Giving mom spring wildflowers

Mothers will soon be honored in a variety of ways for the care and devotion they provide every day.

However, conservationists suggest foregoing a simple bouquet of flowers or handful of chocolates and instead giving mom an afternoon stroll through the blooms of woodland wildflowers.

Webster County Conservation will host a Mother’s Day hike at 3 p.m., May 11, at Skillet Creek Indian Mounds east of Dayton. Naturalist Karen Hansen will meet people at the parking area and lead them along the marked trail of the preserve, pointing out wildflowers as she goes and sharing information about the different plants and their uses.

“This time of year it’s neat to see all the different colors emerge,” Hansen said. “You see several shades of green, but you also see yellow and white and even some blue and purple. It’s a splash of color that tells you it’s spring.”

During the walk, Hansen will also share history of the Skillet Creek valley which dates back before European settlement hit the state. According to published descriptions, the preserve is the site of a prehistoric Native American ceremonial ground and contains five conical, or cone-shaped, burial mounds and one linear ceremonial mound. It is estimated the mounds were built between 2,000 to 1,500 years ago by a culture called by archeologists the Woodland Indians.

Additionally, in the bottomland of the Des Moines and Skillet Creek valleys are a few remnants of an old 1890s coal mining town called Hard Scrabble.

But the principle attraction of the event will be the wildflowers. While not necessarily the tall, bright and showy flowers often found undulating across prairies and open fields later in the season, woodland wildflowers are the first to emerge each spring. It’s not uncommon to find certain plants pushing their way up through slowly melting snowbanks to get a head start, Hansen said.

“Woodland wildflowers have to bloom early and get their show done before leaves are on the trees,” she said. “Once there’s shade, they lose the sun and can’t do much.”

Among the more common varieties that can currently be found in parks and recreation areas in Webster County are marsh marigolds. The plants are native to marshes, ditches and wet woodlands and produce blooms that resemble large buttercups.

Native Americans and pioneers are said to have used the plants as a source of yellow dye and for treating coughing and colds, Hansen said.

Another often-seen flower that tends to carpet open areas in the woods is the white-flowered anemone, she said. Dutchman’s Breeches are yet another common flower though the shape of its bloom is uncommon. The white flowers look like small pairs of pants hung on a line. To some people they look like butterflies.

Also found emerging now are spring beauties, delicate flowering perennials that grow from a deeply buried underground stem.

Hansen said that rumor has it when cooked, the stem tastes like a potato. An old wives tale also exists about trout lily. Known by its brown-mottled leaves, it was reportedly used in the past to treat gout.

Some of the plants that started to grow but will bloom a little later are the Virginia water leaf and the wild ginger.

“The flower of wild ginger is really unique,” Hansen said, “and the plant was supposedly used to treat whooping cough in the past.”

For more information on wildflowers, their habitat preferences and even related folklore, Hansen suggested the field guide “Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands” by Sylvan Runkel, a renouned naturalist honored by the state with the dedication of the Sylvan Runkel State Preserve in Monona County.