If you’re an Iowan (lifelong or transplant) you probably know that our state is a prairie state. You might even be able to identify a Black-eyed Susan or Big Bluestem when you see a prairie planting. Or maybe you enjoy tallgrass prairie flowers, but couldn’t name a single one if you tried. Wherever you are in your journey of learning about Iowa’s native prairies, Iowa Prairie Heritage Week is the perfect time to learn a little more. The celebration begins on September 11 and goes through September 17. Who knows--maybe you’ll spark a love for the prairie that will last all year!
Attend an Event
Full Moon Hike at Red Feather Prairie at Saylorville Lake
September 15, 7-8:30 PM
The Central Iowa Group of the Sierra Club has organized a full moon hike at Red Feather Prairie, just north of Saylorville Lake’s Visitor’s Center. Join fellow urban ambassadors on the prairie and watch the full moon rise while the prairie is at its peak. Some species you can expect to see are showy goldenrod, sky blue aster, hairy aster, upland white aster, rigid goldenrod, saw-tooth sunflower, great blue lobelia, and bottle gentian. Meet at the small parking lot at NW 90th Avenue, just west off Highway 415. Contact Etta at 778-3495 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to RSVP.
Celebration Seed Harvest at Snyder Farm
September 17, 9-12:00 PM
Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation has organized a seed harvest at Snyder Farm. Learn how the farm has been slowly transitioned from a traditional farm to an exquisite blend of prairie, oak savanna, wetland and woodland ecosystems. The farm is in Elkhart, a short drive from Des Moines. Contact Mary Runkel at email@example.com or 515-288-1846 to RSVP--spots are limited! No experience necessary, but be sure to wear long pants, sturdy shoes, and bring a camp chair and water bottle.
Puccoon Prairie Restoration
September 10, 10-12:00 PM
Start celebrating a day early with Polk County Conservation! Join this work day and restore a unique prairie remnant in Chicachaqua Bottoms Greenbelt (8700 NE 126th Ave., Maxwell). No experience or equipment is necessary--and you’ll learn a lot! Please wear long pants, sturdy closed toed shoes and bring a refillable water bottle. To volunteer for this event, please contact Pat Spain at (515) 323-5280 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bonus: Stay for the afternoon prairie exploration at Chicachqua Bottoms, which happens from 1:00-2:00 PM. More information here.
For ongoing events and learning opportunities, check out the Iowa Prairie Network’s Calendar of Events.
Resources for Learning On Your Own
Interested in learning more about Iowa’s native prairie, but can’t fit an event in your schedule? No worries! Explore a local prairie and use one of these resources for some self-directed learning.
Iowa Prairie Network
The Iowa Prairie Network website is full of information. Check out their database of old newsletters, calendar of events, and this great FAQ that will give you a jumpstart on your prairie knowledge.
Prairie in Your Pocket: A Guide to Plants of the Tallgrass Prairie by Mark Müller
Any beginning prairie enthusiast should pick up this handy field guide. It’s laminated so you don’t have to worry about have it out on a rainy day and it’s easy to fold and unfold. You’ll know you’ve become a real prairie geek when you carry it around every day… just in case. This field guide only has native tallgrass prairie species… which is why you might also want…
Wildflowers and Weeds: A Guide in Full Color by Courtenay and Zimmerman
This book is unfortunately out of print but used copies are available on Amazon. It’s great for identifying common weeds you won’t find on Prairie in Your Pocket.
Iowa Living Roadway Trust Fund Database
The Iowa DOT hosts this database, which is great if you have a good data connection. Enter the bloom color of your flower, the month it’s blooming, and more often than not you’ll be able to learn the name of the flower. Plus you’ll be able to impress your friends next time you see it in a ditch!
Iowa Wildflower Report
On the prairie and stumped? Take a picture and share it in Iowa Wildflower Report. Lots of knowledgeable folks post in this group and respond to inquiries. Even if you can’t get in the field you can still learn a lot just by following what other people post in this group. Join the group here.
Organize a Meetup with Fellow Urban Ambassadors
Are you ready to learn and make some friends along the way? Organize your own outing to a local prairie and post about it in the Urban Ambassadors Facebook group! Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge, Chicachqua Bottoms, and Ledges State Park are all a short drive from Des Moines and great for beginning your journey into prairie fandom.