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Upcoming Events

NOTICE of rescheduled workshop:

In place of the workshop that was cancelled on July 23, SIOSA will sponsor a Monarch Bioblitz this Saturday, Aug. 4 to coincide with the 2nd international Monarch Blitz described in the email below. 

The event will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 12 noon at Slip Bluff County Park, northeast of Lamoni. Veronica Mecko will lead the group in counting milkweeds and Monarch adults, eggs and larvae.

If you are interested in participating, please email and more information will be provided. 

If you can’t attend this event consider monitoring on your property or a native wildflower area near you. Go to, Monarch Larval Monitoring Project, to get all the information you will need.

Next SIOSA board meeting

The next regular SIOSA meeting is Wednesday, April 4 at 1:00 pm.  We will be meeting at the Clarke County Conservation Board headquarters at East Lake Park.  The park is located just east of Osceola on Hwy 34.

Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Saturday, May 12, 2018 @ 11:05 AM
posted by veronica

Morel Season

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

Morels Fruiting in Oak Hickory Woodland

In the thirty years that my husband Bill and I have been collecting morel mushrooms on our farm in Decatur County, Iowa, the 2018 season was the shortest ever.   Once these elusive fungi begin fruiting the season usually continues for two to four weeks.  But not this year. Our season only lasted ten days, from April 27 until May 7.  And we only collected enough for two recipes:  Morel and Asparagus Frittata and Roasted Veal Chops with morels.

The problem with morels is that conditions have to be just right for them to fruit. It takes quite a bit of rainfall, 53-degree soil temperature, and a couple of days of warm daytime temperatures to stimulate fruiting.  I don’t know whether to blame the record-setting cold weather the first three weeks of April or the lack of adequate precipitation for  our poor harvest.  The coldest monthly average April temperature used to be 43.0” F.  Last month it was a record-setting 42.3’ F.  Average April precipitation is 3.62”.    We had only twenty percent of that.  Between May 1 and May 4 we had .96” rain and then it turned hot and dry with no more precipitation until May 11.  (Morel fruiting always shuts down in hot, dry weather.)  

Morels in Mayapple Patch


At Timberhill, morels usually fruit in several locations: in prairie openings with scrub shingle oak,  in mayapple patches in the oak and hickory woodland west of our pond, in areas associated with dead elm or cottonwood , and in the elm, hackberry, and silver maple woodland along Brush Creek.  This year they only fruited in a West Creek prairie and in a mayapple patch in the Hickory Grove.

With chanterelle mushroom (another prize edible) season only a few weeks away I’m hoping the June weather will be more cooperative. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018 @ 01:04 PM
posted by veronica

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

According to one old wives tale if it rains on Easter Sunday it will rain the seven Sundays after.  At Timberhill it snowed on Easter Sunday and the next two Sundays.  I hoped that doesn’t mean we’ll have snow into May.  Winter weather was certainly having a hard time letting go. Despite the unseasonably cold weather, the early wildflowers Spring Beauty, Bloodroot, Rue Anemone, Nodding Trout Lily, False Rue Anemone and Dutchman’s Britches are all blooming.  On April 21 there was even some Bluebell bloom on our south facing slopes.

Great Blue Herons are a common sight on the pond west of my house.  I usually observe these long-legged waders standing silently or walking slowly through shallow water hunting for small fish.  After feeding they return to their nesting colony.  They never stay on the pond for more than a few hours.  So last week I was surprised to see two herons remain here for two days and nights before taking flight. Were they taking a break from their migration north?

Great Egret


Bill and I observed two more migrating shore birds this month.  On April 16 we were surprised to see what looked like a white heron on the pond.  It was actually a Great Egret which we easily identified by its long yellow beak and black legs.  That same day an Osprey hovered over the water, descended feet-first to the water, then nabbed a fish in his claws before settling on the branch of a nearby oak tree to feast on his prey.   

