The Prairie in Seed: Identifying Seed-Bearing Prairie Plants in the Upper Midwest

The Prairie in Seed: Identifying Seed-Bearing Prairie Plants in the Upper Midwest

by Dave Williams

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Overview


The tallgrass prairie offers solutions to the many environmental challenges facing our water, soils, and ecosystems. Planting prairie on just 10 percent of a field can effectively remove excess phosphorous and nitrogen from the remaining 90 percent. Deep prairie roots and dense aboveground growth filter and hold soils, keeping them from eroding into our streams and rivers. Plants such as common milkweed are the key to the monarch butterfly’s recovery. In light of these benefits, perhaps our love affair with European turf grass is slowly giving way to an appreciation of the beauty of our original native prairie.

As interest in these wildflowers and grasses has grown, so has demand for better resources to identify the hundreds of species that make up the native prairie. In The Prairie in Seed, Dave Williams shows us how to identify wildflowers when they are out of bloom and, in particular, how to harvest their seeds. Without the flower color and shape as guides, it can be difficult to identify prairie plants. Imagine trying to distinguish between a simple prairie sunflower and an ox-eye sunflower with no flowers to look at!

In this richly illustrated guide, Williams offers dormant plant identification information, seed descriptions, and advice on seed harvesting and cleaning for seventy-three of the most common wildflowers found in the tallgrass prairie. He includes photographs and descriptions of the plants in bloom and in seed to assist in finding them when you are ready to harvest. Each species description explains where the seeds are located on the plant, when seed ripening begins, and how many seeds each species produces, along with a photograph and approximate measurements of the actual seed. Finally, this guide provides assistance on how and when to hand-harvest seeds for each species, as well as some simple tips on seed cleaning.

An indispensable guide for anyone involved in prairie restoration or conservation, this book is the perfect complement to Williams’s The Tallgrass Prairie Center Guide to Seed and Seedling Identification in the Upper Midwest

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609384098
Publisher: University of Iowa Press
Publication date: 04/01/2016
Series: Bur Oak Guide Series
Edition description: 1
Pages: 140
Sales rank: 756,380
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author


Dave Williams is the program manager for the Prairie Institute at the Tallgrass Prairie Center at the University of Northern Iowa and the author of The Tallgrass Prairie Center Guide to Seed and Seedling Identification in the Upper Midwest (Iowa, 2010). He lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa. 

Read an Excerpt

The Prairie in Seed

Identifying Seed-Bearing Prairie Plants in the Upper Midwest


By Dave Williams

University of Iowa Press

Copyright © 2016 University of Iowa Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60938-410-4



CHAPTER 1

PART ONE Solitary Seed Heads


Allium canadense, wild garlic
Anemone canadensis, Canada anemone
Echinacea pallida, pale purple coneflower
Heliopsis helianthoides, ox-eye sunflower
Monarda fistulosa, wild bergamot
Rudbeckia hirta, black-eyed Susan

Anemone cylindrica, thimbleweed
Coreopsis palmata, prairie coreopsis
Dalea candida, white prairie clover
Ratibida pinnata, gray-headed coneflower

Dalea purpurea, purple prairie clover
Helianthus pauciflorus, prairie sunflower

Geum triflorum, prairie smoke

Viola pedatifida, prairie violet


Allium canadense, wild garlic, Liliaceae, lily family

SEED PRODUCTION * very few bulbs, very few seeds

SEED DURATION * short


IN FLOWER Flowering begins in early June. On flowering plants, the inflorescence is a round umbel that consists of many small 1/2-inch-wide pink to white flowers with six tepals. Flowers on most plants may be partially or entirely replaced by bulblets. Bulblets can be planted directly in the soil. Found in wet-mesic, mesic, and dry-mesic soils in full sunlight and partial shade. This species should be marked with field flags while in flower to ensure it can be found for seed harvesting.


IN SEED Plants are 1 to 2 feet tall. If the plant produces seeds, look down for a round umbel-shaped seed head with a small capsule at each stem tip, containing four glossy black seeds (compare wild prairie onion in part 6). If the plant has bulblets, look for a cluster of them * at the terminal end of a short stalk. Stalks with bulblets sometimes lodge over, making it difficult to spot these in the field. Leaves are long, narrow, and dark green and taper to a pointed tip. Leaves appear glossy, without leaf venation, and crushing will produce a strong onion odor. Bulblets are teardrop-shaped and cream-colored and vary in size, averaging about 5/16 inch (8 mm) wide by 5/16 inch (8 mm) long.


