Thursday, December 30, 2010

Plant of the Week

Prairie coreopsis

Coreopsis palmata Nutt.
other common names: tickseed, stiff tickseed, stiff coreopsis
Coreopsis: from the Greek, meaning “having the appearance of a bug,” referring to the buglike shape of the seeds. The common name tickseed also refers to the ticklike shape of the seed.
Palmata: means “palmate,” like the fingers radiating out from the hand or “palm,” referring to the shape of the leaves
Daisy family: Asteraceae (Compositae)

Photograph by Thomas Rosburg, Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest, Second Edition

Monday, December 27, 2010

This Week in Iowa Nature

Holiday travelers along Highway 30 in western Iowa will cross the major drainage divide separating the Missouri and Mississippi watersheds; the marker is at a roadside park just east of Arcadia in Carroll County.

The Iowa Nature Calendar, by Jean Prior and James Sandrock

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday Post from Christmas on the Great Plains

From "Winter Break" by Jon Hassler

Christmas Eve with my father’s people in Omaha, during my boyhood, was invariably stiff and unfestive, whereas we always spent a jolly Christmas Day at the O’Kelly farm. Not that the Edwardses were unkind or inhospitable. It’s only that the O’Kellys, by nature, were more spontaneous and high-spirited. The minute we entered the farmhouse, we heard stories so uproarious they must have been invented, though they usually began or ended with the phrase “Swear to God.” The laughter and tall tales continued through dinner and into the evening as more aunts and uncles and cousins came pouring through the house to greet us. Any given Christmas, we probably saw thirty-five O’Kellys.

A Christmas Eve conversation, on the other hand, followed a serious, predictable line, beginning with the unreliability of the weather and leading on through the deteriorating condition of their ailing friends and neighbors and automobiles. As a boy, I considered this talk painfully dull, but over the years I learned to take a certain pleasure in the constancy of it—the way you will sometimes come to appreciate the cheerless old hymn in church simply because it’s so familiar. I suppose, as we age, any sign of permanence consoles us, no matter if it bores us besides.

Christmas on the Great Plains, edited by Dorothy Dodge Robbins and Kenneth Robbins
Art by Claudia McGehee 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday post from Christmas on the Great Plains

 From "The Christmas Offering" by O. E. Rolvaag, translated by Solveig Zempel

It was Christmas Eve and the moon shone brightly. The sharp, biting north wind burned the face. That same wind had worked itself into a fury far, far north of all human habitation. It had stormed down over the whole northwest of Canada, taken in all of North Dakota in one fell swoop, hadn’t even given itself time to catch its breath and look around, before it raged far to the south in Minnesota. Here it took it easier, whining around the eaves, whistling down every lane, stirring up every little heap of snow it could find, but still burning just as cold as it had when it left the area up under the North Star. “What a cold north wind!” everyone remarked as soon as they came inside and could speak. “If we don’t get more snow, and that right soon, everything will freeze solid!”

In a low, one-story house on a back street in Greenfield, an old couple sat by the Christmas Eve table. They were eating in the kitchen, and that was good enough for them, for here everything was clean and shiny and freshly polished for the holidays. All the nickel on the stove shone like a mirror, there were freshly ironed curtains at the windows, a new white paper fringe on the clock shelf, and the floor had been scoured and scrubbed so that one scarcely dared to step on it. The door to the little living room stood open. There the fire crackled so merrily in the stove that the north wind was put to shame as it blew along the walls. Another door led from the kitchen into the bedroom. That room had to get along on the warmth it received from the other two.

There was plenty of food on the kitchen table: lutefisk, lefse, rice cream, and coffee with extra tender Christmas cookies to go with it, everything that was necessary according to good old Norwegian tradition. The lutefisk was so delicate that it shook like aspen leaves in the wind when one barely touched the plate.

Christmas on the Great Plains, edited by Dorothy Dodge Robbins and Kenneth Robbins
Art by Claudia McGehee 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Plant of the Week

Poison hemlock

Conium maculatum L.
other common names: snakeweed, St. Bennet’s–herb, poison parsley, wode-whistle, spotted parsley, bunk
Conium: from the Greek coneion, name of the hemlock by which Socrates was put to death in ancient Athens
Maculatum: from Latin, meaning “spotted” or “mottled”
Parsley family: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Holiday Post from Christmas on the Great Plains

