rots so allowing the media to dry slightly in between watering aids in keeping the root system healthy. However, do not allow the plants to wilt severely as it damages the root system making it more susceptible to fungal pathogens.

Powdery Mildew appears as whitish spots that quickly spread until the entire leaf surface is covered. The white powdery growth is a fungus that over time becomes gray to tan/brown felt like patches. Leaves may become stunted, curled, chlorotic and eventually wither and dry up.

Conditions of moderate temperatures and high humidity (>80%) help develop the disease. Under warm days and cool nights water condenses on the leaves allowing spores to germinate. Mildew pathogens are host specific and the mildew that attacks Gerbera Daisies will not spread to melons or zucchini.

Prevention and control

The use of baking soda is a kitchen-remedy that helps control powdery mildew but will not eliminate it.

Mix 1 tablespoon each of baking soda and horticultural oil (dormant oil/vegetable oil) or a few drops of liquid soap to 1 gallon of water. Spray weekly making a new mix each time. It will not eliminate the disease but helps to control it. Be sure to water the plants the day before and do not apply in full sun. As always testing the plant’s sensitivity by applying to a small area first is best.

Neem Oil is also effective in controlling infections of powdery mildew. Mix 1 oz (2 tablespoons) of Neem oil and an approved spreader sticker or a few drops of dishwashing soap to one gallon of water. The spreader sticker causes the solution to form a film on the leaf surface as opposed to droplets. Spray once a week for two weeks. A rotation of Neem oil and baking soda is the safest control method.

If using commercially available fungicide sprays, always follow label directions to make sure the product is approved for specific plants. Early detection works best. Once the disease takes hold, it is difficult to control.

Cultural preventatives

remove the infected leaves
do not crowd the plants
provide good air circulation
keep plants well watered and stress free
grow resistant plants when available
avoid excess nitrogen application as succulent new growth is more susceptible.
Insects: There are several insects that attack Gerberas including aphids, whiteflies, thrips, spider mites and leaf miners.

Aphids are insects that eat the sap from gerbera daisy leaves, which causes the leaves to turn yellow. Ladybugs and spiders are the aphid’s natural predators. You can spray a soap solution on the leaves of the gerbera daisy to keep aphids away, or apply an insecticide for aphids from your local garden supply store.

Whiteflies also eat plant juices and saps, and lay eggs on the underside of the leaves. The best way to control whiteflies is spraying insecticide not only on the top, but on the underside of each leaf of your gerbera daisies. You should also avoid planting healthy plants next to infected ones.

Thrips cause damage by eating leaves and also act as vectors bringing diseases from other plants they have previously eaten. Thrip infestation can also cause the flowers of the Gerbera daisy to have a distorted shape. Green lacewings are a natural predator, or you can use a soap shield to get rid of thrips.

Spider mites damage gerbera daisies by sucking the sap from their leaves to the point where the leaf yellows or even drops off. Like many other gerbera daisy pests, the predators for spider mites include lady bugs and pirate bugs.

GROWING GERBERAS FROM SEED

Most gardeners find it easy and convenient to purchase finished plants at the garden center. However, growing Gerberas from seed is a fun exercise for the entire family and allows the hobbyist to order some unique varieties not readily available at garden centers. Below are some basic tips to consider when deciding if this is worth doing.

Select a lightweight, sterile and well-drained media consisting of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite. The soil should retain sufficient moisture to germinate the seed but not be saturated. Optimum pH is 5.8-6.2.
Place the media in flats or pots that have drainage holes. Make shallow rows in the flats about twice the depth of the seed’s diameter and cover lightly with extra media or coarse vermiculite. Another option is to use peat blocks or Jiffy pots but be sure to guard against planting too deep.
Moisten the media thoroughly but do not oversaturate so that water does not ooze when pressed with your thumb.

