Late summer is an excellent time to take a drive and look at wildflowers. Western Skies Scenic Byway is a great place to do that.
The Byway corridor has several remnant prairies from the Loess Hills in the west to the Raccoon River valley in the east.
Additionally, several non-native flowers are currently blooming along many of the roadsides. A few of the most common ones you will likely see are chicory (chichorium intybus), Queen Anne's Lace (daucus carota), and birdsfoot trefoil (lotus corniculatus) all pictured below.
A few native prairie species do well along roadsides, such as common milkweed and partridge pea.
Some sections of roads have much more diverse roadside plantings, often part of a county's Roadside Vegetation Management program. These photos are along Highway 25 on the north side of Guthrie Center, next to an outdoor classroom.
While county and state road right-of-ways are public, use caution if you decide to explore a roadside prairie. Pull off out of the way of traffic, turn on hazard lights, and wear brightly colored clothing or a safety vest. Wear long pants and closed shoes to avoid things like poison ivy and wild parsnip. Bug spray is also recommended and check for ticks after visiting a prairie!
Check out the Iowa DOT Plant Profiler for identifying more common roadside plants.
For a humorous take, read the Prairie Ecologist's A Field Guide to Roadside Wildflowers at Full Speed.
In addition to roadsides, the Byway has several remnant prairies with much more species diversity. One of the smallest is Bundt Prairie in Guthrie County.
In late July and early August, blazing stars are blooming. Prairie blazing star (liatris pycnostachya) is generally taller with single purple spikes and scaly blazing star (liatris squarrosa) is shorter with multiple flowers per stem.
Culver's root (veronicastrum virginicum) has white flowers. Wild bergamot/bee balm (monarda fistulosa) has pink blooms. Gray-headed coneflower (ratibida pinnata) has yellow petals with dark centers.
Sheeder Prairie State Preserve is another remnant prairie in Guthrie County. In addition to the flowers at Bundt Prairie, compass plant (silphium laciniatum) is one of the tallest flowers on the prairie.
Dinesen Prairie State Preserve in Shelby County, like Sheeder Prairie, was never plowed and is permanently protected by the state. Prairie blazing star is abundant here. Another interesting plant is white wild indigo (baptisia alba), whose white flowers are nearing their blooming period but the stalks now have pods that resemble beans.
The Loess Hills State Forest, Willow Lake Recreation Area, and Old Town Conservation Area have Loess Hills remnant prairies in Harrison County.
Some prairies are located on private land and should not be accessed without the landowner's permission. Many of these prairies are farms enrolled in the conservation reserve program (CRP). Although you should not attempt to explore them without permission, many can be seen and admired from the roadway.
What have you seen blooming lately? What's your favorite prairie to visit?