One of my favorite things about Iowa is that the natural beauty always comes unexpectedly. The state used to be covered in 75-85% natural prairie. European settlers, however, dug most of that up to plant crops and raise livestock, taking away Iowa’s impressive native filtration system and introducing chemical and animal waste runoff into pretty much all of Iowa’s groundwater. Classic white people. Today, less than 1% of remnant prairie remains, often in small scattered plots in areas too rocky or steep (hard to believe in Iowa, but it’s true) to plow.
Organizations throughout the state, including Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF)- where I’m currently employed as an intern- work to protect existing prairie and restore the endangered ecosystem in reclaimed land. The DNR, with what remaining funds they have, also work on managing properties to protect and restore biologic diversity. At Badger Creek Recreation Area, part of that work involves planting a field of sunflowers.
I found out about this place through a local Facebook group called Iowa Through the Lens months ago and made a note to remember them for my (now ex) boyfriend. Sunflowers are his favorite flower and his birthday is today, actually, so it would have been a perfect birthday surprise. His loss, my photography opportunity.
I went last night with a coworker who’s also into photography and we got to explore the field in the purple hour of photography, catching sight of a heron on the drive in.
Iowa gets a lot of flak for its environmentally-damaging agricultural practices, but there’s a lot of great work being done in the state as well. I wish I’d known more about all the fantastic nature pockets around the state while I was a student here, but I’m enjoying my bonus year by going out and exploring them. Hopefully other people can find the beauty behind the cornfields.
Bonus fact: The yellow petal-looking things aren’t actually petals- they’re sepals (more of a leaf-life structure for non-botanists). The interior, which is often considered seeds (or at least that’s how I thought of them growing up) is actually a bunch of individual little flowers. The more you know.