I’ve only seen a few Eastern Comma butterflies on wing but we did have some good moth nights during a warm spell April 11-13.  On the morning of April 13 the moth trap was filled with specimens, mostly sallow moths which are active in late fall, winter and early spring.  There was also a Phoberia atomaris,  Common Oak Moth, specimen in the mix.  Caterpillars of this species feed on newly opened oak leaves. Localized outbreaks of Common Oak Moth caterpillars defoliating large numbers of oak trees have been well documented in Missouri.  It is not known what causes Phoberia atomaris caterpillar outbreaks but warm early spring temperatures which stimulate earlier spring moth flight periods may be responsible.

Common Oak Moth, Phoberia atomaris


Spring-like weather finally arrived on April 20.  The strong late-April sun was a welcome relief after the long winter of 2017-2018. 


Coyle et al.Dynamics of an Unprecedented Outbreak of Two Native Moth Species, Cissusa spadix and Phoberia atomaris on Oak trees in the Southeastern United States.” American Entomologist.  Summer 2013.

Monday, April 9, 2018 @ 07:04 PM
posted by veronica

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

Dumontinia tuberosa

I know it’s spring because the Nodding Trout Lily is in bloom, the Red-winged Blackbirds are nesting in the cattails at pond’s edge, male American Goldfinch wings are turning bright yellow breeding color, Wood Ducks are swimming in the pond and the calendar says so.  I know it’s spring until I look out my window and see that it’s snowing. 

So far this month we’ve had unseasonably cold weather.  Temperatures the first week of April were 20-30 degrees below normal.  On Monday, April 2 the morning low was 13’ F., on Wednesday, April 4 it was 14’ F.  (Average low temperatures for those dates in Decatur County are 37-38’ F.) So I was completely taken by surprise April 6 to see three large clumps of Anemone cup, Dumontinia tuberosa also known as Sclerotinia tuberosa fruiting on a south-facing hillside in the East Savanna. 

Anemone Cups, Dumontinia tuberosa, also known as Sclerotinia tuberosa

One expects to find Crimson Cup mushrooms early in the season but finding Anemone cups in such cold weather was a surprise.  Widely distributed but not common in eastern North America from New York to North Dakota and south to Tennessee this fungus fruits in early spring, March through May.  Ada Hayden Herbarium at Iowa State University lists collections from Winneshiek, Marshall, Boone, Johnson, Iowa, Decatur and Story counties. The underground portion consists of a long, slender stalk attached to a long, irregularly-shaped sclerotium, a compact mass of hardened mushroom tissue.  (Sclerotia of specimens I dug up were rooted in frozen soil.) Above ground, the stalk expands into a pale umber-brown cup, 1-3 cm. wide.  

Historically Dumontinia tuberosa has been regarded as a parasite of Anemone “but a more complex relationship may exist between the two organisms.” (Elliott et al)

In Europe it is known to parasitize the rhizomes of Anemone nemerosa.  Since it is parasitic on European species of Anemone it has always been assumed that must also be the case in North America.  But it is uncertain whether it is associated with any American species of Anemone. Mycologist Fred Seaver collected hundreds of specimens and “in no case has the fungus been associated with the rhizomes of any host. While there might be a mycelial connection, none was apparent.” (Seaver)  It may also be that the American form of this species differs from the European.  


(Note: This species is not edible)

Key words:  Timberhill Oak Savanna, Dumontinia tuberosa, Sclerotinia tuberosa

Todd F. Elliott, Steven L. Stephenson. Mushrooms of the Southeast. Portland: Timber Press, 2018: p. 54

Fred J. Seaver.  The North American Cup-fungi (Inoperculates). Lancaster: Lancaster Press, 1951:p. 76

Sunday, March 25, 2018 @ 12:03 PM
posted by veronica

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

Crimson Cups (Sarcoscypha dudleyi) are usually the earliest spring mushrooms to fruit at Timberhill.  This year I found the first specimen during the January thaw near the end of the month.   But fruiting was cut short by the frigid February temperatures that followed. It wasn’t until the milder temperatures and adequate precipitation the third week of March that the Crimson Cups fruited again.  Now they are truly abundant.

