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Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands

Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands

4.1 10
by Sylvan T. Runkel, Alvin F. Bull

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This classic of midwestern natural history is back in print with a new format and new photographs. Originally published in 1979, Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands introduced many naturalists to the beauty and diversity of the native plants of the wooded communities that once covered more than 6 million acres of the state. Now redesigned with updated names and


This classic of midwestern natural history is back in print with a new format and new photographs. Originally published in 1979, Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands introduced many naturalists to the beauty and diversity of the native plants of the wooded communities that once covered more than 6 million acres of the state. Now redesigned with updated names and all-new images, this reliable field companion will introduce woodland wildflowers to a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts in the Upper Midwest.

The species accounts are accompanied by brilliant full-page color photographs by Larry Stone, Thomas Rosburg, and Carl Kurtz. In clear, straightforward, and accessible prose, authors Sylvan Runkel and Alvin Bull provide common, scientific, and family names; the Latin or Greek meaning of the scientific names; habitat and blooming times; and a complete description of plant, flower, and fruit. Particularly interesting is the information on the many ways in which Native Americans and early pioneers used these plants for everything from pain relief to insecticides to tonics.

Iowa’s original savannas, woodlands, and forests were cleared with amazing thoroughness, yet enough beauty and diversity remain to give joy to hikers, birders, and mushroomers. Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands will inspire both amateurs and professionals with the desire to learn more about the wonders of today’s woodlands.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“In the tradition that only Sy Runkel can claim, Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands has long provided plant enthusiasts with identification tips, habitat affinities, Native American and pioneer uses, and general ethnobotanical folklore of frequently observed wildflowers in the Midwest. The species represent a broad range of wooded environments, including dry rocky or sandy woodlands, oak savannas, mesic forests, and swamps and floodplain forests. This revised edition, presented in a beautifully designed vertical format, has all-new color photographs and updated scientific names. It is a treasure chest of tidbits, a valuable companion for wandering naturalists and those family hikes in the woods. This is a book you’ll find yourself using again and again.”—Thomas Rosburg, Drake University

Product Details

University of Iowa Press
Publication date:
Bur Oak Guide
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 2.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands

By Sylvan T. Runkel Alvin F. Bull


Copyright © 2009 University of Iowa Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-58729-823-3

Chapter One

Skunk cabbage

Symplocarpus foetidus (L.) Salisbury ex W. Barton

OTHER COMMON NAMES collard, meadow cabbage, pole cat weed, pole weed, skunk weed, swamp cabbage

Symplocarpus: from Greek meaning "connected fruits," from the way its fruits are connected together

Foetidus: from Latin meaning "foul-smelling," characteristic of the plant when any part is crushed

Arum or calla family: Araceae

Found on humus-rich soils of wet woodlands and marshes in the eastern part of the state. Blooms mid-February to April.

One of the earliest plants, skunk cabbage often appears before the snow is gone. Leaves emerge after the spathe, persist into September, and then quickly decay. They are massive heart shapes, and may be more than 2 feet long and nearly as wide. Their smooth margins and thick pale ribs remind one of cabbage leaves. Several leaves, usually six to eight per plant, stand in a tight cluster beside the spathe. The long petioles have deep grooves on the upper side.

The perennial root system consists of a large upright rhizome with numerous rootlets. The fleshy spathe, a distinctive mottled brown and yellow-green, emerges tightly closed. A slit-like opening widens to give a sea shell shape perhaps 6 inches high and half as wide. Within the spathe stands a knobby inch-high spadix covered with bright yellow anthers of the tiny flowers.

It enlarges to a spongy mass with individual fruits just beneath the surface. As the spadix decays, it leaves a pile of pebble-like seeds on the soil surface. Flies and other insects attracted by the fetid odor or the warmth provide pollination.

As rapid cellular expansion begins in the flowers, accelerated respiration maintains more or less constant temperature in surrounding plant tissues for as long as two weeks-as much as 30 degrees Celsius above ambient air temperature even when air temperatures drop as low as minus 14 degrees Celsius. By some still unknown mechanism, respiration rate increases as air temperature decreases. Others of the Araceae family produce similar heat but for only a few hours and not at such low temperatures.

Roots and young leaves of skunk cabbage served as food for Iroquois, Seneca, and probably other tribes. Drying and/ or thorough cooking decreases a concentration of calcium oxalate. Careful identification was necessary to avoid confusion with the poisonous Indian poke, Veratum viride Ait., which somewhat resembles skunk cabbage and may be known by that name. The Meskwaki tribe applied rootlets to ease toothache. They also used crushed leaf petioles as a wet dressing for severe bruises. The Menomini tribe used a tea of the rootlets to stop external bleeding. Winnebago and Dakota tribes used the plant to treat asthma. One tribe inhaled the sharp odor of crushed leaves as a treatment for headache.

