Friday, July 18, 2014


The University of Iowa Press is proud to announce the release of Grasses in Your Pocket: A Guide to the Prairie Grasses of the Upper Midwest, by Anna B. Gardner, Michael Hurst, Deborah Lewis, and Lynn G. Clark.

At the time of European settlement, tallgrass prairie was the iconic landscape in much of the Upper Midwest. Although its extent has been drastically reduced, intact prairie remnants exist, prairies species persist along roadsides, and interest in prairie reconstruction has increased. The basic prairie matrix is formed by grasses, yet their diversity and beauty are often under-appreciated because their flowering structures are highly reduced to aid in wind pollination. This much-needed addition to Iowa's popular series of laminated guides—the twenty-sixth in the series—illustrates fifty-five grass species characteristic of or commonly found on prairies of the Upper Midwest states of Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

The authors have organized species into groups by their most easily noted field characteristics. Are the flowering heads branched or unbranched? Are the branches dense, narrow, or fingerlike? For each species, its native or exotic status is followed by the months of flowering, abundance, general habitat, height, diagnostic features, geographic range, and, if relevant, threatened or endangered status.

Even amateur naturalists can identify big and little bluestem and prairie dropseed in the field, but both professional and amateur naturalists find certain grasses harder to identify, especially the less common or rare species such as cluster fescue and sand reedgrass. The photographs and descriptions in Grasses in Your Pocket will be an invaluable reference for ourdoor expeditions in midwestern grasslands.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Excerpt from NECESSARY COURAGE, by Lowell J. Soike

In Necessary Courage, historian Lowell J. Soike tells the often forgotten or overlooked stories of Iowans who helped African Americans escaping from slavery in Missouri and points further south. By serving as conductors along the underground railroad, these people risked their lives and livelihoods to ensure that others could live free. 
       Here’s one of these stories, featuring antislavery activists John and Isabel Armstrong, who settled in southern Appanoose County in the 1850s.

Two runaways, John and Archie, quickly encountered difficulties as their escape from central Missouri proved easier to plan than to accomplish. As they struck north toward the Iowa state line, they had to move more slowly than they had expected because John suffered from muscle and joint pains. Archie stayed with his friend even as the trip they thought would take only a few days stretched into three weeks. Finally they entered the woods near the Armstrongs’ house. While John rested, Archie went and knocked on the door in hopes of finding help. His timing could not have been worse.

           Isabel Armstrong…opened the door to see a black man in need, but at that very moment a neighbor unfriendly to the underground railroad sat in the next room. She quietly hurried Archie into the bedroom, where he waited until the visitor left. The relieved Armstrongs then gave him some food to eat and learned from him that his suffering companion lay in the nearby woods. John Armstrong had a reliable neighbor take the fugitive John some food while arranging for the two runaways to be taken that evening to the farm of John Shepherd, Isabel’s brother…. Rested for the night, the two traveled with Shepherd to their next stop at Drakesville.