Iowa Ecosystems: Forests

Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa. Iowa Master Conservation Class in Pottawattamie County.

I signed up for a Master Conservationist Program through our local Golden Hills RC&D, Pottawattamie County Conservation, Pottawattamie County Soil & Water Conservation, Pottawattamie County NRCS, ISU Extension and Outreach West Pottawattamie over the summer. The program is one Saturday per month and is hosted at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

Unfortunately, I was in Atlanta for the first meeting but yesterday was the second meeting on the topic of forests, one of the three major ecosystems in Iowa (others are prairie and aquatic).

We had several homework assignments to read prior to the class and then at class we had a presentation from Chad Graeve and Lindsey Barney from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources before taking off on a hike.

Throughout the walk, we saw several indicators of prior land-use and learned about how trees can tell the story of the land. It was great to see first-hand some of the lessons in the forestry session. For example, we tried to figure out how this Bur Oak tree died.

Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa. Iowa Master Conservation Class in Pottawattamie County.

Someone asked if it would be removed and the answer was no (unless certain limbs become dangerous to the path-walkers). The tree is now a habitat for a family of wood ducks, in additional to many other creatures. Everything has its purpose in nature.

Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

We learned that this tree formation below (looks like a group of five trees), was probably created after the original tree in the center was removed due to logging. These were the suckers that shot up after the tree was cut down. All hardwood trees will try to re-grow when removed. We thought the original tree might have been as big as the circle between the trees (huge!).

Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

We learned that trees with wide branches, similar to the one below, come from a savannah habitat. They were allowed to grow very wide because of lack of competition from other trees. Sometimes you will find tree like this in a forest, which tells you that the land was not always a forest. That the forest grew up around the old tree.

Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

When a forest is first established, it is full of many, small trees. They slowly compete for light and nutrients and only the best trees survive. Humans can help this process and control the types of trees that win through tree thinning. This section of forest was originally thinned by contractor who looked for the best trees and then girdled all trees that interfered with its canopy and future growth. He girdled the less desirable trees by running a chainsaw around the base of the tree, tearing off the protective bark. It was mentioned the best time to do this is in late summer or fall when the tree is low on energy.

Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.
Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.
Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa. Iowa Master Conservation Class in Pottawattamie County.
Chad Graeve presenting along the trail.

It was a beautiful day and a great class.

Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa. Iowa Master Conservation Class in Pottawattamie County.
Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.
You can still see the prevalent flooding in the area through the trees.
Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.
Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.
Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.
The Loess Hills are just beautiful.

We stopped to identify many native species on the hike, both good and bad.

Tree of Heaven
This is an extremely invasive tree called “Tree of Heaven.” It looks very similar to sumac but you can tell the difference because of the teeth in the leaves (see drawing below). You can also break off a piece of it which will emit a rotten peanut butter smell. Learn more about Tree of Heaven from Iowa State University.
Virginia Waterleaf.
This is a native plant named Virginia Waterleaf, Hydrophyllum virginianum.

“Virginia waterleaf is a common wildflower of moist, shady woodlands. Clusters of purplish or white flowers make the plant very visible from late May to late June or early July. Five stamens protrude from each blossom and give the flower a “hairy” appearance. The leaves are broadly triangular and may be doubly lobed. The surface of the leaves are often marked with spots that resemble water droplet stains.” – From a PDF called Iowa Woodlands published by the The Iowa Association of Naturalists (IAN).

White Mulberry.
This is a White Mulberry tree, something they will remove from the landscape.
Springles Sedge.
This is a native grass called Springles Sedge.
White Snakeroot.
White Snakeroot.
Goldenrod.
Goldenrod.
Native plant. Gallion.
A native plant, Gallion.
Wild raspberry.
Wild raspberries.
Feverwort.
Feverwort, Triosteum perfoliatum.
Native Columbine.
Native Columbine.

“Columbine grows throughout the state and is especially common on woodland slopes. Bright red flowers are divided into 5 tubes or compartments with long stamens hanging down from the center of the flower. Only hummingbirds, moths, and butterflies are able to reach into the flower compartments to drink the nectar and pollinate the flower. The plant may resemble a small shrub growing to two feet or more with the flowers dangling from the tips of the stems.” – From a PDF called Iowa Woodlands published by the The Iowa Association of Naturalists (IAN).

Native Columbine.
Native Columbine.
Wild Blackberry.
Wild Blackberry flowers.
Wild Blackberry.
Patch of wild Blackberries.
Native Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum biflorum.
Native Solomon’s Seal, Polygonatum biflorum.
Hitchcock Nature Center in Honeycreek, Iowa.
It was a gorgeous day. Thanks to all of the instructors and hosts!
Master Conservationist logo.

Here is some information from Golden Hills about the program:
We are partnering with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Pottawattamie County Conservation to offer the Iowa Master Conservationist Program starting Spring 2019. The program will take place at the Hitchcock Nature Center, providing participants with hands-on interaction with the diversity of the state’s natural resources. The program teaches about Iowa’s natural ecosystems and the diversity of conservation challenges and opportunities that exist in the region. Graduates of the course learn to make informed choices for leading and educating others to improve conservation in Iowa.

The program consists of approximately 12 hours of online curriculum and six face-to-face meetings. The online modules will include lessons and resources by Iowa State subject-matter experts to be reviewed at the participants’ own pace at home or at the ISU Extension and Outreach West Pottawattamie County office. Module topics include conservation history and science, understanding Iowa ecosystems, implementing conservation practices in human dominated landscapes and developing skills to help educate others about conservation practices.

Six face-to-face meetings will build on the online lessons and be held at Hitchcock Nature Center from 8:00 a.m. to Noon on the 4th Saturday of the month starting April 27th and ending September 28th. Each face-to-face meeting will be led by local subject-matter experts to demonstrate how the principles covered in the online curriculum and play out locally. Participants will work with program partners Golden Hills RC&D, Pottawattamie County Conservation, Pottawattamie County Soil & Water Conservation, Pottawattamie County NRCS, ISU Extension and Outreach West Pottawattamie, along with educational experts in their fields.

If you are interested in participating in the Master Conservation Program next year, make sure to reach out to one of the partner organizations: Golden Hills RC&D, Pottawattamie County Conservation, Pottawattamie County Soil & Water Conservation, Pottawattamie County NRCS, ISU Extension and Outreach West Pottawattamie.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Debbie Gordon says:

    Thanks for sharing; very interesting!

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