by Seth Brooks
I was living in a sleepy fishing village on the northwestern coast of Spain when COVID-19 shut down the world. Locked in a tiny rooftop apartment with no internet, and isolated from family and friends by thousands of miles, I decided to return home once Spain’s strict quarantine restrictions were loosened.
Once at home in Nebraska, I found myself locked down again as a second wave swept across the nation just as winter set in. Another months-long quarantine would have been devastating to both my physical and mental health, so I searched for places to get outside and hike despite the dropping temperatures and dwindling daylight. I preferred Nebraska winters to the oppressive summers, anyway.
My first instinct was to head to the Loess Hills. I was familiar with the region having worked in western Iowa as a political organizer upon graduating from Creighton University in 2004. When I walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain for the first time in 2009, I dreamed of blazing a path for a thru-hike up the spine of the Loess Hills (Kelly Madigan did so herself in 2020 when she created the LoHi Trail). The problem I encountered now, however, was the lack of centralized and comprehensive information about hiking trails in the Loess Hills. I spent hours searching the websites of the various organizations that managed land in western Iowa. Instead of getting outside, I wasted time inside figuring out where I could hike.
Thus, an idea was born: to create a guide of the hiking trails in the Loess Hills. I gathered all the information I could about land open to the public where hiking was allowed: public lands managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources or county conservation boards and conservation areas managed by private organizations such as The Nature Conservancy. I also decided to include the eastern side of the Missouri River Valley, as the Nebraska bluffs offered various opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Then, I walked. More than three hundred miles atop prairie grass ridges and through the wooded hollows of the Loess Hills. I recorded and mapped each hike, noting waypoints to provide detailed directions and distance. Since I began in early November, I have compiled a list of more than fifty hikes on both sides of the Missouri River Valley. Ultimately, I hope to publish these hikes in a guidebook with information about the unique geology, biology, and history of the Loess Hills. In the meantime, I am glad to share some of my favorites hikes that I have recorded over the previous seven months.
The first trail is one that I have done several times since I began this project. The Loess Hills Ridge Trail is located in the Preparation Canyon Unit of the Loess Hills State Forest. This hike traverses two ridges that rise near Jones Creek Pond, where there is parking and a shelter, an ideal place to have a picnic after finishing the hike. This loop can be followed in either direction but clockwise leaves the easiest part at the end.
Beginning at the picnic shelter, the trail borders the southern end of Jones Creek Pond before entering the woods on the western side of the pond. You can explore the trail system of Jones Creek Pond as it meanders through a young forest of basswood, bur oak, bitternut hickory, black walnut, and other woodland species. Eventually, you want to take the trail named Prairie Pass (trail map with trail names available here) as it heads south to the forest’s edge. Here, the trail turns west and climbs uphill to reach the first ridge of this hike.
Once you reach the top of the ridge, the trail heads north along a classic example of the prairie ridges that once dominated the Loess Hills. When Lewis and Clark first came upon them, they dubbed them “bald hills” as the woodland invasion had not yet begun in earnest. Today, unfortunately, it is becoming exceedingly difficult to encounter prairie remnants in the Loess Hills. Enjoy the uninterrupted path along the ridge’s crest with expansive views west.
Both ridges this hike follows provide clear examples of the encroaching woodlands as they move uphill, particularly on their eastern slopes. As you walk north along the western ridge on this loop, notice bur oak and other trees on your right as the woodland comes right up to the ridgetop. On your left, you will find the invasive eastern redcedar, either solitary or in dense stands, that are the target of the prescribed burns and chainsaws of state forest rangers because it shades out native prairie grass. Several skeletal remains of dead eastern redcedars dot the western slope of the first ridge.
After two miles, the trail descends from the ridge through some trees to County Highway E60 and, after crossing the road, climbs to reach a clearing. Your initial instinct is to follow the ridge on your right heading south. Instead, continue ahead through a broad prairie heading due northeast. The trail bends southeast and becomes less open. Eventually, you will reach a confusing intersection. Don’t take the hard right that descends to the cornfield. Also, resist the urge to continue straight on the wide path under trees; this leads to another cornfield on the eastern side of the ridge. You want to stay on top of the ridge, so look for a narrow footpath cut deep into the earth that climbs up onto the grassy ridge. This intersection sorely needs a trail marker to point hikers in the right direction.