The Iowa Crimson Cup species was called Sarcoscypha coccina until it was found to differ microscopically from S. dudleyi. S. coccina is found only in the Pacific Northwest whereas two species S. austriaca  and S. dudleyi are found in eastern North America.  All three are part of a complex whose species can only be separated microscopically. The margins of these bright red cups are strongly scalloped and incurved in young specimens.  As they age the margins curve backward and the bright red inner surface fades to reddish orange. (Note the difference of inner cup surface color between upper and middle specimens on the left.)

Crimson Cups

At Timberhill I find Crimson Cups attached to buried or partially buried American Basswood sticks. Basswood sticks are easy to spot because their dark reddish brown color is quite different from other downed wood along the creek bottom.  It helps to carry a hand rake when searching for crimson cups as they are often hidden under leaf cover. 

Note: Crimson Cups are not edible.

American Basswoods (also known as American Linden) are fairly abundant in the sandy soil along Brush Creek north and east of the house.  Even without leaves this large (50-100 feet) handsome tree is easily identified by its medium gray, rough textured bark with long, shallow furrows and flat topped ridges.  The ridges are occasionally interrupted by horizontal fissures. 

American Basswood

D.M Huffman et al. 2008. Mushrooms and Other Fungi of the Midcontinental United States. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

Michael M. Beug et al. 2014. Ascomycete Fungi of North America. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Peter J. Van Der Linden and Donald R. Farrar.  2011. Forest and Shade Trees of Iowa. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

Friday, November 3, 2017 @ 05:11 PM
posted by veronica

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

Although the Checkered White, Pontia protodice, butterfly is a breeding resident I’ve never seen one at Timberhill until this year.  Most common in western and east-central Iowa, the first specimen I’ve seen at Timberhill was nectaring on marigolds blooming in the terrace border west of the house on October 17.  Because of the summer drought, butterfly bush and marigolds in the terrace border and roses east of the house which I kept watered are the only plants still blooming.  Everything else has dried up. Interesting that this checkered white managed to find the last blossoms of summer.

Checkered White Butterfly

The drought ended after almost six inches of rain this month. But it didn’t rain soon enough to stimulate abundant mushroom fruiting.   The only terrestrial fungi we found were two waxcap species, Hygrocybe conica and Hygrophorus sordidus.  Sometimes called “the witch’s hat” Hygrocybe conica is one of the small red waxy caps.  It is easily identified because virtually all parts of this species bruise and discolor black.  Usually associated with oaks, we found several clusters of H. conica fruiting under clumps of little blue stem grass on the East Savanna ridgetop. 

Hygrocybe conica


Hygrophorus sordidus


The slimy feel and thick waxy gills that run down the stalk make Hygrophorus sordidus easy to identify.  Medium sized white with a yellowish center it was the only Hygrophorus species we collected this year. This species was named sordidus because of the dirt that usually adheres to it.  At Timberhill we have identified ten species of Hygrophorus.  I usually expect to collect several species each fall. It is unusual to collect only one.  If it doesn’t get too cold there may be more fruting.  I have collected Hygrophorus specimens as late in the season as November 25. 

We also discovered a fairy ring of Giant puffballs, Calvatia gigantea, fruiting in the woodland east of the house.  Known for its large size the round fruiting bodies of this species are about the size of a soccer ball. Immature specimens which are still completely white inside are edible.  Unfortunately ours were too mature – the center had already begun to turn yellow.  (It will turn brown when completely mature.)

Another edible mushroom, Flammulina velutipes (Velvet stem), is fruiting abundantly on downed Hackberry along Brush Creek.  This species is considered a winter mushroom and may be found when nothing else is available.  It is the same species as enoki sold in grocery produce sections but the orangish brown cap and velvety stem are completely different in appearance from that cultivated species. 

(Caveat:  do not consume any wild mushroom unless it has been positively identified by a local expert, amateur or professional.)