Cover the flats with a clear plastic germination dome or clear plastic wrap and place about 18 inches/46 cm. under fluorescent lights.
Check the flats daily to ensure that there is sufficient moisture and do not allow the media to become dry, especially when Gerbera seeds are beginning to germinate.

Once seedlings emerge and the cotyledons are up and lying flat, allow the media to dry down in between watering. A lack of oxygen at the root level results in gnarled and stunted seedlings. Transplant as seedlings begin to touch to avoid stretched and spindly plants.

Gerberas do best with a calcium nitrate-based fertilizer that also contains some magnesium. Formulations such as 15-5-15 Cal/Mag at 150-200 ppm Nitrogen are ideal. Alternate as needed with an acidic formulation such as 20-10-20 to control the pH. A pH above 6.2 results in microelement deficiencies, especially iron and boron. A pH below 5.5 increases uptake of manganese with black spotting beginning on the lower foliage. Supplemental applications of magnesium applied every 14 days promote healthy green plants. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of Epsom Salts (magnesium sulfate) into 1 gallon of water or combined with a gallon of fertilizer solution. Professional fertilizer formulations are available at some garden centers or may be purchased on line.

Provide light up to 14 hours per day. Lighting longer than 14 hours causes excessive plant stretching.

Gerberas flower based on the amount of light received into the plant crown. Depending on conditions, flowering occurs in 18-20 weeks from sowing. A hobby greenhouse or sunny windowsill that provides higher light levels will hasten plant development and flowering.

Article Is From the National Garden Bureau, Inc., Website

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Earthyman Explains Dormant Seeding Fall Planting by Ion Exchange, Inc.

Did you know that Fall is a good time to plant native prairie wildflower seeds. Dormant seeding is mimicking Mother Nature.  You can even plant in November, December and even if you have a couple of inches of snow!

Get Ahead of the Game and Plant Your Seeds Now!

Call Us At 563-535-7231
Fax 563-535-7362
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Wildflowers…Following Nature’s Design

By: Howard Bright aka Earthyman http://ionxchange.com/

In nature, certain species are found growing together and they form a specific community called a “plant community”. Native plants always grow in association with other native plantsto create plant communities that are essentially associations of indigenous species that have evolved over thousands of years and adapted to the specific geography, hydrology and climate of a particular area. The resulting “communities” are really groups of plants that exist together because of the given conditions.

We can use these native plant communities as a prescription from nature in designing our wildflower gardens or landscapes.  There are four broad categories of native plant communities here in the Midwest and hundreds of sub categories as we break each of them down into more specific site conditions.  It is important to recognize which one of the four categories you would like to create or reconstruct.  The four major plant communities of the Midwest are:

  • Prairies
  • Savannas
  • Wetlands
  • Woodlands

In this article, we are only going to discuss the Prairie sub communities.

Within each of these categories we narrow down our site conditions and begin our design of what native species of wildflowers, grasses and sedges will work best for our site. For instance, if we have an open area that gets full sunlight, we have a perfect opportunity to create a “Prairie”.  Within the Prairie Community, we can further break down our site conditions to reflect:

  • Wet Prairie
  • Wet-Mesic Prairie
  • Mesic Prairie
  • Dry-Mesic Prairie
  • Dry Prairie

Now this may sound too complicated for the normal gardener but it really isn’t.  Here are a few tips to allow you to identify where your site fits in.  First of all let’s talk about your soil.  You may say that you don’t know anything about soils and that’s o.k.  You can still come close to what your soil is like by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. When you walk across your site with tennis shoes on, do your feet get wet throughout the growing season?  If so, you can bet this is a site for a Wet Prairie Plant Community.
  2. Is the ground soggy at times but eventually dries out and then becomes soggy again?  This could be a good place to establish your Wet-Mesic Plant Community.
  3. Would your site be a good place for a vegetable garden, not too wet, not too dry with fertile rich soil?  Here I would select a Mesic-Prairie Plant Community.
  4. If you think your site is a little bit on the dry side but not extremely dry, you would choose a Dry-Mesic Plant Community.
  5. If your site is really dry and maybe has no topsoil, maybe rocky or sandy I would choose a Dry Prairie Plant Community.

