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Naturally Speaking with Steve Lekwa

An insightful and informed view on wildlife and the environment from former Story County Conservation Director Steve Lekwa.

Sep 27

Confusing Asters

Posted on September 27, 2021 at 8:36 AM by Brittany Ridgway

I have always enjoyed learning the names of wild plants, birds, and animals that I encounter.  I own quite a few field guides to help me identify them, and can usually figure out even some of the more nondescript trees, birds, and animals. Some plants are difficult to pin down, though, even looking right at them with field guide in hand.  Some of Iowa’s wild asters fall into that category.   The worldwide aster family is huge; exceeded only by the mostly tropical orchids.  One source stated that there are 2687 species in the aster family in the US and Canada. The genus, Aster, is smaller and includes the familiar flowers known as asters, but it’s still plenty large.  My 1968 edition Peterson Field Guide to Wildflowers lists 44 species.   Thankfully, not all of them are native to Iowa, but there are still enough Iowa asters to confuse me at times.

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Sep 20

A Gathering of Giants

Posted on September 20, 2021 at 7:45 AM by Erica Place

The early morning news warned that summer-like heat was due by afternoon, but it was only 60 degrees when I left the house. Nearby Hertz Woods was a perfect place to take a sunrise walk before breakfast. The planted prairie that surrounds the woodland offered a colorful mix of smooth blue asters, white heath asters, sawtooth sunflowers, stiff goldenrod, and pale white gentian. A different, but equally beautiful mix of flowers, were blooming along several paths that loop into the woods off the main perimeter trail around the area. Goldfinches were feeding on already spent woodland sunflowers. Heart-leafed asters offered dense clusters of little pale blue flowers, and both broad-leafed and arrow-leafed goldenrods were were in bloom. White snake-root added clusters of little round white flowers the size of pencil erasers.

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Sep 13

Yellow Jacket Season

Posted on September 13, 2021 at 9:05 AM by Erica Place

Cedar waxwings stop by every spring to eat the petals from our apple tree’s beautiful white flowers. House finches feed on the apples once they start turning red and sweet, too, leaving many of the nicest apples pecked full of holes. Our late summer apples don’t keep like fall apples and get soft in only a few days once they’re ripe and falling from the tree. They make absolutely wonderful applesauce when I get to them before birds or bugs ruin them. Store-bought applesauce is almost tasteless by comparison. I could have made a lot of applesauce from this year’s bumper crop, but there’s still quite a bit in our freezer from the last couple of years. Buckets of excess apples have been served to a friend’s cows as tasty treats, and others have gone into my compost pile.

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