Once on top of the ridge, the trail comes and goes but the path is simple: continue atop the ridge heading southeast. The occasional Iowa DNR trail marker will confirm that you are on the right track. When you reach a deep roadcut in the ridge, the plan is the same: climb down, then back up to continue along the crest of the ridge heading southeast.
Eventually, the prairie is overtaken by eastern redcedar on both sides of the ridge. This forested section is an excellent spot to encounter wildlife. In December 2020, as I stopped along this section to check the Iowa DNR map and my GPS location, I heard a rustling in the woods on the eastern slope. I continued to look down until, from out of the redcedars, bounded a large whitetail deer with majestic antlers. The buck stopped in the middle of the trail, a mere twenty yards from me. We made eye contact, and before I could snap a photograph, it snorted and galloped down the western slope through the dense redcedar forest. Later, in January, dozens of turkey vultures took flight from the redcedar tops as I walked along the trail below.
The trail descends under the canopy of the trees until it reaches a cornfield. Head southwest toward a gravel road, following it to reach a gate and a small parking turnout off County Highway E60. Cross the road with Jones Creek Pond ahead of you, staying on the trail on the eastern side of the pond.
Before you return to the shelter and parking area, look for signs of a busy beaver or groundhog that has gnawed several trees to stumps. If you didn’t bring a picnic, two good places to stop for food or refreshment in nearby Pisgah are Dave’s Old Home Cafe or Sportsman Bar, the latter located in the same building as Loess Hills Country Corner. Pisgah is also home to the Loess Hills State Forest Visitor Center, an excellent source of information on the state forest and Loess Hills in general.
More info & resources:
Golden Hills, working with many partners, coordinated the first-ever LoHi Trek from June 6-9, 2021. The event attracted more than 30 participants from across Iowa and Nebraska. The name is from Lo(ess) Hi(lls) and was coined by Kelly Madigan, who hiked the entire length of the Loess Hills from South Dakota to Missouri in fall 2020. Learn more about Kelly's LoHi journey here.
The original plan was to have trekkers hike about 40 miles in 4 days, including both on- and off-road sections along the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway corridor. Because the temperatures were in the 90s, however, the group decided to remove some of the on-road sections and lessen the distance to keep everyone safe and well. Monona County Conservation Board offered a trailer that was used to haul everyone's gear, and the hikers camped in their own tents each night.
Day 1 began at the Loess Hills Prairie Seminar, where participants saw a program about raptor rehabilitation from Save Our Avian Resources and got an overview of the plan for the Trek. They got a sack lunch from Frannie's Cafe and were then driven to Southwood Conservation Area near Smithland. At Southwood, the trek started near the pond and took a trail to the Hammond Access on the south end of the park.
From there, the route took a gravel road into Rodney.
Just past Rodney, the hikers took a pit stop at the Pit Shop located at Rodney Pits/Peters Park. They had ice cream and other cold treats.
After Rodney Pits, the route took more rural county roads south past the historic Grant Cemetery.
The day ended at the Hargroves North tract of Loess Hills Wildlife Area near Ticonic, where participants set up tents in the shade. Dinner was provided by Ada J's Steakhouse in Ute.
The campsite was located near a pond that offered scenic sunset views.
Day 2 started with breakfast at the campsite, with coffee from Frontiers Coffee Company of Onawa. Day 2 was going to be the longest day of the Trek, but due to the heat, trekkers were shuttled by vehicle several miles down the road to Utterback Pond. From the pond, the group hiked up a prairie ridge through the Loess Hills Wildlife Area.
The route through Loess Hills Wildlife Area also included wooded areas and field edges.
Throughout the event, several participants provided insight and information about the Loess Hills, native plants, and ecology of the region.
Lunch was held at the Loess Hills Prairie Seminar site, provided by Divide Hill Roadhouse.
After more prairie ridges, the trek reached the Arcola Access, then hiked a gravel road east to Van & Jeannie Sterner's place for shade and refreshments.
The day ended at Kelly Madigan & Doug Chafa's property, which offered many recreational opportunities like swimming and paddling in the farm pond.
Several local residents joined with the hikers for dinner and discussed their love for the land and their reasons for living there.
Day 3 was also rerouted from the original route to shorten miles due to heat. Trekkers left the campsite and hiked up a ridge into Turin Wildlife Management Area.