SEED HARVESTING Ripening begins in early July. Each stalk will produce very few bulblets or few seeds, and both are easily removed by hand-harvesting. Don't pick unripe bulblets or seeds when green; wait till the bulblets turn a cream color or capsules are open, exposing black seeds, to ensure for ripeness. Monitor the plants closely because bulblets and seeds shatter readily from the stalk near ripening time.


Anemone canadensis, Canada anemone, Ranunculaceae, buttercup family

SEED PRODUCTION * very few

SEED DURATION * short


IN FLOWER Flowering begins in late May. The inflorescence is terminal and solitary, consisting of one or a few medium-size five-petaled white flowers with a yellow center up to 1-3/4 inches wide. Found in wet-mesic and mesic soils in full sunlight and partial shade.


IN SEED Plants are only about 1 foot tall. Look down for a large patch of low-growing green leaves oriented horizontally, facing the sky. Emanating from the center of the leaves is a terminal sphere-shaped seed mass * connected to a short stem. The sphere consists of individual tightly packed seeds. Each seed has a pointed tail that faces outward. Leaves are deeply lobed with three distinct sections and serrate margins and are connected to a petiole that emanates from the ground. Seeds are 9/32 inch (7 mm) long, dark brown or yellowish-green, and ovate with a pointed tail at the wide end.


SEED HARVESTING Ripening begins in late July. Each stalk produces very few seeds. As the seeds ripen, the sphere turns from light green to mottled yellow-brown to completely brown. Collect seeds when the sphere is yellow-brown; waiting until the sphere is brown may be too late, as seeds quickly shatter. It is easy to harvest seeds by hand-pulling. Gently place the yellow-brown mottled sphere between your fingers in the palm of your hand and pull upward. The seed sphere will completely shatter into your hand, leaving only individual seeds. No further seed cleaning is needed.


Anemone cylindrica, thimbleweed, Ranunculaceae, buttercup family

SEED PRODUCTION * moderate

SEED DURATION * medium


IN FLOWER Flowering begins in late June. The inflorescence is terminal and solitary, consisting of one or a few small white flowers 3/4 inch across with five pointed petals and a green raised center up to 1-1/4 inches long. Petals drop off soon after flowering; thus, this plant is sometimes called windflower. Found in dry-mesic and dry soils in full sunlight.


IN SEED Plants are 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 feet tall. Look for a foliated stalk with a terminal thimble-shaped seed head connected to a long, leafless, hairy stem. The seed head is 3/8 inch wide and 1-1/4 inches long. Some yellow and brown lower leaves may remain on the stalk when the seeds are ripe. Leaves have three distinct lobes with serrate margins and are connected by a short petiole. After ripening, the seed head loses its shape * and becomes what looks like a cotton ball. Other thimbleweed plants are likely present in the area. Seeds are 1/8 inch (3 mm) long, ovate, with a short tail on the wide end and light or dark brown in color.


SEED HARVESTING Ripening begins in early August. This species produces moderate numbers of seeds. Determining seed ripeness is difficult, since a ripe (but intact) seed head looks identical to an unripe seed head. To ensure the seeds are ripe, check the peduncle; if it is brown, then the seeds are ready to harvest. Ripe seeds and cotton will pull easily off the peduncle. Thimbleweed seeds can remain into late summer as a cottony mass, but one strong wind will end seed harvesting for this species.


Coreopsis palmata, prairie coreopsis, Asteraceae, daisy family

SEED PRODUCTION * few

SEED DURATION * long


IN FLOWER Flowering begins in mid-June. The inflorescence is terminal and solitary, consisting of one or a few yellow daisy-shaped flower heads with a yellow center. Found in mesic, dry-mesic, and dry soils in full sunlight and partial shade.


IN SEED Plants are 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 feet tall. Look for a large patch of plants containing many stalks. Each stalk typically has a terminal, solitary, kettle-shaped dark brown to black seed head. The patch will be dense enough to reduce growth of other plant species and is easily seen in the field. After a hard frost the entire plant, including leaves, turns black, making the patch even more visible. Leaves remain connected to the stalk when the seeds are ripe. * Leaves have three distinctive elongated strap-like lobes, are sessile, and are arranged opposite on the stalk. Seeds are 3/16 inch (5 mm) long, oval, flattened, and dark brown.


SEED HARVESTING Ripening begins in mid-September. Each stalk produces few seeds. The dried seed head holds very tightly to the stem and must be cut from the stalk to harvest the seeds. Seed heads with seeds will remain on the stalk well into fall. Seed heads remain hard after harvesting and need physical crushing to extract the seeds. Stomp heads and stems in a utility tub to crush the seed heads. Sift the material through 1/8-inch-opening wire screen to separate out the seeds.