Now, after you have decided which plant community you want to create, here are some examples of wildflowers and grasses to consider for each community:

1.     Wet-Prairie Plant Community

  • Swamp Milkweed
  • Swamp Aster
  • Turtlehead
  • Boneset
  • Blue Flag Iris
  • Marsh Blazingstar
  • Great Blue Lobelia
  • Monkey Flower
  • Mountain Mint
  • Buttonbush
  • Sneezeweed
  • Sweet Black-eyed Susan
  • Ironweed
  • Joe Pye Weed
  • Riddell’s Goldenrod
  • Blue Vervain
  • Mana Grasses
  • Wool Grass
  • Dark Green Bulrush
  • Bottlebrush Sedge.

2.  Wet-Mesic Plant Community

  • Canada Anemone
  • Sneezeweed
  • Boneset
  • Great St. John’s Wort
  • Wild Quinine
  • Nodding Onion
  • Great Blue Lobelia
  • Cardinal Flower
  • Sawtooth Sunflower
  • Blue Flag Iris
  • Blue Vervain
  • Mountain Mint
  • Swamp Milkweed
  • Prairie Cordgrass
  • Fox Sedge
  • Big Bluestem
  • New England Aster
  • Prairie Blazingstar
  • Marsh Blazingstar

3.  Mesic Plant Community

  • Anise Hyssop
  • New England Aster
  • Partridge Pea
  • Cream Gentian
  • Prairie Blazingstar
  • Foxglove Beardtongue
  • Wild Senna
  • Foxglove Beardtongue
  • Yellow Coneflower
  • Compass Plant
  • Pale Purple Coneflower
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Ox-eye Sunflower
  • White Prairie Clover
  • Purple Prairie Clover
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Butterfly Milkweed
  • Canada Milkvetch
  • Prairie Coreopsis
  • Sweet Black-eyed Susan
  • Smooth Blue Aster
  • Golden Alexanders
  • Rattlesnake Master
  • Big Bluestem
  • Indiangrass
  • Little Bluestem
  • Prairie Dropseed
  • Canada Wild Rye

4.  Dry-Mesic Prairie Plant Community

  • Anise Hyssop
  • Sky Blue Aster
  • Smooth Blue Aster
  • Showy Goldenrod
  • White Prairie Clover
  • Purple Prairie Clover
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Stiff Goldenrod
  • Prairie Alum Root
  • Wild Bergamot
  • Butterfly Milkweed
  • Ohio Spiderwort
  • Pale Purple Coneflower
  • Purple Coneflower
  • Yellow Coneflower
  • Leadplant
  • Partridge Pea
  • Little Bluestem
  • Sideoats Grama
  • Rough Dropseed
  • Canada Wild Rye

5.  Dry Prairie Plant Community

  • Butterfly Milkweed
  • Sky Blue Aster
  • Silky Aster
  • Cream Wild Indigo
  • Partridge Pea
  • Flowering Spurge
  • Showy Sunflower
  • Old Field Goldenrod
  • Alumroot
  • Rough Blazing Star
  • Wild Lupine
  • Spotted Bee Balm
  • Large-flowered Beardtongue
  • Purple Prairie Clover
  • Ohio Spiderwort
  • Hoary Vervain
  • Lead Plant
  • Wild Senna
  • Little Bluestem
  • Side-oats Grama
  • Sand Love Grass
  • June Grass
  • Blue Grama

Remember, nature has these self-made recipes for your wildflower gardens and reconstuction areas.