 From "The Christmas of the Phonograph Records" by Mari Sandoz

Holiday week was much like Christmas, the house full of visitors as the news of the fine music and the funny records spread. People appeared from fifty, sixty miles away and farther so long as the new snow held off, for there was no other such collection of records in all of western Nebraska, and none with such an open door. There was something for everybody, Irishmen, Scots, Swedes, Danes, Poles, Czechs as well as the Germans and the rest, something pleasant and nostalgic. The greatest variety in tastes was among the Americans, from Everybody Works but Father, Arkansas Traveler, and Finkelstein at the Seashore to love songs and the sentimental Always in the Way; from home and native region pieces to the patriotic and religious. They had strong dislikes too, even in war songs. One settler, a GAR veteran, burst into tears and fled from the house at the first notes of Tenting Tonight. Perhaps it was the memories it awakened. Many Americans were as interested in classical music as any European, and it wasn’t always a matter of cultivated taste. One illiterate little woman from down the river cried with joy at Rubinstein’s Melody in F.

Christmas on the Great Plains, edited by Dorothy Dodge Robbins and Kenneth Robbins
Art by Claudia McGehee 

Friday, December 10, 2010

This Week in Iowa Nature

Bobcat sightings are on the increase in rural, forested areas of the state. Look for their tracks and those of other animals while you snowshoe and ski cross-country.

The Iowa Nature Calendar, by Jean Prior and James Sandrock

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Plant of the Week

Water hemlock
Cicuta maculata L.
other common names: beaver poison, cowbane, musquash root, spotted cowbane, spotted hemlock
Cicuta: the ancient Latin name for poison hemlock
Maculata: from Latin, meaning “spotted” or “mottled”
Parsley family: Apiaceae (Umbelliferae)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Holiday Post from Christmas on the Great Plains

 From "Making Bows" by Ted Kooser

In the weeks just before Christmas, my father’s store was busiest, its narrow aisles crowded with shoppers, its carefully arranged displays rumpled and disarrayed, and its floors slippery with melting snow. On Saturdays and when school let out in the afternoons, my sister and I helped out. She worked on the sales floor, and I made bows for the women in the gift-wrap booth.

The bow machine was set up in the furnace room. A single lightbulb hung over the card table upon which it sat. Behind my chair, the great gray furnace sighed and ticked, and piles of bald and disassembled manikins watched my back with wide unblinking eyes. In the shadows, bugs rustled across the floor, and above me the footfalls of customers knocked up and down the wooden floor. There I wound green and red satin ribbon into shiny bows that I dropped into a big cardboard box beside me. It was a job like those in fairy tales, in which a child is imprisoned in a castle and made to spin golden thread from flax straw.

Christmas on the Great Plains, edited by Dorothy Dodge Robbins and Kenneth Robbins
Art by Claudia McGehee 

Friday, December 3, 2010

Holiday Post from Christmas on the Great Plains

 From "What I Took from Minnesota Christmases" by Rosanne Nordstrom

Before I married Roger, he often talked about the many times during his childhood when his family had gone to St. Paul, Minnesota, for Christmas. His stories sounded like the Christmas celebrations I’d always wished my family could have: lots of people who enjoyed each other in a beautiful house with good food. “Usually,” he said, “we arrived on the evening of the twenty-second or twenty-third and had a lutefisk dinner at my grandmother’s.”
     “You had what?”
     “Lutefisk. It’s cod cured in lye.”
     “You’re kidding me. Wouldn’t that be dangerous to eat?”
     “Nah, Rose, it’s delicious. My father, brother, and I have contests to see who can eat the most. That meal is the beginning of the Christmas feasts.”
     “What do you do on Christmas Eve?”
     “We go to my uncle’s house. That’s where all my cousins live. My grandmother and at least one of her sisters come also. It’s a good thing my uncle has a really long dining room table.”
     “And you eat?”
     “No. I don’t believe it.”
     “Well, we did have it once. We always have Swedish meatballs and potatoes, loganberries, a vegetable or two, sausage, and limpa. Sometimes we have fruit soup, and my aunt really did serve reindeer. She’s Finnish. Maybe that was part of her family’s Christmas. For dessert there is always rice pudding and homemade cookies.”
     “Well, except for the reindeer meat, which I wouldn’t think of eating— that would be like eating Rudolph—the Christmas Eve meal sounds pretty tasty.”

Christmas on the Great Plains, edited by Dorothy Dodge Robbins and Kenneth Robbins
Art by Claudia McGehee

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Little bluestem - Art by Claudia McGehee

Little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium

Little bluestem is abundant in the tallgrass prairie. In the fall, its rich rusty color makes the prairie glow.

