Iowa Plant Identification


Iowa describes itself botanically as a heavily "transformed" state, noting the effects of human traffic beginning in pioneer times. Drawn by the richness of good land, many immigrants made Iowa a destination. Still others passed through its easily-traveled slopes on the way farther west. Nearly all travelers carried seeds and seedlings from home, bringing layers of biodiversity to a fragile prairie environment. As newcomer plants outgrew natives and Iowa became an agricultural center for the U.S., both the bad and good sides of transformation had an impact on the land.

As High as an Elephant's Eye

You cannot think about Iowa without thinking about corn---miles of corn fields, family dinners where corn-on-the-cob makes a main course, excursions outside the city just to look at the corn, much the way coastal drivers seek out views of the water. Corn occupies large areas of work and research at Iowan universities and agricultural agencies. While some agencies concentrate on genetically modified innovations that produce disease- and drought-resistant crops, another interest is the preservation of a long heritage. The USDA North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station's annual Germplasm Enhancement Field Day includes historically important strains of corn as well as newly modified strains, for a total of 150 kinds of corn, or maize. NCRPIS also conducts outreach projects with Native American students and farmers.

A Flower Growing in the Wrong Place

Iowa's agricultural economy and mid-country location give Iowa's botanical studies a particular focus on weeds. The strength of popular interest and concern is indicated by Iowa State University Extension's maintenance of the "Weed Science Online" website, offering a reading list and interactive videos to help farmers and growers identify weeds from seed to full-grown.

As Far as the Eye Can See

Concerned about the disappearance of what was once one of the largest prairie regions in the world, Iowa State University instituted the Grasses of Iowa project under the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The project's goals include the establishment of a database and photofile of historic Iowa grasses as a contribution to the increasingly popular prairie restoration.

Wildflowers and Other Natives

Widespread agricultural settlement has threatened Iowa wildflowers as much as urbanization does in some other states. The U.S. Wildflowers website maintains a network of links to organizations that are concerned with the location and preservation of native Iowa biodiversity. including the Iowa Native Plant Society. The University of Iowa and Iowa State University have in recent years combined herbarium resources to continue UI's "Fragile Flora" project. Both universities have been instrumental in encouraging Iowa codes for endangered and threatened plants, in addition to Federal conservation coding. Currently endangered plants include two varieties of orchid, a plant not customarily associated with Iowa.


Iowa State University Forestry maintains an interactive tree identification website and conducts extensive research on preserving Iowa's trees; of particular concern is the native ash, which is severely threatened by the emerald ash borer. Trees Forever, based in Marion IA, is a volunteer organization which advocates for and supports planting projects including urban forestry and riparian barriers statewide.

Keywords: Iowa plant identification, universities, agencies, organizations, guides, herbarium, biodiversity

About this Author

Janet Beal holds a Harvard B.A. in English and a College of New Rochelle M.S in early childhood education. She has worked as a college textbook editor, HUD employee, caterer, and teacher. She is pleased to be part of Demand Studios' exciting community of writers and readers.