Tuesday, October 17, 2017 @ 04:10 PM
posted by veronica

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

Several white oaks along the driveway have died this year.  With the recent publicity about oak wilt and oak tatters diseases in Iowa I wanted to know if we had a problem. So I consulted Randy, our district forester. Bill and I toured the oak woodlands with him on October 3. Besides oak wilt and oak tatters Randy told us that two-lined chestnut borer may have killed our trees.  It attacks oak trees weakened by drought.  It begins with dieback of the upper crown branches followed by dying and red-brown leaves in the middle crown while the lower leaves remain green.  But then he added, “Nobody knows for sure what is responsible for oak decline. Trees just up and die.”

Meadow Mushroom, Agaricus campestris

Earth Puffball, Scleroderma sp.


Our three month drought finally ended the first week of October. By October 8 over two inches of rain had fallen.  That stimulated fruiting of Meadow Mushrooms, Agaricus campestris, the first summer mushrooms of the season. Since then we have been harvesting clumps of this choice edible from the south meadow. Closely connected to the common commercially grown mushrooms it is very similar in appearance. Also fruiting are two puffball species:  small white Lycoperdon and the larger Scleroderma puffballs with tough outer rinds.  More rain and continued unseasonably mild weather may stimulate fruiting of other choice edibles next week.

Darling Underwing, Catocala cara


Besides a lighted sheet strung between two poles in the East Savanna we have been using a 15-watt black light tube over a homemade funnel trap to attract moths. This month we decided to add a bucket trap set-up to our moth collecting equipment.  Rather than build it ourselves we purchased one from Bioquip, a company that specializes in entomology equipment.  On October 13, the first night we used it we collected eight Underwing specimens, seven black and white and one beautiful Catocala cara, Darling Underwing.  That’s the most specimens we have ever collected this late in the season.  Was it because of the unusually warm night with a last quarter moon or the new trap? In any case more warm nights and a waxing crescent moon are predicted beginning October 18-21 when we will set up again.

Catocala moths, particularly the black and white species can be difficult to identify.  However, I have found two very helpful internet sites. Theodore Sargent’s Legion of Night is available at  It includes a complete survey of eastern underwing moths with full descriptions and photographs.  Bill Oehlke’s North American Catocala website has very useful identification keys and species groups listed by hindwing color.  You can even send him images for identification.  It is available at

Tuesday, October 3, 2017 @ 02:10 PM
posted by veronica

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

So far fall is making up for a very disappointing summer Lepidoptera season.  In the last two weeks several Underwing and Stem Borer moth species were attracted to our black-light fluorescent tubes.  We alternated one light between the Hickory Grove and West Creek prairie remnant, the other in front of a sheet strung between two poles in the East Savanna. The East Savanna site is on top of a ridge of widely spaced oak trees over an understory of native forbs and grasses. 

Catocala neogama


Near the Hickory Grove I was particularly pleased to collect Catocala neogama, The Bride. This species has yellowish-orange underwings with black bands that are very similar to Catocala subnata, Youthful Underwing. To tell the difference, one must inspect the hind legs:  in C. neogama the tibia is flattened and very sparsely spined whereas it is cynlindrical with dense uniform spines in C. subnata.

A few years ago a friend introduced me to Stem Borer (Papaipema) moths.  At the time I only looked for Stem Borer species long enough to determine that they were to be found at Timberhill. Since then I’ve been too focused on surveying the Catocala to look at other genera.  Last week when my friend asked what Stem Borers had come to our lights I was ashamed to admit that I hadn’t even thought of looking for them this year. But we began looking for them last week.

