Native plants a virtual pharmacy if we can learn to understand how they work

PALE PURPLE CONEFLOWER are neat plants. Standing tall and waving in the wind of native prairie tracts of land or at landscaped settings, it adds a great touch of color and character to the numerous other grasses and forbs covering the land. This scribe is not privy to all the information of how this plant became known for its medicinal qualities. However, the history of Native Americans tells of their use for this plant species to treat all sorts of ailments. What science does know is that it does help our immune system do its job. Any help our immune system can get will go a long way to assist in the cure of or getting over whatever “bugs” we suffer through.

Early explorers and settlers learned that the Blackfoot, Choctaw, Comanche, Dakota, Lakota and Sioux used pale purple coneflowers. Centuries of use by native people meant there had to be some merit to its reputation. Settlers were keen on what worked, what didn’t and what could be thought to work even if it was only a placebo effect.

An example of the big business aspect of this plant tells of the several billion-dollar herbal medicine market in North America and Europe, all made from the extracts or whole plant products of Echinacea. Annual sales were estimated just in the U.S. alone at more than $300 million. It supposedly helps cure the common cold via some unique biochemical processes related to invigorating the immune system within our bodies. Some fractions of this plant extract also seem to exhibit anti-viral activity. These qualities are good news for people. Sometimes we need all the help we can get to stay one step ahead of a potential ailment.

Pale purple coneflowers may be 3 feet tall above ground. Under the soil surface, the tap root will penetrate anywhere from six to nine feet. The tap root itself may be about 1 inch in diameter with only a few or minor branching. Wildlife likes to eat this plant including anything from the size of a harvest mouse to larger grazing animals. Goldfinches eat the seeds from the flower head. An added bonus is it is pretty, fun to see, fun to photograph and fun to learn more about. This one tiny component of our remnant prairie land tracts is a beautiful addition to the summer landscape.

RAGBRAI was recently completed for another year. Bicyclists from all over the world attended the big run from the Missouri River at Council Bluffs to Fort Madison and the Mississippi River. During the course of its 398-mile ride, riders experienced a variety of geologic landscapes. Flat lands of the river floodplains were easy. Hills were another story. How many hills? I have no idea. What this scribe does know is the accumulated climbs of each and every hill are totaled, the Ragbrai riders climbed the equivalent of a mountain that was 15,065 feet higher than the starting point. Since Council Bluffs has an elevation of 1,253 feet above sea level, the top of this year’s mythical “Iowa Mountain” would have been 16,318 feet above sea level.

The good side of every uphill pedal power effort is the downhill glide. If added together, the downhill elevation losses totaled 15,994 feet. At Fort Madison, at the Mississippi River, the elevation was only 724 feet above the sea.

The trivia notes above are free. And feel free to share these little factoids with fellow cyclists who helped put Iowa on the world map for another year. Once next year’s route is announced, a new set of elevation gains and losses will be calculated by this writer. Stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the Heart of Iowa Nature Trail, the Linn Creek Trail and other local bike trails as a reason to get outside to enjoy Iowa’s summer weather, good exercise and a chance to see wildlife or purple coneflowers.

MIGRATORY GAME BIRD SEASONS have been approved for 2013-14 by the Iowa DNR. Here are the highlights: 1. A new waterfowl refuge at Union Hills Wildlife Management Area (Cerro Gordo County) has been established. The posted refuge is all Unions Hills WMA property west of former county road Dogwood Avenue. 2. The possession limit for ducks and geese is now three times the daily bag limit. 3. The daily limit for scaup is three. 4. The daily limit for canvasback ducks is two. 5. The season for pigeons had been removed so it is now a continuous open season. And finally, there is no bag limit for light geese during the Conservation Order portion of goose hunts next spring.

The EARLY DUCK season will be Sept. 21 25 in all three zones…north, south and Missouri River. REGULAR DUCK season for the north zone is Oct. 12 Dec. 5. South zone dates are Oct. 19 Dec. 12. Missouri River zone dates are Oct. 26 Dec. 19. CANADA GOOSE season dates are (north zone) Sept. 28 Jan. 3; south zone Oct. 5 Jan. 10; Missouri River zone Oct. 12 Jan. 17. WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE dates are slightly different…(north) Sept. 28 Dec. 10; (south) Oct. 5 Dec. 17; Missouri River Oct. 12 Dec. 24. Other LIGHT GEESE DATES are (north) Sept. 28 Jan. 12; (south) Oct. 5 Jan. 17; and Missouri River Oct. 12 Jan. 17.

Hunters please take note, if so interested, in these species season dates: Doves Sept. 1 Nov. 9; Snipe Sept. 7 Nov. 30; Rails Sept. 7 Nov. 9; and Woodcock Oct. 5 Nov. 18.

Lastly, the LIGHT GOOSE CONSERVATION ORDER dates for white and blue phase snow geese and Ross’ geese has been set for Jan. 18 April 15, 2014. For more information on bag limits, zones and hunting rules, go to

Congratulations to DIANE HALL, this year’s recipient of the Judge Tobin Award from the State Izaak Walton League. Diane started her naturalist career with the Marshall County Conservation Board in 1986. She helped develop the Uncle Ikes nature program for kids among many other programs and services to help people learn about natural resources. Well done Diane.

For your funny bone: Technology for country folk (versus the younger computer generation) defines these words in terms this scribe and many others can identify with. Log on is making the stove hotter. Log off is trying to cool off the stove. Download is getting all the firewood off the truck. Mega hertz is what happens when you hit your finger with the firewood splitting axe. Hard drive is what is used to describe driving home in the winter time during a blizzard. And a micro-chip is what is left in the bottom of a bag of potato chips after all the big pieces have been eaten.

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.