Claudia McGehee, A Tallgrass Prairie Alphabet

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Holiday Post from Christmas on the Great Plains

From "An Iowa Christmas" by Paul Engle

Every Christmas should begin with the sound of bells, and when I was a child mine always did. But they were sleigh bells, not church bells, for we lived in a part of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where there were no churches. My bells were on my father’s team of horses as he drove up to our horse-headed hitching post with the bobsled that would take us to celebrate Christmas on the family farm ten miles out in the country. My father would bring the team down Fifth Avenue at a smart trot, flicking his whip over the horses’ rumps and making the bells double their light, thin jangling over the snow, whose radiance threw back a brilliance like the sound of bells.

There are no such departures any more: the whole family piling into the bobsled with a foot of golden oat straw to lie in and heavy buffalo robes to lie under, the horses stamping the soft snow, and at every motion of their hoofs the bells jingling, jingling. My father sat there with the reins firmly held, wearing a long coat made from the hide of a favorite family horse, the deep chestnut color still glowing, his mittens also from the same hide. It always troubled me as a boy of eight that the horses had so indifferent a view of their late friend appearing as a warm overcoat on the back of the man who put the iron bit in their mouths.

There are no streets like those any more: the snow sensibly left on the road for the sake of sleighs and easy travel. We could hop off and ride the heavy runners as they made their hissing, tearing sound over the packed snow. And along the streets we met other horses, so that we moved from one set of bells to another, from the tiny tinkle of the individual bells on the shafts to the silvery, leaping sound of the long strands hung over the harness. There would be an occasional brass-mounted automobile laboring on its narrow tires and as often as not pulled up the slippery hills by a horse, and we would pass it with a triumphant shout for an awkward nuisance which was obviously not here to stay.

Excerpt taken from Christmas on the Great Plains, edited by Dorothy Dodge Robbins and Kenneth Robbins
Art by Claudia McGehee

Monday, November 29, 2010

Upcoming Interview: Robert & Linda Scarth on Talk of Iowa

Tune in this Thursday morning to hear an interview with Robert and Linda Scarth, authors and photographers of Deep Nature: Photographs from Iowa.

Date: Thursday, December 2
Time: 10:00 AM CST
Location: Your radio: tune in to Iowa Public Radio's "Talk of Iowa"

Plant of the Week

Western wheat grass
Agropyron smithii Rybd.
scientific name, 2008
Pascopyrum smithii (Rydb.) A. Love
other common names: blue stem wheat grass
Agropyron: from the Greek agrios, meaning “wild,” and pyros, meaning “wheat”
Smithii: named in honor of Jared Gage Smith
Grass family: Poaceae (Gramineae)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

This Week in Iowa Nature

Well-camouflaged ruffed grouse may flush suddenly, startling hikers in northeast Iowa woodlands.

The Iowa Nature Calendar, by Jean Prior and James Sandrock


Monday, November 22, 2010

Plant of the Week

Flowering spurge
Euphorbia corollata L.
other common names: flat-topped spurge, milk purslane, milkweed, snake milk, tramp’s spurge, white-flowered milkweed, wild hippo
Euphorbia: probably named for Euphorbus, a physician to King Juba of Numidia, an ancient country in an area of northern Africa that more or less corresponds to the present Algeria
Corollata: from Latin, meaning “with corollas”
Spurge family: Euphorbiaceae

Photograph by Thomas Rosburg, Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest, Second Edition

Friday, November 19, 2010

An Interview with Claudia McGehee: Part 3

Tell us about your new book!
Where Birds Live? departs from the earlier two picture books in format and amount of text, but not in spirit. This book really let me go all out and illustrate some of my favorite creatures on the planet: birds. My goal for the book is that it will serve as an early field guide for young readers, giving them an introductory glimpse of fourteen different birds and the specific habitats they live in. When the University of Iowa Press came to me with the idea of a picture book on birds, one that would include other habitats beyond the midwestern region, I was enthusiastic but a bit intimidated. There is so much environmental diversity within our country. And hundreds of different birds live in all kinds of habitats. It stretched me to learn about other bird habitats within North America. I hope that what we created will encourage kids, wherever they live, to look up in the sky and connect with what they see.

What advice do you give younger nature artists?
Find time to observe quietly, and you’ll be rewarded. Be ready with a pencil and notebook at any time (or a camera, for sketching later). Enjoy the shape and form of birds first and don’t worry too much about whether you know their names; that knowledge can come later. Read and seek out other nature writers and artists who have come before you.

