Take time to smell the roses

The WILD ROSE is a neat flower. Even though there are several species of this ‘rose’, the wild prairie rose, Rosa pratincola, is usually cited as the official flower. While Iowa has called it the state flower, so too have North Dakota, Georgia and New York. I guess they all know a good thing when they see it. Within Iowa, this flower has hybridized with other close botanical relatives which is why botanists have a hard time in critical identification tasks. This flower is found throughout the state under a wide range of conditions. It can grow into a shrubby collection of stems, leaves and flowers up to 4 feet tall. Or it can hug the ground in grassy environments such as the native prairie of the Marietta Sand Prairie Preserve. Its spreading perennial root system often sends up new shoots, thus helping to spread this plant across the land.

The flower itself is about 2 inches in diameter, has five broad petals. Each petal may have a slight notch in its tip. Yellow stamens surround the center lobe. Under the petals are green urn-shaped sepals that will form the bud. The bud will later mature into a smooth apple-like fruit about one-half inch in diameter. The red fruit is called a hip. Meskwaki and Menomin Native Americans boiled the hips to make a syrup for various food uses. Skins of hips were used for stomach trouble. Chippewas scraped the second layer of root bark into a cloth, soaked it in water, squeezed drops of this liquid into soar eyes. A second treatment is preparation made from red raspberry root followed immediately afterward. If it really worked we cannot be sure. It probably didn’t hurt. It was a time-tested medicine from the land that eons of Native American cultures had discovered, used and reused for their people. A rose hip is believed to contain as much vitamin C as an orange. Vitamins E and K, pectin, beta-carotene and bio-flavinoids are also within its red buds. There is some terrific natural chemistry taking place in the wild rose.

As a garden plant, wild roses have been cultivated for at least 2,000 years. Ancient Greeks, and later Romans, used them in garlands and for social affairs. For any of you that wish to see the wild rose for yourself, make a drive to the Marietta Sand Prairie. You will not have to look very far or very hard to find this little pink blossom. Lean down, get close, inspect it carefully and take time to smell the roses of our native prairie.

And lastly, remember this factoid about native prairies. Only one-tenth of 1 percent of Iowa’s original native grasslands remain. Our civilization and settlement efforts over the past 150 years have been relentless in the transformation of Iowa and its soils into other uses. Surely we can afford to retain and savor the native plants these remnants hold. The wild rose will be there waiting. Check it out.

CRYSTAL LAKE, in northwest Hancock County, is a long road trip from Marshalltown. However, what is special about this prairie, pothole, glacially-carved lake is the fact that its outflow is the beginning of the Iowa River. One can actually step or jump across the river at its source. Three hundred and fifty-two miles later, the Iowa River is big and wide as it dumps into the Mississippi River near Wapello.

Crystal Lake has undergone recent renovation work for this 264-acre natural lake. DNR fisheries employees did what needed to be done to accomplish a $3 million project for lake restoration. Contractors pumped out more than 1.3 million cubic yards of sediment, thus eliminating the fish population for the short term, and adding a 10-acre sediment pond trap to hold the sediments from re-entering the lake. Restocking the lake with game fish took place in 2009 with channel catfish, bass, bluegill, crappie, walleye and northern. The result now is worth the wait as fishermen are catching fish. Bait dealers are selling tackle. Convenience stores are seeing more people buying things because they came to recreate on Crystal Lake.

Once the water from this lake seeks its outlet, the Iowa River, it is just a trickle inside a drainage ditch-like waterway. For more than two miles it is way too shallow and not wide enough to float a canoe. However, in 1996, two people did just that. For Lori Willert and Jerald Swenson it was the beginning of 14-day paddling float trip that took 116.5 hours to traverse 352.1 miles of river. They estimated that 15,000 paddle strokes per day were required. Fifteen thousand multiplied by 14 days equates to approximately 210,000 paddle strokes for the entire trip.

Gradually the river became a bit deeper and a bit wider. Floating the canoe was now doable. Still the duo had to break brush, fight snags and spider webs and walk in the mud to make headway downstream. The east branch of the river joins the west branch near Belmond in northern Wright County. In Hardin County the mud bottom turned to rock-riffled bluffs and rocky bottoms. Smallmouth bass enjoy these waters. At Iowa Falls, the Iowa River is now blocked behind a power dam. However one can imagine the steep limestone canyon that existed prior to the dam’s construction.

Further downstream, in Marshall County, beginning at the border with Hardin County, the river was channelized between 1918 and 1922. At the anchor point for the floating dredge near the Iowa Soldiers Home (now called Iowa Veterans Home), the dredge caught fire and was destroyed. During the dredging operation, more than eight miles of the river were cut off and disappeared forever. The new straight ‘ditch’ the river had become was now a flushing current for any high-flow times. The channelization also made future flooding in Marshalltown more severe over the last 90 years. Mankind had paid a heavy price for messing with the natural hydraulics of the river and its floodplain.

The Iowa River, eastbound, flows through Tama, Iowa, Johnson and Louisa counties before its end at the Mississippi. All together, the watershed for the river contains the drainage from 12,499 square miles. That is a lot of land contributing runoff if and when we get heavy rains. And we do get heavy rains periodically. Hopefully we have not forgotten the record flood level at Marshalltown earlier this year when the gauge read 22.08 feet, a new record for high water.

It rained last Sunday, mid-day. It was a lot of rain and very heavy at times. All one could do was wait it out. That is exactly what 20 shooters did at the local Izaak Walton League at Marshalltown. They were there to shoot a course of sporting clays. Instead of getting started at 9 a.m., it was early afternoon before the rain storms passed. Once the word was given, crews hit the course to see how many clay birds they could break. Shooters came from Conrad, Ogden, Grand Junction, Marshalltown, Hubbard, Radcliffe, Ames, Hudson, Oskaloosa, Ankeny, Boone and Des Moines.

A host of volunteers had previously set up the course along the hills and forests of the Ikes land. Each station was set up for realistic shooting and safety. Traps were set, armed and ready to throw the clay birds. When the clay bird dust settled at the end of the day, the top scorer was Chris Clark, from Ogden, with 92 out of 100. Jim Kadner, of Conrad, posted a 91. Jeff VanPelt, from Ogden, tallied 84. Thanks gentlemen for sticking tough in spite of big rains delaying but not ruining our day outdoors.

Summer heat in Iowa begins a natural process in area lakes. It is called stratification. Warmer water with dissolved oxygen will be in the top 10 feet of water. Colder but oxygen-less water will be below the thermocline. Fish must breathe so remember fishing too deep is some lakes is fruitless since fish cannot survive there. Look for structures, weed beds, rock piles or other habitat in water 10 feet or less in depth.

“I’m always ready to learn but I don’t like being taught.” -Winston Churchill

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.