We are now heading into early August and the prairie planting surrounding the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre is in full swing. Each day brings a new surprise, with new forbs, or prairie flowers, opening their petals to take full advantage of the summer sunlight in order to reproduce seeds for next year’s flowers.
First, a little history about the site. The first railroad tracks which ran through this property were constructed in 1863 and connected North McGregor (now Marquette) to Monona via Bloody Run creek. In 1920, the site held the largest railroad roundhouse (a large, semicircular building located around the turntable to service steam locomotives) in Iowa with over 400 employees.
The railroad left parts and coal ash behind, creating a brownfield, or land previously used for industrial purposes that may have been contaminated with hazardous waste or pollution, or is feared to be so (Wikipedia). In 2013, the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre aimed to restore the land and planted a dry short prairie mix, little bluestem, and a wet prairie mix.
Now, if there’s anything I want you to remember, it’s that: The first year prairie seed sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps! And boy, is it leaping!
In the spring we had wild violets and many aster varieties. In June we spotted butterfly milkweed and blue vervain. In July we had common milkweed, black-eyed susans, yarrow, pale purple coneflowers, wild bergamont, and hoary vervain, and as we head into August, the partridge pea, yellow coneflowers, prairie coreopsis, and anise hyssop have begun blooming.
The main colors of flowering plants change as the availability of light decreases and the UV (ultraviolet) light spectrum turns to more violet colors as the year progresses, similar to the way tree leaves change color in the fall. You will tend to spot more orange and red wildflowers in July, yellow forbs in August, and purples and whites in September.
With the increased diversity in flowers, we have had a simultaneous increase in pollinator diversity, which is incredibly important as the monarch butterfly is being considered for endangered species status here in the United States.
A volunteer prairie management crew has been battling invasive and weedy species such as crown vetch, sweet clover, and thistles that would take over the prairie. If you are interested in getting involved with this modern-day gardening club, contact us as it is very therapeutic and also a socially engaging form of exercise.
The Driftless Area Wetlands Centre is hosting a Youth Photography Workshop on Thursday, August 6 from 5:00-6:30 pm. Please RSVP in advance so we have a head count. There will be live music at this Friday’s Friday Night Live farmers market, as well as new vendors and fresh sweet corn!
We are open from 11:00 – 4:00, Tuesdays – Saturdays. We always have lots going on, so check us out on our Facebook page, our website, or call us at (563) 873-3537. Enjoy the Outdoors! It’s always free!
Photo: The Marquette Railroad Roundhouse in the late 1800's. Now the site of the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre, whose mission is to provide a unique learning experience that connects people to the natural world and empowers them to positively impact their local environments.