 To Purchase Native Wildflowers & Prairie Plants Visit Us At http://ionxchange.com/

Howard Bright’s Thoughts On The Rochester Cemetery Article

This was a great article about the Rochester Cemetery in Iowa

http://www.desmoinesregister.com/VideoNetwork/913944130001/Exploring-an-Iowa-pioneer-cemetery

It reminded me of my first years in Iowa.  In 1970, I was a Soil Scientist working for the Soil Conservation Service.  Little did I know that I would be mapping the soils of Rochester Cemetery.  I was mesmerized by the diversity of plants and the feeling that I got as I walked over this special place.  Still, I remember eating my balony and cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches over the noon hour and just sitting there being overwhelmed as the spirits of the past meshed with the earth and her special treasures adorning the gravesites.  This is where I learned to sense the vibrations of Iowa native plants and how different the feel was there in that cemetery compared to the feelings I got while traverseing acres and acres of corn and soybean fields.

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Plant Native Plugs Now By Following These Simple Steps From Ion Exchange, Inc.

Follow these simple steps to get your native garden going with live plant plugs:

  • Select the proper species just right for your region and environment.  Select color, bloom time, soil moisture required and sunlight conditions.
  • Eliminate all competition from existing vegetation by tillage or using a burn down herbicide such as Roundup.
  • Group your plants by species and plant in clusters to make sure you get a real burst of color during flowering time.
  • Space your plants approximately one foot on center but you may leave a greater distance between clusters.
  • Of course, plant taller species in the background so as to not to hide shorter species.
  • Use a dibble bar to plant your plugs.  A dibble bar can be hand made.  If you are in loose soil that has been tilled, you may use your hand or hand trowel but in harder untilled soil, you will need a planting device called a dibble bar that you can create or purchase.
  • Make sure your live plants, when planted have good soil contact with minimal air space around roots.  Insure this by heeling in the plants without injuring them and water them right away.
  • Mulch the entire area with approximately 4 inches of mulch.
  • You will need to maintain your garden by eliminating any unwanted weeds or species that tend to spread.
  • You may want to move some of your species in the future because you do not like the aesthetics.  You can paint your own picture after you get a feel for what looks good to you.

Earthyman

To Purchase Native Wildflowers & Prairie Plants Visit Us At http://ionxchange.com/

 

Native Plant Communities Of Iowa Article

By: Howard Bright

The Plant Communities of Iowa are vast but we will limit them to four major communities knowing there are many subgroups of these four.  What is a plant community? In nature, certain species are found growing together and they form specific colonies of plants called  “plant communities”. Native plants always grow in association with others to create plant communities that are essentially associations of indigenous species that have evolved over thousands of years and adapted to the specific geography, hydrology and climate of a particular area. The resulting “communities” are really groups of plants that exist together because of the given environmental conditions. 

Why is it important to know about natural plant communities?  It is very important because we can use these native plant communities as a prescription from nature in designing our wildflower gardens or landscapes.  There are four broad categories of native plant communities here in the Midwest and hundreds of sub categories as we break each of them down into more specific site conditions.  It is important to recognize which one of the four categories you would like to create or reconstruct.  The four major plant communities of the Midwest are: Prairies, Savannas, Wetlands and Woodlands.

When the white man drove deeper through the hardwood forest driving westward until they eventually broke through the dark shadows of trees and the shrubs of that forest land and peered out onto the blinding light of the open prairie, it was a sight to behold waving in the wind and appearing as a sea of rolling grasses dotted with the colors of blooming flowers.  Indeed this was a strange land to these new visitors.  Steeping out onto this sea of grass, the pioneer disappeared and kept moving westward.  This land was covered with Buffalo, Elk, Deer, Bear, Cougars, Prairie Chickens, Beaver and all kinds of wildlife.

It wasn’t long before this land was discovered, occupied and changed forever. In the 1800s, Iowans reworked the face of their new state with a speed and to an extent perhaps unparalleled in human history.  At the beginning of the century, a blanket of prairie cloaked three-quarters of this “land between two rivers.”  Pothole marshes dotted the flatter north-central part of the state, while a network of streams laced the rolling hills elsewhere across Iowa.  Dense forests engulfed some valleys in the east and groves of bur oaks climbed out of the river corridors and onto the ridges to form savannas.

