Visit to check out a park or wildlife area you might want to explore managed by one of Iowa's 99 county conservation boards!

The Permission Society: Do we need a no-child-left-inside legal defense fund? Commentary from Children & Nature Network Chairman Emeritus, Richard Louv. How many of us had a tree house, lemonade stand or fort in our front yard?

Touch me? Touch me not!
Marla Mertz, Marion County Naturalist

Lots of questions, facial expressions and body language often gets expressed when considering a trek to the woods. We have probably given deep thought if the rewards would outweigh possible blistering, itching, and painful rashes. Spring, summer, and fall are great times to be in the woods. Spring brings those awesome morels and pheasant-back mushrooms that many people begin thinking about in the dead of winter. Summer brings a multitude of berries. Fall brings more fruits, nuts, roots, and fungus. The diversity of wildlife and serene areas that Iowa woodlands offer should override the fear.

Iowans are pretty fortunate. Iowa has just a small handful of poisonous and / or bothersome types of plants. People living in warmer climates must consider numerous things before enjoying their own backyard. How well do you know your plants that surround us each and every day?

Some people say that one leaf of the three resembles a mitten. Can you see a mitten?
Poison Ivy - leaves of three, let them be!

Poison ivy is probably the most dreaded plant found along and within woodlands, roadside ditches, and disturbed areas. The three-leaved plant can somewhat be a chameleon in its growth. It can be light green, dark green, reddish tinted, a single plant or groups of plants, a shrub, and a vine. Vines growing up the trees can be thick and woody in appearance and the leaves can be mistaken for the canopy of the tree. There are three leaves attached to each stem and each leaf is pointed. The plant blooms in spring and berries begin to appear in summer and into the winter. Birds, rabbits, white-tailed deer, turkey, and other animals graze and utilize the berries as food. Hmmm, maybe that’s one way the seeds spread so readily. It is not the only plant that has ‘leaves of three.’ Young boxelders and even the blackberry and raspberry can be mistaken for poison ivy. The leaves of the poison ivy alternate along the stem, are smooth and hairy and will never bear thorns. Some can recognize the plant by noting that one leaf of the three resembles a mitten.

Poison Oak

Not a lot to say about this plant in Iowa, other than it has not ever been recorded as growing in Iowa.

Virginia Creeper - leaves of five, let them thrive!

Virginia creeper grows in the same habitat as poison ivy. Note the 5 leaves, not 3. Sometimes late summer there will be leaves eaten or torn away, making the appearance of a three-leaved plant.
Virginia creeper is a common vining plant and is found everywhere that poison ivy can be found. It can be high-climbing or trailing and will grow in shade or sun. Leaves are green, but new growth can be tinted in red. In the fall, all the leaves turn to a deep red or purple color. The berries of this plant are also eaten by white-tailed deer, birds, rabbits, turkeys, mice, and many others. The fruits of Virginia creeper are poisonous to humans. This plant is commonly confused with poison ivy at first glance and sometimes mistaken for the poison oak. Leaves of three, let them be...leaves of five let them thrive. 

Stinging Nettles

Unless you have had a personal encounter with stinging nettles, they are probably the most overlooked as an ‘ouchy’ plant. Nettles are dark green with a straight stem and green flower clusters. It can be 2 to 4 feet in height. If you question the nettle plant of its surety, it is not advised to give it a good swipe with your hand. Although, the stinging rash will wear away, it is not a pleasant one. Stinging nettles produce Vitamin A and was gathered in the spring and early summer as first foods. Hard to believe that a plant that requires gloves to handle, lose their stinging properties when boiled. Some pretty good home recipes have been created with this unlikely, but delectable food. Some may know this plant as itch-weed.

Wild Parsnip

Ouch! How did I get burned! Wild Parsnip seems to be showing up more and more. You will find it in open habitat, especially in roadside ditches. This is a plant that sends up a single flower stalk that holds hundreds of yellow flowers in flat-topped, umbrella like clusters called umbels. The sap or juice, with the help of ultraviolet light, produces sun-induced burns commonly referred to as phyto-photo-dermatitis. It may cause a rash or blistering, along with discoloration of the skin. Parsnip burns show up where the juice from a leaf or stem dragged across your skin before the exposure of the sun. The burning feeling may go away in a day or two, but could be severe enough to leave tell-tale signs of your past experience with this alien invader. 