Until late in the 19th century, pioneers used skunk cabbage to treat respiratory problems, rheumatism, dropsy, ringworm, skin sores, muscle spasms, and other disorders.

photograph by Larry A. Stone


Trillium species

OTHER COMMON NAMES birthroot, toadshade, wakerobin-and many others, often applying to a single species

Trillium: from Latin tres meaning "three" and lilium for lily. Both leaves and petals occur in units of three.

Species: Several species are found in the state.

Lily family: Liliaceae

Found throughout the state usually in rich, moist woodlands where soils are deep and loose. Most trilliums flower early, starting in March, but some bloom as late as June. Plants and flowers of this genus have distinctly related characteristics. A single smooth erect stem arises from a perennial bulb. Toward the top of the stem is a whorl of three leaves with net veining and smooth margins. A single showy flower with three petals tops the stem.

The following are among midwestern trilliums:

Little snow trillium, T. nivale Riddell (snowy): grows 2 to 6 inches tall. White flower. Blooms March to May. Locally called dwarf white or snow trillium.

Toadshade, T. sessile L. (without leaf petioles): grows 4 to 12 inches tall. Flower is dark red, purple, or greenish yellow. Leaves and flowers without petioles. Leaves are usually mottled with brownish coloring.

Prairie trillium, T. recurvatum Beck (recurved): grows 6 to 18 inches tall. Flowers red-brown, maroon, purplish, or greenish yellow. Similar to toadshade except leaves have petioles and sepals are curved back (recurved). Found in woodlands despite the common name.

Large white trillium, T. grandiflorum (Michx.) Salisb. (large-flowered): grows 8 to 16 inches tall. Each petal up to 2 inches long and with wavy margins. Usually white, sometimes pink or greenish. Flowers usually on long erect stem.

Nodding trillium, T. cernuum L. (nodding): grows 6 to 24 inches tall. White flower with petals to 1 inch long. Flower stalk curves downward so flower droops or nods below the leaves. Leaves have short petioles.

White wakerobin, T. flexipes Raf. (with bent flower stalk): resembles nodding trillium except that leaves have no petioles.

Birthroot was a name given to trilliums by pioneers who understood that Indians used the plant to induce labor and for other childbirth problems. This has not been verified. Astringent and antiseptic qualities of the root led to extensive use by various Indian tribes for treating open wounds and sores-even for internal bleeding. The Menomini Indians made a wet dressing of freshly dug roots for eye inflammation. The Potawatomi steeped powdered roots in water to produce a wash for sore nipples. The Chippewas scraped the second layer of "bark" from the roots. Steeped in water, this was used as eardrops. They sometimes treated rheumatism by "injecting" a tea of powdered roots into the affected area. This was done by pounding the area with a special tool-several needles fastened to the end of a stick.

photograph by Larry A. Stone, T. nivale


Hepatica americana (DC.) Ker.

SCIENTIFIC NAME, 2009 Anemone americana (de Candolle) H. Hara

OTHER COMMON NAMES golden trefoil, herb trinity, ivy flower, liver-leaf, liverwort, mouse ear, round-lobed hepatica, squirrel cup

Hepatica: from Latin epatikos meaning "affecting the liver," probably from the color and shape of the dead leaves

Americana: meaning "American," indicating that it was first found on this continent. Another species, H. acutiloba DC. (from Latin meaning "sharp lobe," describing the pointed leaf shape), is also found in the state.

Buttercup family: Ranunculaceae

Found throughout the state, usually on medium dry leaf-covered soils of wooded uplands. The round-lobed species prefers neutral to acid soils, while the sharp-lobed species prefers alkaline or high lime soils. Flowering time is March to June.

Leaves arise on slender hairy petioles from a common point at about ground level to a height of a few inches. They have three lobes, rounded in the case of H. americana DC. Ker. and usually broader than long. Lobes of H. acutiloba DC. are more pointed, longer than broad. The leaves, to 3 inches across, are light green and hairy when young, turning dark olive green when older. They persist through the winter becoming purplish or liver-colored.

The perennial roots are fibrous and profusely branched.

Individual flowers occur at the top of individual hairy stalks about 6 inches high. What appear to be six to ten white to pink or bluish purple petals are actually colored sepals. The flowers, which appear before the new leaves, are about an inch across.

Just below each flower is a whorl of three small unlobed leaves which could easily be mistaken for sepals. But close examination reveals a short length of stem between the flower and the leaves.

In the Middle Ages, a widespread belief held that if a plant in some way resembled an organ of the human body, that plant would be useful in treating disorders of that organ. This belief, mistaken though it was, is known as the "doctrine of signatures." Since hepatica leaves somewhat resemble the shape and color of the liver, it was once used for liver ailments. In later years, the hepaticas were considered of little or no medicinal value, but leaves were sometimes collected as a source of tannin.