Thousands of Native Americans lived on the land, harvesting wild plants and animals, growing crops, and occasionally managing the vegetation with fire.  By 1900, however, Euro-American settlers had claimed nearly all of Iowa’s 36 million acres as farmland. Non-Indian settlement officially began on June 1, 1833, when pioneers first were allowed to claim new land in the 6-million-acre Black Hawk Purchase along the west side of the Mississippi River.  By 1846, when Iowa became a state, census records listed 96,088 people.  The population doubled to 192,914 by 1850 and topped one million before 1870.  In 1900, Iowa had 2.2 million people, compared to 2.9 million people today.  Most lived on the state’s 200,000 farms, working land where 95 percent of the prairie, two-thirds of the woodlands, and most of the wetlands had been converted to agriculture.  This dramatic, swift, almost complete change of diverse prairie to a monoculture of cropland profoundly altered the ecosystem.  Twenty-eight million acres of bluestem, dropseed, compass plants, coneflowers, gentians, and hundreds other species were transformed, in a relative eye-blink, into a patchwork of corn, wheat, oats, hay, and pasture.  Those plots have expanded to the huge roadside-to-roadside corn and soybean fields that we see today.

Before Iowa was settled a map depicts the vegetation that was present around 1850.  Note the majority of the landscape was tall grass prairie.  There were thousands of acres of wetlands, especially in Central and Northwest Iowa.  The Woodlands were confined to the steep areas along streams and in the Driftless area of Iowa.  Rolling and steeper hills were occupied by Savannas.

It only took 60 to 70 years to almost completely change the ecosystem of Iowa.  It is said that this was one of the quickest and largest annihilations of a natural ecosystem.  Oxen with wooden and steel plows developed by John Deere ripped up the prairie sod and crops were planted.

Glacial deposits occurred over the entire state of Iowa during a period of 2.5 million years and as recent as 10,000 years ago.  The only region not affected by glaciations is northeast Iowa where bedrock is exposed in many areas.

A multitude of events were occurring simultaneously during the last glacial period known as the Wisconsian Glacial Age.  Notably, while the older glaciers of the Nebraskan, Kansan and Illinoinian had long retreated and left their heavy loads across the state, a new glacier advanced from the north covering the north central and central pars of the state.  At the same time huge amounts of silt were blowing in from the northwest from the exposed glacial plains due northwest of Iowa’s western border. Loose materials much younger than the bedrock beneath dominate the present land surface across Iowa. These materials consist of sediment originating from ice sheets, melt water streams, and strong winds during a series of glacial events between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago (Quaternary). This familiar “dirt” consists of pebbly clay, sand, gravel, and abundant silt, which over time have weathered into Iowa’s productive loamy soils. These easily eroded “Ice Age” deposits account for the gently rolling appearance of much of the Iowa (and Midwestern) landscape.

During the Ice Age, glaciers advanced down into the mid-continent of North America, grinding underlying rock into a fine powder like sediment called “glacial flour.” As temperatures warmed, the glaciers melted and enormous amounts of water and sediment rushed down the Missouri River valley. The sediment was eventually deposited on flood plains downstream, creating huge mud flats. During the winters the melt waters would recede, leaving the mud flats exposed. As they dried, fine-grained mud material called silt was picked up and carried by strong winds. These large dust clouds were moved eastward by prevailing westerly winds and were redeposited over broad areas. Heavier, coarser silt, deposited closest to its Missouri River flood plain source, formed sharp, high bluffs on the western margin of the Loess Hills. Finer, lighter silt, deposited farther east, created gently sloping hills on the eastern margin. This process repeated for thousands of years, building layer upon layer until the loess reached thicknesses of 60 feet or more and became the dominant feature of the terrain.

Even though the prairie is gone, it has left us with a black treasure, our soil.  Over the eons of time the plants that grew on the prairie formed the richest soil on this planet.  Millions of acres are blanketed with black earth known as prairie soils.