Dalea candida, white prairie clover, Fabaceae, legume family

SEED PRODUCTION * moderate

SEED DURATION * long


IN FLOWER Flowering begins in early July. The inflorescence is a cylindrical spike head of white flowers. Each head consists of numerous pea-shaped flowers, 1/16 inch wide, arranged like a collar around each elongated flower head. Found in mesic, dry-mesic, and dry soils in full sunlight and partial shade.


IN SEED Plants are 1-1/2 to 3 feet tall. Look within drier areas of the grass canopy for a foliated stalk with a solitary or a few terminal dark brown or black cylindrical seed heads 3/8 inch wide and up to 1-1/2 inches long. * Sticking out from the seed head will be short string-like hair. Some lower leaves on the stalk may remain connected when seeds are ripe. Leaves are odd-pinnately compound with five or seven strap-shaped leaflets and are arranged alternately on the stalk. Other plants of this species may be found closeby. Seeds are 1/16 inch (2 mm) long, oval, and tan.


SEED HARVESTING Ripening begins in late September. Each stalk produces moderate numbers of seeds. While seeds can be easily stripped off by hand-pulling, don't assume that there are a lot of seeds present. White prairie clover seeds are covered by a fibrous husk. Many of the husks will not be filled with seeds, so it is important to periodically check for seeds when harvesting. Rub a few seeds between your fingers to remove the husk and expose the seeds inside. No further cleaning is needed. Seeds can remain on the stalk into late fall.


Dalea purpurea, purple prairie clover, Fabaceae, legume family

SEED PRODUCTION * moderate

SEED DURATION * long


IN FLOWER Flowering begins in early July. The inflorescence is a cylindrical spike head of purple flowers. Each head consists of numerous pea-shaped flowers, 1/16 inch wide, arranged like a collar around each elongated flower head. Found in mesic, dry-mesic, and dry soils in full sunlight and partial shade.


IN SEED Plants are 1-1/2 to 3 feet tall. Look within drier areas of the grass canopy for a foliated stalk with a solitary or a few terminal ashy-gray cylindrical seed heads 1/2 inch wide by up to 1-1/2 inches long. Some green lower leaves may still be connected to the stalk when seeds are ripe. Leaves are odd-pinnately compound with three or five strap-shaped leaflets and are arranged alternately on the stalk. Green leaves have a citrus odor when crushed. Other plants of this species may be found closeby. Seeds are 1/16 inch (2 mm) long, oval, and tan.


SEED HARVESTING Ripening begins in late September. Each stalk produces moderate numbers of seeds. Purple prairie clover seeds are covered by a soft and hairy husk. While seeds can be easily stripped off by hand-pulling, don't assume that there are seeds present. Many of the husks will not be filled with seeds, so it is important to periodically check for seeds when harvesting. Rub a few seeds between your fingers to remove the husk and expose the seeds inside. No further cleaning is needed. Seeds can remain on the stalk into late fall.


Echinacea pallida, pale purple coneflower, Asteraceae, daisy family

SEED PRODUCTION * moderate

SEED DURATION * long


IN FLOWER Flowering begins in mid-June. The inflorescence is terminal and solitary, consisting of one or a few large flower heads up to 3 inches wide, with light purple to pinkish-purple drooping rays and a dark dome-shaped center. Found in mesic, dry-mesic, and dry soils in full sunlight.


IN SEED Plants are 2 to 3 feet tall. Look for a stalk that is nearly black in color with a terminal, solitary dome-shaped black and prickly seed head 1 inch wide by 1 inch long. Any leaves remaining on the stalk will be shriveled and unidentifiable, but some green and yellow basal leaves may be present when seeds are ripe. Basal leaves are lance-shaped and connect to a long petiole that emanates from the plant crown at ground level. Coarse short hair covers the entire plant, feeling rough to the touch. Seeds are 1/4 inch (6 mm) long with the husk intact and tan and brown in color.


SEED HARVESTING Ripening begins in late September. Each stalk produces moderate numbers of seeds. Cut seed heads off the stalk. Gloves should be worn when harvesting the seeds because prickly heads will puncture bare skin. Stomp heads and stems in a utility tub to release seeds. Then sift the crushed material through 1/8-inch-opening hardware screen to separate out the seeds. Seed heads remain connected to the stalk into winter, but seeds eventually shatter out of the head, so check for seeds if harvesting later in the season.


Geum triflorum, prairie smoke, Rosaceae, rose family

SEED PRODUCTION * very few

SEED DURATION * short


IN FLOWER Flowering begins in early May. The inflorescence is terminal and solitary, consisting of a few nodding red flowers connected to a leafless peduncle. Each flower has a closed sepal head (calyx) and long, narrow red bracts that radiate from the base. Found in wet-mesic, mesic, and dry-mesic soils in full sunlight and partial shade. This species should be marked with field flags while in flower to ensure it can be found for seed harvesting.