What are your favorite natural areas in Iowa or the Midwest?
In Iowa City, I love Hickory Hill Park and walk there regularly. Knowing that I will see, smell, and hear subtle changes in every season makes me feel part of the rhythm of things. I also love that other people use the park and enjoy and appreciate nature, too. Lake Macbride and the raptor center are much loved by my family—for a winter walk to see eagles, a summer paddle boat ride just enjoying the sun and water, or a spring or summer picnic destination, it is a great place to be and so accessible. All the local parks—Kent and Palisades Kepler, for example—provide opportunities to enjoy wildlife and native flora. Further beyond, I love the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge outside of Des Moines. There is a wonderful interpretive prairie learning center on the grounds.

Recently, just here in Iowa City, a newly formed nonprofit foundation called the Harvest Preserve has begun to open its doors to the public with events and programs. It’s a hundred-acre piece of land in the northeast corner of town that has a mixed past of agricultural use with some native woodland. The organizers plan to enhance, restore, and preserve native prairie and woodland here. Some trails have already been established. I’ve had the opportunity to spend time there, even to sketch, and it is an enchanting place. We are fortunate that this parcel of land has landed in the hands of some generous, nature-loving Iowans.

Remember that even watching a chickadee hammer open a seed on a tree in your own backyard can be a treat. When you love nature, you are never bored!

Claudia McGehee, author and illustrator of Where Do Birds Live?, A Woodland Counting Book and A Tallgrass Prairie Alphabet and illustrator of The Iowa Nature Calendar

Monday, November 15, 2010

Plant of the Week

Reed canary grass
Phalaris arundinacea L.
other common names: sword grass, lady grass, ladies’ lace, bride’s lace doggers, spires
Phalaris: from Greek, meaning “shining,” alluding to the shining seeds or possibly to the crestlike seed head
Arundinacea: meaning “reedlike”
Grass family: Poaceae (Gramineae)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Interview with Claudia McGehee: Part 2

What was challenging about creating an alphabet book?
Primer books—counting books, alphabet books, color books, etc.—allow a strong and simple structure, and for my first illustrated picture book this was perfect. I loved the puzzle of finding just the right animal for each letter. We also wanted to move the book through the seasons chronologically, which added another layer for the reader and another piece to the puzzle. Was the animal that we wanted to illustrate active in the season it would be shown? When did this certain plant flower? Would it be blooming at the same time that this one would be blooming? There were many questions to answer before I knew exactly what the illustrations would look like.

What did you enjoy most about the creation of the tallgrass book?

Seeing and holding the book for the first time. Karen Copp (Production Manager at the University of Iowa Press) had laid out all the artwork with incredible color sense and design. It is a good moment when you see that your art “children” (for an art piece really does feel like part of me!) have been so thoughtfully taken care of in the final product.

 What was challenging about A Woodland Counting Book?
I went into the woodland book more confident about the content than I was with the prairie book. Even though our oak-hickory forests are not what I grew up with, there is something very comforting about the leafy stillness of the woodland. I was thrilled to explore it illustratively. The challenges were getting some of the larger numbers to work well compositionally and not look too forced or out of synch with real nature. For example, I didn’t want to show fourteen bobcats all in one illustration; that’s just not how they live. They are secretive and relatively solo. But fourteen wild turkeys? Of course! That’s how I observe them in the woods, all together in a big family group.

What is one of your favorite memories about working on the woodland book?
For my favorite page in the book—the cedar waxwings eating thirteen serviceberries—I worked outdoors on the final scratchboard to get a break from my studio. A ladybug—let’s say it was the native kind!—landed on my board, and I just decided to draw a ladybug into the picture. Whenever I see that piece and the one small ladybug in the corner, I am reminded of that sunny day out in my yard and what life brings unexpectedly to art, even in the smallest of details.

Blue spotted salamander, Ambystoma laternale
Blue spotted salamanders like to hang out in moist woodland areas near ponds. When these little amphibians sense danger, they freeze, raise their tails straight up, and get ready to squirt an unpleasant-tasting liquid at any predator that comes too close. If an enemy grabs it, the salamander releases this defense liquid, detaches its tail--it can grow a new one--and slips away.

Claudia McGehee, A Woodland Counting Book

Claudia McGehee, author and illustrator of Where Do Birds Live?, A Woodland Counting Book and A Tallgrass Prairie Alphabet and illustrator of The Iowa Nature Calendar

This week in Iowa Nature + Children's Event!