From the wildlife area, trekkers took a county road south into the town of Turin, where lunch was provided by the Northwest Iowa group of the Sierra Club. Dave Poole, the mayor of Turin, opened the air-conditioned community center to provide some relief from the hot sun.
After Turin, the hikers were shuttled back to the Madigan property instead of the planned campsite because of the hot weather. Participants had down time in the afternoon and some completed watercolor paintings led by Melanie Vote and Anna Stoysich. Dinner was provided by Sabor a Mexico out of Ute, Iowa.
The fourth and final day was shortened again due to heat concerns. Trekkers were driven to a property owned by Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation south of Turin. INHF's Loess Hills Land Stewardship Director Kody Wohlers led the group through the property and discussed their stewardship efforts on the land.
Hikers were driven to the Brent Olson Loess Hills State Forest Visitor Center in Pisgah for lunch, provided by Dave's Old Home Cafe. After lunch, the final walk of the Trek took place at the Loess Hills State Forest overlook, where Sandy Harris with the Loess Hills Hospitality Association gave a welcome and offered souvenirs to hikers.
After the overlook, several trekkers drove a few miles up the road to the historic Mann Schoolhouse. This was planned to be the lunch site for the day as it would have been directly on the route, but lunch was relocated due to the heat. Local resident Judy Ehlers opened the school for a free educational tour of the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. From there, trekkers headed home.
Despite the heat, the event was overall a success. Many participants expressed interest in other similar hikes in the Loess Hills.
Golden Hills would like to thank all of the partners that made the LoHi Trek successful, including:
Golden Hills will coordinate more Loess Hills hikes, so stay tuned at goldenhillsrcd.org
Golden Hills hosted a Forage Walk on the Wabash Trace Nature Trail in Imogene on Tuesday, May 18. Jamie Smidt Fowler of Shenandoah led a walk along the trail, discussing both native and invasive species along the trail, including edible & medicinal herbs & vegetables. Photos of the walk and some of the plants are included here.
If you decide to go foraging, always know with 100% certainty what plant you have, as some species are toxic and can even deadly if consumed. It's best to go with someone who knows proper plant identification, especially if you are new to foraging.
Below are photos of some of the common plant species discussed on the walk. Some of these are considered weeds by many people.
Shelly Eisenhauer with Bur Oak Photo attended the event and shared the photos below.
Funding for this event was provided by Fremont County Tourism. Golden Hills is hosting more outdoor events in Fremont County this year--stay tuned at goldenhillsrcd.org/fremontcounty.
Manti Park in eastern Fremont County is a hidden gem for history and nature enthusiasts. One of several parks managed by the City of Shenandoah, "Manti Park is a wooded park 41 acres in size located 1 mile south and 1 mile west of the intersection of State Highway 2 and 59. The Pottawattamie Indian Tribe originally inhabited this site. In 1852 forty Mormon families settled into the area and built the community known as Manti. Today the park is owned and maintained by the City of Shenandoah and is used for hiking, picnicking, bird watching, and many other outdoor activities."
The village of Manti once had as many as 500 residents. After the railroad was built through nearby Shenandoah, most of the townspeople relocated. Today there are few visible remnants of the community, but a cemetery is located in the southern part of the park. To learn more about the area's history, check out these links:
In addition to this history, Manti Park offers hiking trail with interpretation about some of the native plants and ecology. Many birds call the woods home, as well as numerous mammals, reptiles, & more. Take a walk and see what flora & fauna you can find in the park!
Manti Park is one of many amazing places to explore the great outdoors in southwest Iowa's Fremont County. Learn more about Golden Hills' Fremont County Outdoor Adventures here, and find tourism information for Fremont County at visitloesshills.org.
**Note that as of May 2021, the bridge immediately north of the park is closed due to construction, so check before you go to make sure you can get there. If the bridge is out, you can access Manti Park from J40 from the west.**
"May 5-15 is the absolute peak of Iowa spring migration in terms of overall diversity," according to Stephen Dinsmore with Iowa State University, and Fremont County in the southwestern corner of the state is one of the best places to see migrating birds. A 1991 Big Day count in Fremont County found 171 species of birds. Right now is the perfect time to go birding in southwest Iowa!
Global Big Day is an annual celebration of the birds around you. This year, it is Saturday, May 8--which is also World Migratory Bird Day.