IN SEED Plants are 6 inches to 1 foot tall. Look down into the vegetation for a few terminal white cottony, thread-like masses connected to a short, leafless, hairy stem. The thread-like masses are actually hairy styles connected to seeds in the head. Leaves are green when seeds are ripe. * Directly around the flower stalk and close to the ground will be a rosette of pinnately divided leaves that connect to a petiole emanating from the crown of the plant. Seeds are 1/16 inch (2 mm) long, teardrop-shaped, and brown, with a hairy style up to 1-1/2 inches in length.


SEED HARVESTING Ripening begins in mid-June. Each stalk produces very few seeds. Tan sepals and bracts at the base of the seed head indicate the seeds are ripe. Seeds can be easily harvested by hand but also easily shatter soon after ripening, so don't expect to collect a lot of seeds of this species. Best advice is to monitor the marked plants near ripening time so as not to miss the harvest window.


Helianthus pauciflorus, prairie sunflower, Asteraceae, daisy family

SEED PRODUCTION * very few

SEED DURATION * long


IN FLOWER Flowering begins in early August. The inflorescence is terminal and solitary, with daisy-shaped flowers with yellow rays and dark brown centers. Found in wet-mesic, mesic, dry-mesic, and dry soils in full sunlight.


IN SEED Plants are 3 to 4 feet tall. Look in drier areas for a foliated stalk, with one or a few terminal brown seed heads. Some stalks may have terminal seed heads on branched stem tips. * This species is easier to identify in the field than other sunflowers because it has long stems and widely spaced leaf pairs. Leaves are elongated and oval and taper to a tip, with finely serrate margins and a prominent midvein. Leaves on the upper portion of the stalk are sessile and arranged opposite. Stalk and leaves feel very rough when rubbed. It is likely that many other plants of this species will be found in the same area. Seeds are 3/16 inch (5 mm) long, oval, tapered at one end, and brown.


SEED HARVESTING Ripening begins in late September. Each stalk produces very few seeds. Seeds are ripe when the seed head is brown. Cut seed heads off the stalk when harvesting. Periodically check for seeds by crushing the head in your hand to extract them. Seed heads remain intact after harvesting. Stomp seed heads and stems in a utility tub to dislodge the seeds. Sift crushed material through 1/8-inch-opening wire screen to separate out the seeds. Seed heads remain on the stalk into late fall.


Heliopsis helianthoides, ox-eye sunflower, Asteraceae, daisy family

SEED PRODUCTION * moderate

SEED DURATION * long


IN FLOWER Flowering begins in mid-June and continues into late July. The inflorescence is terminal and solitary, with daisy-shaped flower heads with yellow rays and gold disk centers. Found in wet-mesic, mesic, and dry-mesic soils in full sunlight and partial shade.


IN SEED Plants are 3 to 4 feet tall. Look for a foliated stalk with one or a few terminal dark brown or black seed heads. Leaves are ovate, taper to a point, and have serrate margins. Leaves are attached to the stalk with a short petiole and are arranged opposite. Very short coarse hair can be seen on the stalk and leaves and will feel rough when rubbed. Seeds are 5/32 inch (4 mm) long, oval, tapering at one end, slightly curved, and dark brown.


SEED HARVESTING Ripening begins in late September. Each stalk produces moderate numbers of seeds. Plants of this species flower over many weeks, and there may be differential ripening among plants. It is important to check for seed ripeness when harvesting. Seeds are ripe if the seed head is brown; leave green or yellow heads on the stalk to further ripen. Cut seed heads off the main stalk when harvesting. Stomp seed heads and stems in a utility tub to dislodge the seed. Sift crushed material through 1/8-inch-opening wire screen to separate out the seeds. Seed heads remain on the stalk into late fall.


Monarda fistulosa, wild bergamot, Lamiaceae, mint family

SEED PRODUCTION * high

SEED DURATION * long


IN FLOWER Flowering begins in mid-July. The inflorescence is terminal and solitary, with pink to light purple flower heads. Each flower head has numerous tube-shaped, two-lobed flowers. Found in wet-mesic, mesic, dry-mesic, and dry soils in full sunlight and partial shade.


