Forest floor flowers for Mother’s Day

MAYAPPLE (Podophllum peltatum) has one scientific name. But it will go by a host of common names depending upon where you are in the eastern two-thirds of the states or eastern Canada. Here are a few of the local names: Devil’s apple, ground lemon, hog apple, Indian apple, mandrake, Puck’s foot, raccoon berry, vegetable mercury, umbrella plant, wild jalap or yellowberry. This woodland wildflower is common in moist soils of open woodlands, and as depicted in one of today’s images, likes to grow in large associations of its kind due to extensive lateral horizontal rootstocks. The plant will grow to about one to one and one-half feet tall, with leaf spread about 12 inches.

Of all the common names, ‘umbrella plant’ is descriptive as it’s large leaves seem to form and umbrella shape. Under this shield will grow a single fruit, the apple-like product at the junction of it twin stem support. The flower petals can be six to perhaps nine. Each two inch wide blossom is white and waxy. The fruit growth will start out as a small greenish spherical body ending up about 2 inches in diameter when ripe. A word of caution is in order: The rootstocks, foliage and green fruits are all poisonous to some degree. Ripe fruits are edible and will be yellow in color and soft. Native Americans, and later settlers, learned that the fruit has cathartic tendencies, especially when still green and unripe. Ripe fruits were also used in jellies.

Menomini Indians used Mayapples as an insecticide. If the entire plant was boiled, then the watery resultant brew was splashed onto potato plants to control insects.

It must have worked sufficiently for this story to be handed down over time, picked up by pioneers, and used because it had value. It worded. Mother Nature’s natural brews of plants and plant products is extensive.

Mankind knows a lot about the good and not-so-good products plants give us. All of our food originates from plants, either directly, or as fed to livestock first to produce meat. When it comes to what mankind does not know about plants, wildflowers or any other leafy green growths, I’d venture to guess that list remains very long indeed. Yes, science can tell us more and more as research tries to unravel the biochemistry of how plants grow, and the best nutritional aspects we strive for. In the final note however, science will never answer all the questions. So in the meantime, pass the roast beef, potatoes, sweet corn, green beans, fresh baked bread and apple pie. And in the center of the dinner table I want to see a small white flower.

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Since the topic of flowers is at hand, my wife and I were part of a tour to the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany during late April and early May. At the Keukenhof Gardens of Holland, 7 million tulips are on display in the most elaborate and well done forest park-like settings I have ever seen. Adjacent huge farm fields are devoted to growing tulips, a huge commercial enterprise. Fresh flowers are flown daily to export destinations all over the world. Keukenhof employs hundreds of people to manicure the gardens, watch over the plantings, and do so for the peak eight week window of time each spring when the flowers will be at their best. It is an understatement to say that throngs of tourists from all over the world arrive each day to walk the pathways surrounded by flowers. The Dutch know how to make flowers on the grandest of scales. It was a major highlight of our vacation.

A big thank you is in order to my guest writers during my absence. Mike Stegmann and Emily Herring, your outdoor stories were great. A round of applause please.

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My recent forays into Iowa’s woodlands has brought me close to the lush greenery of Iowa’s Springtime. Of course I was looking for and listening for wild turkeys. In the meantime I was granted the opportunity to see other beautiful things. Yes, I did see wildflowers, amazing sunrises, and yes I was somewhat interested in morel mushrooms. And no I did not find any mushrooms … yet. But I’m still looking for all of the above. Turkeys are batting above average at this time while this bowhunter is being humbled by these sneaky crafty game birds. The fun is in trying to get in the right place at the right time.

Another Iowa Spring time footnote is the arrival of migrating birds. On my list without a lot of effort are wrens, brown thrashers, ruby-throated hummingbirds, orioles, catbirds, and a few warblers too far away to get a good identification due their non-stop tree top meanderings. Keep watching for lots of different warblers this month. And just one great place to watch and listen for them is at Grammer Grove, the Marshall County Conservation Boards public area located about three miles southwest of Liscomb.

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WILDLIFE needs good habitat to prosper. The big connection that some of your know, an others should learn about is the link between hunting and conservation. In truth, the values of today’s socially and environmentally conscious society are closely related to the values hunters endorse. You may be surprised to know that hunting aids environmental preservation. Hunter-supported taxes on equipment and license fees have afforded wildlife agencies the money to be able to acquire and maintain land for conservation of game and non-game species. These same lands offer outdoor recreation space for other uses including hiking, kayaking, camping and more.

Hunters support regulations that endorse the rules of fair chase, ethical behavior afield, game limits based on science, wildlife management and hunter safety courses. Hunters helped create a sustainable conservation model allowing all Americans to participate in regulated hunting that supports conservation of wildlife. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation has been successful and is being adopted around the world. Results are evident as illustrated by these numbers: In 1900, ducks and other waterfowl were few, now they are in excess of 44 million. In 1900 White-tailed deer nationally were only 500,000. Now they are at 32 million. In 1900 Wild turkeys were pegged at 100,000, and now they are at 7 million. Only 50 years ago, pronghorn antelope numbers were 100,000 and now they are at 1,100,000. In 1907, Rocky Mountain Elk population was at 41,000. Now they are at 1 million.

Hunting also provides nutritional alternatives for our food. Wild foods are truly organic, if that is the label you favor. And it is all managed and sustainable for the future. As a highly regulated tool by wildlife managers, hunters and hunting work hand-in-hand for long term wild land conservation and wildlife species conservation.

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Advice from a flower: Make someone’s day; Enjoy the sunshine; Remember your beauty stems from within; Be colorful; Look past the thorns; Make new buds; Bloom and be scent-sational.


Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at P.O. Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.