To participate in Global Big Day, "report your bird observations to eBird online or with our free eBird Mobile app. If you have more time, submit checklists of birds throughout the day. You never know what you might spot. Your observations help us better understand global bird populations through products like these animated abundance maps brought to you by eBird Science."
"World Migratory Bird Day (WMBD) will imbue the activity of birdwatching, a past time enjoyed by some 86 million Americans, with deeper meaning. WMBD will teach participants at more than 700 locations from Argentina to Canada how to identify birds, how to connect with them, and how to delve deeper into bird biology, investigating such topics as the difference between birdsong and call, the mysteries of migration, and the astounding power of flight." Visit their website and watch the video below to learn more.
May is also American Wetlands Month. Fremont County has some of the largest wetland complexes in the region, including Riverton Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and several WMAs along the Missouri River. Learn more about wetlands here.
WMAs are typically open to hunting so be cognizant of that during waterfowl season. Outside of hunting season, WMAs are still excellent places to go birding and wildlife-watching. While Iowa has among the lowest amounts of public lands of all states, Fremont County has among the most public land per capita in Iowa. In addition to wetlands, the Missouri and Nishnabotna rivers are migratory flyways, and the prairies and woods of the Loess Hills provide diverse habitats for upland species.
Learn more about places to go birding, download a pdf of Fremont County's bird list, and find many other birding resources at goldenhillsrcd.org/birding.
In addition to birding opportunities, Fremont County offers many other outdoor recreation activities, and Golden Hills is coordinating events to encourage people to explore and enjoy the area. Visit our Fremont County Outdoor Adventures page for details.
April 24 this year is Celebrate Trails Day! This is "an annual spring celebration of America’s trails. Started by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in 2013, the celebration encourages people all across the country to get outside and enjoy the nation’s exceptional trails and trail systems."
In southwestern Iowa we have many great trails to enjoy, with even more being planned and built. Just this week, a ribbon cutting was held for a new bridge along the Wabash Trace Nature Trail in Silver City. The Wabash is a 63-mile crushed limestone trail on a former rail line running from Council Bluffs to Blanchard.
Construction of the First Ave Trail in Council Bluffs also broke ground this week. This trail will provide an important connection between downtown Omaha, the Bob Kerrey Bridge, Riverfront Trail, and downtown Council Bluffs. Eventually the trail will connect with the new Pottawattamie County Trail under construction from Council Bluffs to Weston, Underwood, Neola, and beyond.
The new Pottawattamie County trail is part of the Great American Rail Trail (GART), a cross-country off-road trail from Washington, D.C. to Washington state.
The T-Bone Trail in Audubon and Cass counties is also part of the GART. While a gap has existed for many years between the T-Bone and the city of Atlantic, local leaders are currently working to extend the trail into Atlantic. From Atlantic, the proposed GART route connects with the planned Pottawattamie County trail near Neola.
These are just a few of the hundreds of miles of trails in our region. Looking for a new trail to explore? Check out our post about places to hike and walk in the Loess Hills Missouri River Region.
Before you go out and celebrate trails, visit our bicycling and walking information and resource page to ensure a fun and safe experience.
Learn more about the Frontier Iowa Trails network here.
As the weather warms, it's a great time to explore local trails. While you're out, keep your eyes peeled--Sasquatch has been spotted at several sites in western Iowa, including...
Pottawattamie County trail near Weston:
Wabash Trace Nature Trail in Malvern:
Hitchcock Nature Center in Pottawattamie County.
Willow Lake Nature Center near Woodbine in Harrison County
There are many more trails, parks, and wildlife areas to explore. Here are additional useful links and resources for safe walking and biking in western Iowa:
Golden Hills RC&D is pleased to announce that Western Skies Scenic Byway is the featured byway for the month of March. As part of the participation in the new Scenic Byways Passport program, each byway will offer a prize package from businesses and attractions along the byway for the featured month. The free digital Scenic Byways Passport encourages people to explore scenic byways and more than 100 unique attractions and destinations. Geofencing at participating locations allows travelers to check-in on the passport, earning them an entry into a monthly drawing for a prize package including an overnight stay, gift certificates and more valued at approximately $200. Select businesses along the byways will offer deals and discounts exclusively for passholders. Each deal redemption also earns an entry into the monthly drawing. The promotion runs through December 31, 2021 and features multiple stops on thirteen of Iowa’s Byways.