IN SEED Plants are 2 to 4 feet tall. Look for a foliated stalk with one or a few terminal whitish-brown, dome-shaped seed heads, approximately 3/4 inch wide. Each seed head consists of numerous upright tubes that feel soft to the touch and release a mint odor when rubbed. * The stalk has a square stem. Leaves are lance-shaped with pointed tips and serrate margins and are arranged opposite on the stalk. Seeds are 1/16 inch (2 mm) long, dark brown, and oval.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Prairie in Seed by Dave Williams. Copyright © 2016 University of Iowa Press. Excerpted by permission of University of Iowa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments xi

Of Photographs and Fieldwork xiii

How to Use This Guide xv

Part 1 Solitary Seed Heads

Allium canadense, wild garlic 3

Anemone canadensis, Canada anemone 4

Anemone cylindrica, thimbleweed 5

Coreopsis pahnata, prairie coreopsis 6

Dalea Candida, white prairie clover 7

Dalea purpurea, purple prairie clover 8

Echinacea pallida, pale purple coneflower 9

Geum trifiorum, prairie smoke 10

Helianthus pauciflorus, prairie sunflower 11

Heliopsis helianthoides, ox-eye sunflower 12

Monarda fistulosa, wild bergamot 13

Ratibida pinnata, gray-headed coneflower 14

Rudbeckia hirta, black-eyed Susan 15

Viola pedatifida, prairie violet 16

Part 2 Seeds in Follicles

Asclepias incarnata, swamp milkweed 21

Asclepias tuberosa, butterfly milkweed 22

Asclepias verticillata, whorled milkweed 23

Part 3 Seeds in Leaf Axils

Lithospermum caroliniense, hairy puccoon 27

Onosmodium molle, false gromwell 28

Part 4 Seeds in Racemes

Baptisia alba, white wild indigo 33

Baptisia bracteata, cream false indigo 34

Ceanothus americanus, New Jersey tea 35

Chamaecrista fasciculata, partridge pea 36

Delphinium virescens, prairie larkspur 37

Lespedeza capitata, round-headed bush clover 38

Lobelia siphilitica, great blue lobelia 39

Silphium laciniatum, compass plant 40

Part 5 Seeds in Spikes

Amorpha canescens, leadplant 45

Astragalus canadensis, milk vetch 46

Gentiana andrewsii, bottle gentian 47

Liatris aspera, rough blazing star 48

Liatris pyenostachya, prairie blazing star 49

Monarda punctata, spotted horsemtnt 50

Penstemon grandiflorus, large-flowered beardrongue 51

Ruellia humilis, wild petunia 52

Teucrium canadense, germander 53

Verbena hastata, blue vervain 54

Verbena stricta, hoary vervain 55

Part 6 Seeds in Umbels

Allium stellatum, wild prairie onion 59

Dodecatheon meadia, shooting star 60

Eryngium yuccifolium, rattlesnake master 61

Euphorbia corollata, flowering spurge 62

Lilium michiganense, Michigan lily 63

Pycnanthemum pilosum, hairy mountain mint 64

Pycnanthemum tenuifolium, slender mountain mint 65

Pycnanthemum virginianum, common mountain mint 66

Silphium integrifolium, rosinweed 67

Tradescantia bracteata, prairie spiderwort 68

Tradescantia obiensis, Ohio spiderwort 69

Veronicastrum virginicum, Culver's root 70

Zizia aurea, golden alexanders 71

Part 7 Seeds in Panicles without Pappus Bristles

Achillea millefolium, western yarrow 75

Artemisia ludoviciana, white sage 76

Desmanthus illinoensis, Illinois bundle flower 77

Desmodium canadense, showy tick trefoil 78

Helenium autumnale, sneezeweed 79

Helianthusgrosseserratus, saw-tooth sunflower 80

Parthenium integrifolium, wild quinine 81

Penstemon digitalis, foxglove beardtongue 82

Phloxpilosa, prairie phlox 83

Potentilla arguta, tall cinquefoil 84

Rudbeckia suhtomentosa, fragrant coneflower 85

Part 8 Seeds in Panicles with Pappus Bristles

Brickellia eupatorioides, false boneset 89

Eupatorium altissimum, tall boneset 90

Eupatorium perfoliatum, boneset 91

Euthamia graminifolia, grass-leaved goldenrod 92

Oligoneuron rigidum, stiff goldenrod 93

Solidago nemoralis, field goldenrod 94

Solidago speciosa, showy goldenrod 95

Symphyotrichum ericoides, heath aster 96

Symphyotrichum laeve, smooth blue aster 97

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, New England aster 98

Vernonia fasciculata, ironweed 99

Leaf Identification 101

Table 1 Initial Flowering and Ripening Times 103

Table 2 Initial Ripening Time and Seed Duration after Ripening 107

Table 3 Number of Seeds Produced per Stalk 110

Glossary 111

References 115

Index 117

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