Indigo Stem Borer


Papaipema, Stem Borers, are medium-sized moths which are often brightly marked yellow or orange with white spots on the forewing. There are also essentially unmarked dark forms with only a faint outline of spots. Moths of this exclusively North American genus emerge in late summer and fall when they deposit eggs on or near their larval food plant.  The eggs overwinter in the leaf duff and hatch in May.  After hatching, the larvae tunnel downward into the stalk and roots where they mature.  Since most are food plant specialists that require very specific habitats, a number of them are nearing extinction. (Wagner)

Cream Wild Indigo blooming in the East Savanna


Both Cream and White Wild Indigo are abundant at Timberhill and we have collected more Indigo Stem Borers than any other species. Cream Wild Indigo which blooms in early May is well established under the widely spaced oak trees in the East Savanna.  In summer White Wild Indigo blooms in all our prairie remnants.  So I was not surprised to see the Indigo Stem Borer on September 28.  Two more came to our lights on September 30. We also attracted some dark species which were too worn to identify.  I’m already looking forward to next year when I will begin looking for Stem Borers on September 1.    

David L. Wagner, Dale F. Schweitzer, J. Bolling Sullivan & Richard C. Reardon.  2011.  Princeton University Press.  Princeton

Monday, September 18, 2017 @ 02:09 PM
posted by veronica

Field Journal:  September 1-15, 2017

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

Bill and I began this month at Timberhill with a family gathering to celebrate our 55th wedding anniversary.  Chris, his wife Agustina, Alex, grandson Hugo and his friend Ajin spent the entire weekend with us.  The warm sunny days were perfect for long walks and butterfly forays. 

Bill, Hugo and Ajin netting a butterfly


On Labor Day Bill photographed this Dion Skipper nectaring on Rough Blazing Star in the prairie remnant above the West Creek bottom field.  An infrequent breeding resident in Iowa, the Dion Skipper is uncommon almost everywhere.  In Iowa it is restricted to wetlands in the northern half of the state and has never been recorded at any other Decatur County site.  Its larvae feed on Tussock Sedge.  It has been observed at Timberhill (12 miles north of the Iowa-Missouri border) every year since July 2009, four years after we began restoring the West Creek sedge meadow. When we purchased this unit the sedge meadow was overgrown with elm and red cedar.  A raw ditch separated the north and south portions of this unit.  Now a sward of Tussock Sedge fills that space. To the south is the restored sedge meadow. Perfect Dion Skipper habitat.  But how this skipper survived the years of habitat degradation is a puzzle.

Dion Skipper on Rough Blazing Star


I finally collected an underwing moth on September 15.  In a normal year underwing moths come to our lights between mid-June and mid-October.  So far we have identified 15 species at Timberhill. The Obscure Underwing, Catocala obscura, on September 15 was the first of the season. Hopefully there will be more before the winter sets in.

The abundant bloom on Rough Blazing Star and goldenrod is attracting lots of butterflies.  Besides the resident species, southern migrants including Sachem and Fiery Skippers and a Variegated Fritillary were on wing the first two weeks of September. Hundreds of Painted Ladies migrated through here as well.  We continue to see several Monarchs daily.  

Yellow Patches, Amanita flavoconia


Despite the continuing drought I found a few ectomycorrhizal mushrooms. Two clumps of poisonous Yellow Patches, Amanita flavoconia, were fruiting on the trail through our West 40 on September 4.  The Brittle Cap Russula tenuiceps was abundant on the same trail.  Another puzzle since we have had so little precipitation.  It finally began raining here on September 15.  Hopefully that was just a prelude.   

Monday, September 4, 2017 @ 07:09 PM
posted by veronica

Field Journal:  August 15-31

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

On August 23 we finally had a significant rain event – almost two inches.  It was just enough to stimulate fruiting of two mushroom species in the East Savanna.  There I collected three specimens of a red brittle cap, Russula tenuiceps.  Although this genus of large colorful fungi includes some easily identified species, the red Russulas can be difficult to key to species. A species described as red could be pink, purple, or rose-red depending on the age of the specimen.  In wet weather the cap can be viscid or remain dry and become pruinose or velvety.  The taste is either acrid, slightly acrid or mild but you must have a fresh specimen to accurately determine taste. To confound matters the best key is still found in Kauffman’s Agaricaceae of Michigan published in 1918. Kauffman describes Russula tenuiceps as “deep rosy-red or blood-red, sometimes white, spotted or tinged with orange blotches, sometimes uniform red.”  Spore color is “some shade of ochraceous, yellowish or creamy-yellowish.”  The stalk can be either “white or rosy-tinged”. My specimens were deep rosy-red with yellow blotches, a pinkish stalk and yellow-ochraceous echinulate spores, 6-8 microns.