The Western Skies Scenic Byway prize package is valued at over $400 and features everything you need for a great getaway in western Iowa. Local businesses and attractions have generously donated the following items: a two-night stay at Whiterock Conservancy’s Garst Historic Farmhouse, $200 in gift certificates to Coon Rapids businesses (Coon Rapids Hardware Hank, Nature Ammil, The Trading Post, Brown Bag & Co., Frohlich's SuperValu, Chuck's Bar and Grill, Cady's Coffee Shop and Coon Bowl III); an Audubon County Tourism bundle including a t-shirt, an Albert the Bull Sticker, free tour for two at Nathaniel Hamlin Park & Museum, $25 gift certificate to Darrell’s Place and two nights free for camping at Littlefield Recreation Area; and Harlan’s Milk & Honey package including a t-shirt and a $25 gift certificate.
Travelers can sign up for the passport at
explore.traveliowa.com/byways with their email address or by scanning a QR code from posters at locations included on the passport.
“The Passport program is a great partnership between the Iowa Tourism Office, the DOT and the local byways,” noted the Western Skies Scenic Byway Coordinator Rebecca Castle Laughlin. “It provides a new interactive component to the byway experience while allowing travelers to choose their level of interaction. Many of the locations on the passport are parks and other outdoor attractions, which don’t limit visitors to standard operational hours and can provide for natural social distancing."
“Transportation is essential to connecting people with all the wonderful things Iowa has to offer,” said Scott Marler, director of the Iowa Department of Transportation. “Our state’s scenic byways system helps travelers recognize both main roadways and roads less traveled that highlight the uniqueness of our great state.”
“Iowa’s scenic byways offer both a breathtaking view of our state’s diverse landscapes and a journey through Iowa’s cultural heritage through historic sites, national landmarks and other attractions that tell our state’s story,” said Debi Durham, executive director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Iowa Finance Authority. “The new Scenic Byways Passport is a great new way to explore Iowa all year long.”
Passport holders are encouraged to follow Travel Iowa on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for updates on monthly prize packages. More information can also be found on the Golden Hills RC&D and Western Skies Scenic Byway Facebook pages.
Tourism in Iowa generates nearly $9 billion in expenditures and $517.5 million in state taxes, while employing 70,200 people statewide. The Iowa Tourism Office is part of the Iowa Economic Development Authority. For more information, visit traveliowa.com.
(from Iowa Learning Farms)
Iowa Learning Farms, in partnership with the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, and Conservation Learning Group (CLG), is hosting a free virtual field day highlight the stream stabilization efforts in the East and West Nishnabotna Watersheds to improve water quality and reduce flooding on Thursday, March 18 at 1 p.m. CST. Join us for a live discussion with Cara Marker-Morgan, project coordinator for the East and West Nishnabotna River Watersheds and Golden Hills RC&D, and Jake Miriovsky, Project Manager For JEO Consulting Group, Inc.
Located in the Loess Hills region of Iowa, the East and West Nishnabotna Watersheds were selected to work with the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa and many other partners to develop Watershed Management Authorities as part of the Iowa Watershed Approach. Through the project, Iowans are working together to address factors that contribute to floods and nutrient flows and enjoy the improvements in quality of life and health resulting from upstream watershed investments. Supported by U.S. Housing & Urban Development dollars, this approach is leveraging the principles of Iowa’s innovative Nutrient Reduction Strategy to make communities more resilient to flooding and help improve water quality.
“One of the keys to success on projects within a watershed is collaboration. This project is a perfect example of that with multiple landowners coming together to make a difference in our watershed,” noted Marker-Morgan.
To participate in the live virtual field day at 1:00 pm CST on March 18 to learn more, click this URL: https://iastate.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUpduihpj8iE9ZHcjpsenc2DWQILG41wg0D or visit www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events and click “Join Live Virtual Field Day”.
Or, join from a dial-in phone line:
Dial: +1 312 626 6799 or +1 646 876 9923
Meeting ID: 914 1198 4892
The field day will be recorded and archived on the ILF website so that it can be watched at any time. The archive will be available at https://www.iowalearningfarms.org/page/events.
Participants may be eligible for a Certified Crop Adviser board-approved continuing education unit (CEU). Information about how to apply to receive the credit (if approved) will be provided at the end of the live field day.