It has mildly astringent properties, probably due to tannin in mature leaves. It has been used to treat cough, lung ailments, indigestion, liver ailments, and even hemorrhoids.

Indians found other medicinal uses. Chippewas made a tea of powdered roots to be taken internally by children with convulsions. A Meskwaki medicine man described use of hepatica in these words: "When the mouth gets twisted and the eyes get crossed, this root is brewed into a tea and the face is washed until it returns to normal."

photograph by Larry A. Stone


Sanguinaria canadensis L.

OTHER COMMON NAMES corn root, pain ease, puccoon, red Indian paint, red puccoon, red root, snake bite, sweet slumber, tetterwort, turmeric, white puccoon

Sanguinaria: from Latin sanguinarius meaning "bleeding," referring to the bright red juice which oozes from a cut or broken root

Canadensis: meaning "of Canada"

Poppy family: Papaveraceae

Found in rich, moist, but well-drained woodlands throughout the state-usually in small colonies of plants. Blooms March through May.

This erect but low-growing perennial makes most of its growth early before the forest floor is shaded by the foliage of the trees. It grows 6 to 14 inches high from a slightly branching horizontal rootstock. The thick, to 1 inch in diameter, salmon-colored rootstock oozes a bright red juice when cut or broken. This red juice rapidly coagulates to protect the wounded area.

A light green leaf, paler underneath, emerges from the ground closely coiled around the flower stalk. After the flower appears, the leaf unfurls to full width-perhaps as much as 1 foot across. It is broadly circular with numerous lobes. Basal lobes are usually larger and more rounded than the others. Margins of the lobes have coarse rounded teeth.

The single white flower commonly has eight petals, rarely as many as sixteen. Larger petals alternate with slightly smaller ones producing a somewhat squarish outline perhaps 1 1/2 inches across. The flower is borne on its own stalk which is taller than the leaves. A close look shows varying shades of white within each petal making an intricate design.

The root is poisonous. Like other members of the poppy family, it contains alkaloids closely related to morphine. Chippewas drank a tea of the roots to relieve stomach cramps. The Menomini and Potawatomi tribes used a similar tea to bathe burns. At times, they chewed the root and used the spittle on burns. Some New England Indians and early settlers squeezed juice from the root onto a lump of maple sugar and held it in the mouth to cure sore throat. Any internal use was a dangerous practice in view of the poisonous characteristic of the roots. Bloodroot was also used externally on warts, ringworms, fungus infections, chronic eczema, and cancerous growths.

In early medical practice, bloodroot was sometimes used to treat asthma, bronchitis, and various heart ailments.

Indians also used the red juice of the roots as a dye for fabrics, tools, and warpaint. Captain John Smith reported that the Indian women chosen by Chief Powhatan to be his companions painted their bodies with bloodroot. Early settlers also used bloodroot as a dyestuff. Adding oak bark provided tannin which helped set the color and make it more permanent.

photograph by Larry A. Stone

Rue anemone

Anemonella thalictroides (L.) Spach.

SCIENTIFIC NAME, 2009 Thalictrum thalictroides (L.) AJ Eames & B. Boivin

OTHER COMMON NAMES anemone, windflower

Anemonella: a diminutive of Anemone, as this plant has sometimes been called. The word Anemone is a corruption of an ancient Greek and Latin name for the mythological Adonis from whose blood spilled upon the ground the crimson-flowered anemone of the Orient is said to have sprung.

Thalictroides: for "like Thalictrum," the meadow rue, which has similar leaves. This is the only species in the genus Anemonella.

Buttercup family: Ranunculaceae

Found throughout the state in dry open woodlands, especially on slopes. Blooms late in March to June.

The leaf structure of rue anemone is botanically complex. What seem to be six leaves in a whorl just below the flowers are actually two bracts on the flower stalk. Each bract has three segments on individual stems. The flower stalks are usually less than 9 inches tall. Two basal leaves appear after flowering. Each of these has three leaflets which are similar in appearance to the bract leaflets. The basal leaves have long petioles. The total bract has no petiole, but leaflets of the bract may have stems of their own.

The leaflets of both the bracts and the true leaves are smooth, thin, and pale green. They are generally rounded with three rounded lobes toward the tip. The shallow notch between lobes is in contrast to the deep notches of false rue anemone. Individual leaflets may be as much as 3/4 inch across.

A cluster of thickened tuberous roots gives this perennial its rapid start in early spring.