Harvested fields highlight the crests of rolling hills across southern Iowa; nearly always even in elevation, they indicate the position of an old glacial plain.

The Iowa Nature Calendar, by Jean Prior and James Sandrock
illustrations by Claudia McGehee

Come out and see Claudia at the Iowa City Public Library!
Date: Friday, November 12
Time: 10:30 AM
Location: Iowa City Public Library in the Storytime Room

Monday, November 8, 2010

Plant of the Week

Spiked lobelia
Lobelia spicata Lam.
other common names: palespike lobelia, highbelia
Lobelia: named for a 16th-century Flemish herbalist, Matthias von Lobel
Spicata: from Latin, meaning “with a spike”
Bluebell or bellflower family: Campanulaceae

Photograph by Thomas Rosburg, Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie: The Upper Midwest, Second Edition

Friday, November 5, 2010

An Interview with Claudia McGehee: Part 1

You’re a scratchboard artist. Tell us about working in this medium.
Scratchboard is a thin board (about 1/8” thick), coated with an under layer of white clay, topped with a final layer of black india ink.

First, I make a pencil line drawing that I transfer onto the black scratchboard with chalk.

Then I make an outline of the chalk guides with a sharp tool, like an exact-o blade.

Next, I scrape off what I want to be white and leave what I want to be black.

I take this black and white image to the computer, scan it onto watercolor paper, and then go back to my drawing board to watercolor the image traditionally. It’s a drawing method, not a printing one, even though it looks like a print when it’s done. It’s drawing by subtraction, more or less. I have more in common with a sculptor than with a print maker or a painter.

With this sturdy, somewhat nostalgic-looking medium, I tend to get hired for commercial jobs by people looking for organic, earthy illustrations. Now that I work in picture books, the same holds true. A publisher, for instance, probably wouldn’t pick me to illustrate a book on modern architecture. But I might get picked to illustrate a book on national parks or a biography of Audubon.

From start to finish, how long does it take you to finish an illustration?
Not counting the time it takes me to research and sketch (which accounts for many months of work on a book project), I can transfer, scratch, scan onto watercolor paper, and then finally watercolor the average 8-by-10-inch piece (I work small—scratchboard lets you) in about eight hours. When doing a book, I tend to work on illustrations in batches, so I am scratching three, scanning three, then watercoloring three. I can save my hands (and my brain) from too much wear and tear from just one part of the process this way.

What was particularly challenging about creating the illustrations for A Tallgrass Prairie Alphabet?
The challenge and the thrill came from the fact that I was a newcomer to this landscape. I was not born a grasslander; tallgrass flora and fauna are so completely different from the plant and animal forms I know from the Pacific Northwest. So the initial research was very exciting. But the frustrations would come when some animals or insects I thought were natives and wanted to include would turn out, after research, to be introduced species. Or maybe they were too much of a “generalist” species for a book highlighting specifically prairie wildlife. We wanted to keep true to a real tallgrass environment. Eventually, things fell into place. I started to “know” that fox snake, that badger, butterfly weed, and gentian somehow. I did find out after we moved here that a bunch of my ancestors had stopped in Iowa for a couple of generations before moving further west. Some are buried in the lowlands surrounding the magnificent Loess Hills near Little Sioux, Iowa. So maybe my affinity to the prairie comes atavistically!

Aromatic aster, Aster oblongifolius
In the fall, after most plants have finished blooming, aromatic aster opens its flowers across the prairie. Each bushy plant has hundreds of bright purple flowers with yellow centers.

Claudia McGehee, A Tallgrass Prairie Alphabet

Claudia McGehee, author and illustrator of Where Do Birds Live?, A Woodland Counting Book and A Tallgrass Prairie Alphabet and illustrator of The Iowa Nature Calendar

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Come See the Scarths Today!

Don't miss Robert and Linda Scarth's presentation on Deep Nature: Photographs from Iowa today Wednesday, November 3 at the Lime Creek Nature Center in Mason City at 10 a.m.