Established in 2004, Iowa Learning Farms is building a Culture of Conservation by encouraging adoption of conservation practices. Farmers, researchers and ILF team members are working together to identify and implement the best management practices that improve water quality and soil health while remaining profitable. Partners of Iowa Learning Farms include the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Iowa Department of Natural Resources (USEPA section 319) and GROWMARK, Inc.
"Sedges have edges
Rushes are round
Grasses have nodes that are easily found
(or 'grasses are hollow, what have you found?')"
If you've done much plant identification, you may have heard this or a similar expression.
Prairies, in short, are grasslands. They are dominated by grasses and grass-like plants such as sedges and rushes, along with abundant forbs (flowers) but only sparse woody vegetation (trees & shrubs). At first glance, especially from a distance, prairies may look like monotonous monocultures. This could not be farther from the truth. A high-quality tallgrass prairie remnant can have more than 300 species, many of which are grasses, or grass-like plants.
In our Loess Hills Plant List, which includes many of the species found in western Iowa's natural areas, we have identified 58 species in the Poaceae family, 35 in Cyperaceae, and 4 Juncaceae. In other words, grasses are the most common, followed by sedges and rushes. Overall, there is greater species diversity of forbs (flowering plants), but typically the quantity of grass and grass-like plants exceeds that of forbs in prairies.
Grasses, sedges, and rushes are all monocots. Monocots have one seed leaf and share other common characteristics. "Although all grass-like plants are monocots, not all monocots are grass-like plants." Learn more in this short video from Native Plant Trust:
Differences between the three can include stem structure, sheath form, and flower type, This page from Minnesota Wildflowers is an excellent synopsis of the differences. The chart below from Florida also provides a great summary.
Grasses are commonly sorted into warm-season and cool-season species. According to Missouri Prairie Journal: "Native cool-season grasses are referred to as “C3 grasses” because, during photosynthesis, they use the Calvin-Benson cycle and produce three carbon molecules, while a C4 grass does not directly use the Calvin-Benson Cycle and produces a four-carbon molecule...
These physiological differences allow native cool-season grasses to grow and reproduce in cooler conditions, offering forage in early spring, fall, and part of winter, and seed by early summer, while warm-season grasses continue growing when cool-season grasses are dormant. For more information on comparing these two groups of grasses" (Read more here).
Warm-season grasses include some of the most common grasses in many prairies, such as andropogon gerardii (big bluestem), schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem), sorghastrum nutans (Indian grass), panicum virgatum (switchgrass), and bouteloua curtipendula (side-oats grama).
Native cool-season grasses include elymus canadensis (Canada wild rye), elymus virginicus (Virginia wild rye), and koeleria macrantha (June grass). Many non-native pasture grasses, such as brome and fescue, were planted because they can provide a food source for plants earlier in the season compared to many of the native warm-season grasses.
Sedges, in the family Carex, are the next most abundant grass-like plants in Iowa's prairies. This blog post by Leland Searles also offers helpful information: "Sedges are an important, often overlooked group of native plants. In Iowa there are at least 125 species belonging to one genus, Carex."
People often remember "sedges have edges" to help identify them while in the field using their stems.
Golden Hills worked with Dr. Tom Rosburg to record this Carex Identification class in March 2021. Dr. Rosburg covers some of the more common sedges found in Iowa. A sedge identification key and other resources can be found at goldenhillsrcd.org/plantid.
Dr. Anton Reznicek (Curator of the University of Michigan Herbarium and Research Scientist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology)
The charts below show how a grass (andropogon gerardii/big bluestem), a sedge (carex gravida/heavy sedge) and a rush (juncus dudleyi) are
In this video, Bob Lichvar of the US Army Corps of Engineers briefly describes how to field-identify common rushes.
The taxonomic charts below show where three common species fit into into the classification system. Andropogon gerardii (big bluestem) is a grass, carex gravida (heavy sedge) is a sedge, and juncus dudleyi (Dudley's rush) is a rush.
As important as it is to learn native plants, it's also good to identify invasive and unwanted plant species that can harm native prairie, wetland, savanna and woodland ecosystems. Reed canary grass is one of the most aggressive invasive grasses. It can take over large areas in short amounts of time and crowd out native species. Removing it once it is establish can be very difficult, so it's better to identify it early and prevent it from spreading as much as possible. The Grasses of Iowa's Weedy and Invasive Grasses page is a great resource for learning about non-native and problematic species.