Russula tenuiceps, a red brittle cap


Xerocomus subtomentosus was fruiting along the trail that winds through the southeast woodland to the Brush Creek bottom.  This reddish brown bolete is easily identified by its angular spores and the reddish brown streaks on the stalk.  The upper part of the stalk is widely ridged.  As it ages the pores elongate and become more defined.  A drop of ammonia turns the cap dark red.

Xerocomus subtomentosus, a reddish brown bolete


Dodder (Cuscuta), a parasitic plant, is feeding on plants along the Brush Creek bottom east of the house.  A host generalist, this member of the morning glory family grows more vigorously in patches of mixed host plants by parasitizing two different hosts.  On the Brush Creek bottom it prefers the combination of Climbing False Buckwheat and Wingstem. Besides transferring carbohydrates, water, and organic nitrogen from the host it has been found that RNA macromolecules in the host phloem can cross the parasite/host divide.  The macromolecules can interfere with parasitic development and reduce parasite damage to the host.  (Trewavas)

Dodder feeding on Climbing False Buckwheat and wingstem


Slender Ladies’ Tresses Orchids are blooming on the border between the old crop field and prairie remnant in our West Creek unit.  Rough Blazing Star is particularly abundant this year in the prairie remnant.  On a sunny day it is a good place to watch for butterflies and day-flying moths such as the Snowberry Clearwing.

Anthony Trewavas.2014.   Plant Behavior and Intelligence. Oxford University Press: Oxford

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 @ 11:08 AM
posted by veronica

Field Journal, August 1-15

By Sibylla Brown, Timberhill Oak Savanna

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Yellow False Foxglove, Aureolaria grandiflora, at Timberhill.  I was walking up the driveway in late July, 1998, when I noticed a clump of plants with bright yellow flowers at the east edge of the driveway border. I took a closer look and was able to identify these four-foot tall plants with abundant tubular yellow flowers as Yellow False Foxglove, which is usually found growing on the upper slopes of dry wooded upland in association with white, black or red oaks.

Bumblebee entering tube of Yellow False Foxglove blossom


Since that first sighting this species has spread north and south on the east facing slopes above Brush Creek. It now completely covers the understory of one hillside. When in bloom there is a constant buzz of nectaring bumblebees as they disappear down the flower tubes to collect nectar.  I have also observed Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds feeding on the nectar. Despite the moderate drought conditions there is abundant bloom this year. That’s because Yellow False Foxglove is a hemi-parasite: it obtains water and nutrients through small feeder roots that parasitize the roots of oak trees.

Yellow Giant Hyssop


Yellow Giant Hyssop, Agastache nepetoides, is another oak savanna specialist that came into bloom this month. Limited to partial canopy conditions, I have seen it growing east of the driveway and in the West 40 savanna. But deer have been feeding on it and flowering specimens are few this year.

I am seeing more butterflies, particularly skippers each day.  Besides the abundant population of Silver-spotted and Peck’s Skippers, Delaware, Little Glassy Wing, Indigo Duskywing, Common Checkered and Dun and Swarthy Skippers are now on wing at Timberhill. Also, it is interesting to note the high percentage of black morph female Tiger Swallowtails. They are almost as numerous as the yellow female morphs.

Indigo Duskywing


Cloudless Sulphur which I usually see in the West 40 unit is on wing in the East Savanna this year. Seeing it along the trail that runs through the Southeast Woodland was a surprise.

But the biggest surprise came on August 15. I found two species of bolete mushrooms fruiting under Bur Oaks north of the house. I was certain that it had been too dry for terrestrial mushroom fruiting.  Just goes to show how unpredictable the fungi are.  One species is probably Boletus badius, the other is one I’ve never seen before. I’ll have to obtain spore prints and do a microscopic examination to identify them.