Giant Ragweed

Growing up on the farm, we called this plant horseweed. Little did I know that this was the plant that caused my father and brother (and webmaster) to sneeze and have a headful of discomfort every late summer. Hay fever and allergies are a common result of the wind-born pollen. A member of the sunflower family, this widespread flowering plant has adapted to the fertile agricultural land of the Midwest. It is an annual plant that can be 3-12’ tall. Other common names are bloodweed, buffalo weed, and great ragweed.

Many lessons are taught and learned when trying to adapt a landscape in areas that have been or are disturbed. Most plants, desired or undesired, can appear at any given time, whether it be your yard, flowerbed, or around outbuildings. Most seeds are distributed through self-propagation, wildlife passing seeds after digestion, wind or seeds can sit in the soil for decades waiting for the soil to be disturbed to allow new growth. Planting good desirable plants may eventually out compete the unwanted ones, and consistent mowing can lesson growth. It has been proven, many a time, that Mother Nature does not like bare earth and she will provide plant growth quickly to protect it. Burning areas with poison ivy and other plants that have oils and juices can quickly fill the air with toxins and can create unnecessary exposures to anyone who may be close by. 

Blisters, itching, and sneezing

Knowledge of plants, and understanding their purpose, and proper dress in the out-of-doors is the difference between enjoying ‘Your Big Backyard’ and creating good memories than avoiding it, altogether.

Links for more learning:

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It's Baby Season
"Stuff" happens and sometimes the wildlife parents and young become separated -- sometimes this is normal -- but how do you know.  Check out these links to learn more!
Raptor Viewing Etiquette

We should all observe good raptor  viewing etiquette, not only during the nesting season, but also during this time of migration. 

Remember that raptors are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and bald and golden eagles have additional protections under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Upcoming Programs and Opportunities

GreenWorks! grants available from Project Learning Tree for those that have attended a professional workshop. Deadline September 30. Learn more here.

August 5-7    Outdoor Journey program for girls at Springbrook Conservation Education Center near Guthrie Center. More info here!  
August 30  Saving Our Avian Resources - SOAR Annual Release Party at the Dale Valley Vineyard near Stuart, Iowa 2:00-5:00 p.m. 
September 10 & 12    Hunter Education Course, sponsored by Marion County Sportsman's Club, Marion CCB, and Iowa DNR. Online registration only.  
October 21  RiverWorks Discovery, a program of the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, high school student conference, Who Works the River, is job-oriented towards river related careers 

Who Am I? for the week of 3 August

So, let’s get down to it. Put on those thinking caps, grab your friends and family, and let’s play! Remember — no cheating!

    • I begin life in the water
    • I go through metamorphosis
    • I have more toes on my hind legs than I do in the front
    • I can lay hundreds of eggs at a time, and 
    • I am about 6 inches long.
What am I? Make your guess, and then go here for the answer and more interesting facts
Did you get it right?! If not, no worries — you’ll have another chance next week!

In the news...

To learn more about EAB and other pests that are threatening Iowa’s tree population, please visit

Please contact any of the following members of the Iowa EAB Team for further information:

Check these out!

Iowa Young Birders - Check out this group formed in 2011 to help young people experience the joy and wonder of finding, seeing, and identifying birds!  The Iowa Ornithologists Union is helping to sponsor birding field trips for young people age 8-18 in conjunction with their spring and fall meetings. Check out the details and the Iowa Young Birders website for other field trip opportunities! <jealous!>

Healthy and Happy Outdoors - Learn more about this new Iowa Department of Natural Resources initiative here. Register with the program and record your outdoor activities in Iowa parks and recreation areas with each recorded activity a chance to win outdoor gear in a drawing.  The site also has a search feature for finding outdoor activities in Iowa.

Visit to check out a park or wildlife area you might want to explore managed by one of Iowa's 99 county conservation boards! Look here for events and activities, too!