What makes soils the way they are?  How did Iowa end up being the most fertile land in the world?   A unique combination and interaction of all of these factors formed our soils.  How are the soils of Iowa different?  By changing just one factor, we affect a major change in the soil.

Factors that interacted to form our soils can be simplified to: Parent Material, Climate, Topography, Vegetation, Time and Human Beings.

Soils are conceived, as we are, from our Parent Material.  Parent materials are composed of the raw earth that lays exposed to the elements. Major parent materials in Iowa consist of bedrock, glacial deposits called glacial till, water deposited material or alluvial deposits, and wind blown silt known as “loess”.  In other parts of the world, soils may be formed in volcanic ash or rock.

Climate has a profound effect on our soils as they are influenced by rainfall, temperature, freezing and thawing, sunlight and day length.

The way the land lays called Topography greatly influences our soils.  From the steep hills along river corridors to the level bottomlands, slope of the land can change the characteristics of our soils.

Vegetation and Organisms dramatically affect our soils.  Within a very localized area, we can note the effect of our past vegetation and what influence it has had on soils.  From the deep rich organic prairie soils developed under the influence of the tall grass prairie to the soils developed under a woodland condition depth of topsoil and fertility vary greatly.

We probably forget about a factor that is ever present and that factor is Time.  It is obvious when we think about the sediment deposited by a river or stream, which is in geologic times, is extremely young.  What a contrast when we sit atop a rock out crop that has been exposed for eons of time.  The stream deposited material stays forever young while the bedrock of a long ago sedimentized ocean bottom gets older and older.  Soils can’t hide their age either.

On the recent geologic scene came Humans and they have now joined the forces of soil forming factors.  By plowing, the natural vegetation and protection of the soil has been removed increasing erosion to an alarming rate.  Topsoil is destroyed, texture of the soil, which allows infiltration of water, is altered, soil forming organisms are eliminated, fertility is diminished as organic matter is washed away and soil tilth is destroyed.  Man has and is having his influence on our soils.  Fallow land and row crops now occupy land that was once a lush sponge to absorb water and cleanse it.

Once we understand the importance of our geologic past, recent history and soil forming factors, we can start to put together nature’s puzzle.  This intricate puzzle laid down over the eons is now at our fingertips for those who pay attention.

What other questions do we need to ask to get this right combination of plants that will fit our site?

  • What direction is your site facing, called Aspect?  A north and northeasterly direction may receive much less sunlight on a steeper slope than those facing south or west on the same steepness of slope due to the angle of the sun.
  • Is your site level, rolling or steep?  Slope as a steep south slope may be hot and dry while a steep north slope may be cool and moist.
  • How much Sunlight does your site get?  If it is dense shade versus full sunlight, you will need entirely different plants to suit your situation.
  • What is the condition of the soil in regards to Soil Moisture?  Drainage of the soil can range from saturated to excessively drained.
  • What are the sizes of the particles that make up your soil, called Texture.   It could range from sand to clay which an important characteristic to note as some plants will not tolerate these conditions.  For detailed description of your soils contact your local NRCS office and get a soil survey report of your county.

Absorbing and understanding the characteristics of our landscapes and soils allows us to then classify our sites.  In site classification we will assign a general category to our site based on all the previously mentioned information.  There are basically five sites to consider:

  • Dry
  • Dry Mesic
  • Mesic
  • Wet Mesic
  • Wet

Next we need to decide which plant community we are dealing with.  It may be a pre-existing condition or one that we want to create.  It is usually best to take what nature has given us if we have that opportunity.  However, if you live in an urban area, your site may have been severely altered and you will have to decide what you want to create there.  As mentioned before, we have four categories of plant communities:

  • Prairie
  • Savanna
  • Wetland
  • Woodland

Once the plant community is determined, select the most appropriate species for your plant community.  Now you are using nature’s prescription for success in creating your native wildflower planting.

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