3501 Lime Creek Road
Mason City IA 50401

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Plant of the Week

Skeleton weed
Lygodesmia juncea (Pursh) D. Don ex Hook.
other common names: rush skeleton plant, skeleton plant, prairie pink
Lygodesmia: from Greek lygos, meaning “a pliant twig,” and desme, meaning “a bundle,” from the fascicled twiglike appearance of the plant
Juncea: meaning stiff, like a rush
Daisy family: Asteraceae (Compositae)

Monday, October 25, 2010

An Interview with George Olson: Part 2

What advice would you give to younger nature artists? What are the particular challenges of being a botanical artist?
My advice to a younger nature artist (or any young artist) is to draw constantly and do your own work. That means working from a real specimen instead of someone else’s photograph or painting. Given the difficulty of finding and identifying real prairie plants (not to mention setting them up in your studio), it is always tempting to settle for secondary sources such as photos and reproductions that can be accessed more easily. The challenges of being a plant artist are similar to the challenges facing all artists, but with a few small variations: the challenge of working with live plants, which keep changing during long periods in the studio—blossoms close and re-open, leaves wilt or lose color, stamens and pistils go through their life cycle even as parts of cut flowers, etc.; finding good specimens in areas where road banks, cemeteries, and railroad beds are disappearing or are subject to mowing and spraying; sorting out the plant species that are native to the tallgrass prairie as opposed to those that are introduced or invasive; drawing a 10-foot plant on 30 inches of paper. This problem is shared by writers who try to express the vastness of the prairie.

What are your favorite natural areas in Iowa and the Midwest?
In Iowa: Rochester Cemetery Prairie on Interstate 80 just east of Iowa City and Hayden Prairie State Preserve, 240 acres just off Highway 63 in northern Iowa. In Illinois: Johnson Prairie in Woodhull, a small restored prairie established by Kenneth Johnson and myself in 1982—the Johnson Prairie has been a prime source of prairie subjects (and the site of much hard work) since that time; McCune Sand Prairie Reserve, 200 acres near Mineral; Munson Township Cemetery, 5 acres near Cambridge; and the Nachusa Grasslands, 1,000 acres near Dixon. In Wisconsin:  the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, 1,260 acres (including a 50-acre prairie restoration) near Madison. In Missouri: Shaw Nature Reserve, part of the Missouri Botanical Garden, 22 miles west of St. Louis.

PLATE 16. TALL GOLDENROD, Solidago canadensis
Source of specimen: Johnson Prairie
Tall goldenrod is so widespread in the American landscape that Americans take it for granted. John Bartram, the eighteenth-century naturalist, was reluctant to ship goldenrod to European customers because it was such a common “weed” in the U.S. Many botanists have tried to explain how goldenrod galls develop. David Klein, the Amish naturalist/author, describes his search for goldenrod galls in the winter landscape in Great Possessions. He uses the larvae encased in the gall as bait for winter fishing.

PLATE 36. SPOTTED HORSEMINT, Monarda punctata
Source of specimen: McCune Sand Prairie Reserve
The genus Monarda honors Dr. Nicolas Monardes (1493–1588), who lived in Spain and wrote the first herbal that dealt with plants from America. Its English edition (ca. 1570) was called Joyful News out of the Newfound World. John Banister, the seventeenth-century English explorer, refers to horsemint and leaves us a record of the sweet fragrance of unspoiled Virginia: “In our way home ye rich low ground abounded with a kind of wild baulm, which being trampled on by our horses as we rode thro it mightily refreshed us with its fragrant scents.” Gardeners who have cleaned up a patch of bee balm in spring or fall will know how its spicy aroma can fill the entire yard.

PLATE 37. CULVER’S ROOT, Veronicastrum virginicum
Source of specimen: Johnson Prairie
The common name honors a Dr. Culver, an early American physician who prescribed the root for a wide range or ailments. Veronicastrum honors St. Veronica. Virginicum honors Elizabeth, the Virgin Queen. Culver’s root is a tall handsome plant with a spike of white flowers and whorls of bright green leaves with sharp teeth. Culver’s root can be a rather challenging subject for the artist because of the tiny white blossoms that have to be shown ascending rhythmically up the tall stems. The white blossoms on a white background can also be a problem.

PLATE 51. QUEEN OF THE PRAIRIE, Filipendula rubra
Source of specimen: Johnson Prairie
Because of its height, queen of the prairie is one of those subjects that demands some adjustments on a 30-inch piece of watercolor paper. This plate shows the top of two stems plus a detail of one leaf. Queen of the prairie well deserves its name because of its commanding height as well as its spectacular pink blossoms. Sylvan Runkel and Dean Roosa wrote that since queen of the prairie was used both for heart trouble and as a love potion, it is difficult for students of the prairie reading historical references to separate the emotional from the physical aspects of these uses.

—George Olson, The Elemental Prairie: Sixty Tallgrass Plants