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Roadside Prairies in Iowa: Flowers or Weeds?

Growing up in the Midwest I learned to appreciate many different kinds of plants; from the crops of the farmers to the plants growing in the roadside ditches. Most people would call the plants in the ditches weeds – I call them beautiful. They are some of what is left of the vast expanses of plants that covered the prairies. Iowa used to be 85% prairie but today it is only .1%. Prairies consist mostly of grasses but contain some flowering plants called forbs. I am going to take you on a photo journey of some of the flowering plants inhabiting the roadside in my area of the state of Iowa.


Wild Rose: this is the state flower of Iowa. Pink with single petals. They used to be abundant but a little hard to find now. Blooms in June.


Chicory: one of my favorites. Spindly plants but beautiful pale-blue flowers. Blooms from June-October.


Queen Anne’s Lace: another favorite. White, lacey flowers. Usually these and Chicory grow together right along the edge of the road. Blooms June-October.


Black-eyed Susans: Brilliant yellow flowers with black centers. There is also a variety with brown centers called Brown-eyed Susans. Blooms June-October.


Wild Phlox: These come in a variety of colors from pink to deep blue. Blooms April-October.


Butterfly Milkweed: Aptly named as butterflies really like these bright orange flowers. Blooms June-September.


Swamp Milkweed: These pink flowered milkweeds like damp soils. Blooms July & August.


Sunflowers: Pretty yellow flowers. Blooms June-late summer.


Purple Coneflower: Purple drooping petals with a conical center. There is also a variety called Grayhead Coneflower with yellow petals. Blooms June-September.


Wild Bergamot: also called Horsemint or Bee Balm. Interesting pink flowers. Some are lavender colored. Blooms July-September.


Thistle: These plants are not very well liked but the flowers are a pretty purple and look great in masses.



Day Lilies: Not a native plant. The orange variety escaped from cultivated gardens and they are numerous in the ditches now. Blooms June-August.


These are just a few of the hundreds of different species of flowering plants or forbs that make up a prairie. Take time to look at the “weeds” growing in your area. You may be pleasantly surprised by the beauty you find.

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Ever wonder?


CC on April 22, 2018:

Queen Anne's Lace is not indigenous to Iowa. It was brought over from English gardens. Personally, I believe that any flower or grass which is not indigenous to the prairie and is growing wild should be pulled and removed. Otherwise these species take over in some areas and squeeze out flowers and grasses which are part of our original prairies. Same for animals and birds....some Iowa songbirds are being killed off by housecats and grackles 9from Europe) which are not indigenous to Iowa.

Rose Kolowinski (author) on December 24, 2013:

Thank you for the information and the link to learn more about your program.

Rebecca Kauten on November 13, 2013:

I manage a statewide program that promotes native vegetation in Iowa's roadsides. Our county and state roadside vegetation managers work to manage and reduce noxious weeds and invasive species, while also incorporating native vegetation in the right of way. There is a statewide noxious weed list that we work to manage and keep them at bay. I encourage you to learn more about our programs statewide at and

Rose Kolowinski (author) on June 17, 2010:

Thanks for answering my question, Myron. I think I will pass on eating them! : )

Myron D.S. from Greeley, CO on June 17, 2010:

The roots do run underground and produce new shoots and can pretty well take over a crop if it is not stopped. The seeds are very light and the wind can carry them for miles. Before most corn is planted the farmers usually use a "pre-plant" herbacide to keep weeds from sprouting. If the thistle does get a good start in any field they will be in a bunch very close together with all of the roots connected sort of like Aspen trees do, and the only way to kill it out is to spray with a herbicide which of course will kill the crop also, but will be clear the following year, hopefully. Also, according to Wikipedia this thistle is quite nutritious and good eating if one can get rid of the "stickers"--who knew?

Rose Kolowinski (author) on June 16, 2010:

Thank you Myron D.S. for your comments. We only see the thistle in the roadside right-of-ways. I don't know anyone who would actually plant them. They don't seem to bother the corn fields they are next to here. Do they just multiply so fast they choke out the crops?

Myron D.S. from Greeley, CO on June 16, 2010:

Nice informative Hub, thank you. I would like to make a comment on the "thistle". They appear to me to be Canada Thistle. Yes, they are very pretty, so is Bull Thistle. However, here in Colorado, Canada Thistle is a very destructive noxious plant that can destroy entire crops if not eradicated on the onset of their first appearance. As a matter of fact in many counties it is illegal to allow them to bloom--but, one still sees them on public property.

Rose Kolowinski (author) on March 23, 2010:

Thanks for stopping by Yard of nature! Glad you enjoyed our beautiful state.

Yard of nature from Michigan on March 22, 2010:

I vote flowers. Put away the weed whackers. Just passed through Nebraska and Iowa. Enjoyed the prairies, the birds and wide open expanses.

Rose Kolowinski (author) on October 06, 2009:

Thanks suziecat7. I appreciate you taking the time to read and look at my photos.

suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on October 06, 2009:

Nice Hub. - I love wildflowers of any kind. Thanks.

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