Rethinking the Iowa state flower

I learned rural America can be its own sort of beautiful, a sometimes elegant collaboration of nature and human endeavor; a place where the labor of men and women, light from a star and the soil of a planet come together and germinate into the living stuff we call food.

I have these two friends. For the sake of privacy, let’s call them Jeff and Nancy. Jeff and Nancy live in rural America. Their home is old. The floors, the framing lumber and siding of their home were likely milled from fir trees that were living when the conquistadors stumbled upon the mouth of the Columbia River. The drive out to their place is a peaceful sort of thing that one sometimes wishes would take just a bit longer than it does. A gravel road that just might stretch all the way to Missouri, grain silos, mailboxes fashioned out of old tractor parts welded together, hawks on fence post, farm houses like islands on open seas, ancient farm machinery now yard art, a place where morning coffee in the back yard just seems more satisfying than the coffee in my kitchen. But the most beautiful thing about their home is the flowers adorning the horizon.

Since 1897 the Rosa Pratincola, more commonly known as the Wild Prairie Rose has been Iowa’s state flower. Now, the Wild Prairie Rose is a very ubiquitous, fragrant and attractive flower. There is no denying this. But this is not why it was chosen. It became the Iowa state flower because it happened to be stamped onto the silver service which the state of Iowa presented to the battleship USS Iowa BB-4 on the day of its commission. A ship than soon became obsolete and in 1923 was used for target practice and sunk.

The flowers I see dotting the horizon from Jeff and Nancy’s backyard carry so much more significance to the state and people of Iowa. These flowers are indeed the elegant collaboration of nature and human endeavor. These flowers are the Zephyris Turbinowa … and…and they are beautiful.

Just as the rose speaks of love, the lily speaks of resurrection and the Bluebell of humility, the Zephyris Turbinowa speaks of wisdom, stewardship and life. Its roots hold firm to the Earth, its stem reaches for heaven while its petals flutter in the wind. The Zephyris Turbinowa is more commonly known as the wind turbine.

I learned last year we spewed out 39.8 billion, or more effectively written, 39,800,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This number does not include methane, nitrous oxide or fluorinated gases which make up another 13,930,000 tons of gases we pour into the atmosphere’

To get a visual of what a ton of gas is, think of a 2,000 square foot home with 8 foot ceilings at sea level. Empty that home of all air and replace it with carbon dioxide. There! You have a ton of carbon dioxide. Now, multiply that home times 39.8 other homes…then multiply this times a billion…then…multiply this times the years past and the years to come. And this does not include naturally occurring gases spewing from volcanoes and cow toots.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientist, about 44 percent of America’s power is generated by coal burning power plants. It is the almost 600 coal fired power plants in America and automobiles that are responsible for most of the poison we pump into our atmosphere. An average 500 megawatt coal power plant uses 1.4 million tons of coal each year. Coal doesn’t just pollute when burned, the mining, transporting and storing of coal also impacts America’s environment..

The typical coal fired power plant sucks up between 70 and 180 billion gallons of water from our rivers each year. This includes small fish, fish eggs and larvae and nutrients. Larger fish are often sucked up against intake grates and die. The pumps do not discriminate. Even power plants with recirculating systems suck up about a billion gallons of water each year. Did I mention the 39.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide?

And then there are those beautiful flowers, the Zephyris Turbinowa dotting our landscape. In 2016, the Zephyris Turbinowa saved us from 159 million metric tons of airborne carbon dioxide and preserved 87 billion gallons of our water. Currently, nationwide, there are over 100,000 jobs associated with wind generated power. There are currently only about half that many in the coal industry. Wind turbine technician is the fastest-growing occupation in the U.S. Sowing the Zephyris Turbinowa in fields and reaping the wind offers farmers another option for cash crops, pumping over $245 million in land lease payments into our economy every year. A single wind turbine powers over 600 homes.

Iowans should be proud. We have a right to beat our collective chest because we lead the nation with 36 percent of our total energy being harvested from the wind even though we don’t even make it onto the list of the top ten windiest states. Because we have chosen to plant the beautiful Zephyris Turbinowa across our rural landscape, we have become an example for the rest of the nation. We are the model of forward thought, responsibility and stewardship. But we should not rest on our laurels. We can do even better.

Rural Iowa is indeed its own sort of beautiful, an elegant collaboration of nature and human endeavor. Even though the Wild Prairie Rose is a delicately beautiful flower, it carries little meaning. I make the motion we designate the Zephyris Turbinowa as our state flower. We should plant more. This is all I have learned today.


James Wares lives in Marshalltown and can be reached at