The flowers are borne on slender individual stalks originating at the point where the bracts attach to the stem. Usually there are two or three, sometimes more, flowers in each cluster. The flowers have five to ten petal-like sepals, no true petals. The color is usually whitish, sometimes shading to a magenta pink. The oval "petals" form a shallow saucer, perhaps 3/4 inch across, with numerous yellow-green stamens in the center. The rue anemone flowers are long-lasting compared to most other early spring flowers. They may be difficult to distinguish from flowers of the false rue anemone, which tends to blossom somewhat earlier. They are also similar to flowers of the wood anemone, Anemone quinquefolia L., which has but a single flower on each stem. Occasionally "double" flowers will be found in the wild. A double-flowered variety has been developed for use in gardens.

No medicinal uses of rue anemone by Indians or pioneers are known. But the clusters of tubers have been harvested for food by both Indians and pioneers.

This delicate little plant is becoming uncommon and deserves protection if it is to be preserved. Despite the tuberous roots, this species is difficult to transplant and should be left undisturbed in its natural habitat.

photograph by Larry A. Stone


Dentaria laciniata Muhl.

SCIENTIFIC NAME, 2009 Cardamine concatenata (Michx.) Schwartz

OTHER COMMON NAMES crinkle root, cut-leafed toothwort, milkmaids, pepper root, pepper wort, spring blossoms

Dentaria: from Latin dens for "tooth," perhaps describing the slightly closed flowers, the sharply toothed leaves, or the tubers on the roots

Laciniata: from Latin for "torn," describing the somewhat ragged appearance of the leaves. Another species, D. diphylla Michx., with only two leaves on the stem, is found in our area.

Mustard family: Brassicaceae (Cruciferae. This old family name is from Latin meaning "cross bearer" for the four petals of the flower which form a cross.)

Found throughout the state, often in large patches, on rich soils of medium to moist shady woodlands. Blooms March to May.

Leaves of toothwort are of two types. One group appears as a whorl, usually of three leaves, below the flowers on the flower stem. The other group is basal leaves on long petioles which develop from the crown after flowering. Both sets of leaves look much alike-as much as 5 inches across and deeply cut into three segments. The two outer segments may also be so deeply cut as to give the appearance of five separate segments. Each segment is also deeply cut or coarsely toothed. Dentaria species may hybridize and produce variations in plant types.

The deep perennial root system is a necklace of small white (or yellow-brown) tubers connected by slender roots. Individual tubers are from 1/2 to 2 inches long.

The erect flowering stem grows to 15 inches tall. Flowers, usually no more than six, grow in a loose terminal cluster. Individual flowers, to 3/4 inch across, have four white petals which take on a pinkish cast as they get older. The petals curve outward forming a cross and curve slightly backward at their tips.

The slender fruit capsules, to 1 1/2 inches long, curve upward.

Pioneers gathered the little tubers in the early spring and used them throughout the year for seasoning soups, stews, meats, and other dishes. Eaten raw, the little tubers have the flavor of a radish or a mild horseradish. Stored tubers wrinkle like a prune as they dry out. This characteristic gave rise to the name crinkle root. The name toothwort may come from the tooth-like shape of the fleshy tubers. As long as only the outer end of the tuber system away from the growing stem was harvested, the plant was not seriously harmed.

No uses by Indians are known, but they probably learned of food uses from the pioneers if they lacked prior knowledge. Exchange of information about food and medicinal use of plants was common on the frontier where food was often scarce and doctors were seldom to be found.

photograph by Larry A. Stone


Excerpted from Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands by Sylvan T. Runkel Alvin F. Bull Copyright © 2009 by University of Iowa Press. Excerpted by permission.
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.

Meet the Author

Sylvan Runkel (1906-1995) was the coauthor of five books about midwestern wildflowers, including Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie and Wildflowers and Other Plants of Iowa Wetlands. A vigorous promoter of conservation for many years, he was honored in 1996 by the dedication of the Sylvan Runkel State Preserve. Alvin Bull (1925-1982) was the coauthor of three books about midwestern wildflowers, including Wildflowers of Indiana Woodlands and Wildflowers of Illinois Woodlands. He was vice-president of Farm Progress Companies and editorial director for the Indiana Prairie Farmer, Prairie Farmer, Wallaces Farmer, and the Wisconsin Agriculturist.

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Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Can someone adopt me
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
COOL! she meows
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I met Sylvan Runkel in the late 70's and enjoyed the environmental campout at which he presented. This book was presented at this conference. I'm an outdoor person so I quickly was able to start learning about Iowas' wildflowers. The book is so well worn it's being held together by a rubberband. When I saw that it was being reprinted I ordered several copies. This book contains very detailed pictures, accurate information about each wildflower and historical references as to how the flower or root may have been used. As a teacher I used some of the information to teach my middle schoolers how plants were used in pioneer days and the botantical facts. Don't pass up a chance to own this book. It's well worth the price and you'll be able to identify wildflowers very easily. I live in Michigan and most of Iowa's wildflowers are found here also. Sylvan Runkel published 2 other books that are well worth owning.