Clay Prairie Preserve
Butler Center, Iowa

The Clay Prairie Preserve is a 2.64 acre tract approximately 15 miles north of Parkersburg, IA at the historic town of Butler Center. The prairie preserve is an unused portion of the town's cemetery which was purchased by the University of Northern Iowa with a gift from Joseph B. Clay, an alumnus. The tract is dedicated as a State of Iowa Preserve to insure its present status for future generations.

Prairie Composition
The vegetation is comprised of several grasses, a variety of herbaceous forbs and a few woody shrubs. A total of 98 plant species was compiled in 1970 by the late UNI Emeritus Professor, C.W. Lantz. The dominant grasses are big bluestem, Indiangrass, and little bluestem. A few characteristic blackland prairie forbs inclued shooting star, downy gentian, prairie violet, and rattle snake master. Two common woody shrubs are New Jersey tea and prairie willow.

The Dominant animals are the numerous insects that appear and disappear during the seasons. Several birds, mostly grass-tuft or shrub nesting, are common. More difficult to observe are the small mammals such as the prairie vole, short-tailed shrew and white-footed mouse. No longer do the once large herds of buffalo, fleet-footed antelope or their predators frequent the prairie.

Prairie Dynamics
The prairie-year is a dramatic series of contrasts. A thick blanket of winter snow allows only the the stoutest stems to stand against the harsh, dry winds. In sharp contrast are the tall, erect grasses with their reddish-golden hues of autumn, intermixed by a myriad of yellow sunflowers and goldenrods. Again, the lush greens of spring's new foliage, vibrantly sprinkled by the rainbow-rich hues from the multitude of prairie forb flowers, offer still more contrast. Or, the dew-beaded web of a garden spider in the early morning light, the slithering motions of a garter snake and the soft buzz of a foraging honey-bee are splendid summer delights.

The prairie is a community where changes with season and location are most evident. Here we have portraits of the common prairie plants which flower during early spring. Climatic variation may not allow all plants to be seen on a particular spring day. Also, the near-annual controlled burns on some portions of the preserve may influence the blooming sequence. Burning may advance or delay flowering in an unpredictable manner, but the nutrients released from the ash rather predictively enhance the flower show. Particular insects may only appear during the short interval flowering to serve as pollinators to perpetuate the plants and perhaps even themselves.

Wood Lily
Lillium philadelphicum L.
color: orangish red
height: 5-6 in.
blossoms in: July and August




Creamy Indigo
Baptisia leucophaea Nutt.
color: creamy yellow
height: 1-2 ft.
blossoms in: Late May to June

Golden Alexanders
Zizia aurea (L.) Koch.
color: yellow
height: 1-3 ft.
blossoms in: May to July
Blue-eyed grass
Sisyrinchium campestre
color: deep blue and white
height: 8-10 in.
blossoms in: May to June
Heuchera richardsonii R. Br.
color: greenish white
height: 1-2 ft.
blossoms in: May to June
Wild Strawberry
Fragaria virginiana Duchn.
color: white
height: 2-5 in.
blossoms in: June and July
Birdfoot Violet
Viola pedata
"note-- relative of Prairie Violet"
differs in leaf characteristics and flower color
Prairie Willow
Salix humilis Marsh.
color: yellow and brown
height:4-12 in.
blossoms in: May
Antennaria plantaginifolia Hook.
color: creamy white
height: 1-12 in.
blossoms in: May
Prairie Rose
Rosa arkansana Porter.
color: crimson, pink and white
height:1-3 ft.
blossoms in: Late May to July
New Jersey Tea
Ceanothus americanus L.
color: white
height: 1-3 ft.
blossoms in: late June to August
Shooting Star
Dodecatheon meadia L.
color: White, pale pink
height: 1-2 ft.
blossoms in: May to early June
Prairie Smoke
Geum triflorum Pursh.
color: yellow
height: 8-16 in
blossoms in: Late April to June
Prairie Violet
Viola peditifida G. Don.
color: pale violet (sometimes with purple)
height:2-5 in.
blossoms in: May to June
Other Forbs

Indian paint brush
Castilleja coccinea (L.) Spreng
color: red and greenish yellow
height: 1-2 ft.

Prairie Phlox
Phlox pilosa L.
color: purplish rose or white
height:1-2 ft.
blossoms in: May to June
Quince, Feverfew
Parthenium integrifolium L.
color: white
height: 2-3 ft.
blossoms in: June to September
Yellow Stargrass
Hypoxis hirsuta (L.) Cov.
color: yellow
height:3-5 in.
blossoms in: Spring
Purple oxalis
Oxalis violacea L.
color: white and purple
height: 4-8 in.

Senecio aureus L.
color: orange-yellow
height: 10-14 in.

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Department of Biology   University of Northern Iowa   Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0421
(319) 273-2456   FAX: (319) 273-7125

Last updated September 7, 2004 by the Webmaster.