“Iowa is said to be a prairie state, but what is a prairie to the present generation? Within 40 or 50 years, the broad stretches of tall shining grass trembling in the sunlight or tossed by the breezes into billowy waves, gorgeous as the season progresses with its pageant of brilliant hued flowers….is fast passing….Few but the farm boy and the meadow lark know where the swamp now lingers, where the marigolds glitter in the marsh, where the red-brown knoll, fanned by the winds of March, turn pale lavender as the pasque flower wakes in the spring….What park planting can equal a mile or two of flaming Tuck’s cap lily which frequents the damp native prairie in July, or the white beds of nodding anemones, the red and white sweet William, the purple patches of gauzy spiderwort, the gorgeous butterfly weed, the glowing goldenrod, and the bank of stately, radiant sunflower. All these plants are carefully cultivated by florists in parts of the country where they are not native. Why not preserve now at a small cost what cannot be replaced at any cost?” Ada Hayden
Prairies once covered about 80 percent of Iowa and now only remnants remain. Does the farm boy still know where to find prairie, or is the meadow lark alone in this knowledge? Does our present generation recognize the brilliant web of life nature creates within the prairie? Do they notice at all?
Ada Hayden is considered by most the first voice for the preservation of Iowa’s prairies and wrote the quote above in a 1919 article to do just that. At this time much of Iowa’s native prairies had already been plowed up for crop land, and only remnants remained. It is interesting that nearly 100 years later, we still call Iowa a prairie state with even less native prairie remaining than in her time. And many still lack a connection to this lost landscape and its importance in our ecosystem.
Hayden was born in Ames, Iowa in 1884, and she grew up on a farm near Ames. This farm included a tract of native prairie that began her fascination with the prairie environment. Hayden was among the first scientists to study prairie and use diversity of prairie species to define the quality of remnant prairies. Unfortunately she had to sell the family farm in 1941 to meet expenses, and the native prairie remnant there was eventually plowed up for a crop field.
She was the 4th person and 1st woman to receive a doctorate at Iowa State College (now University), and in 1945 received a $100 grant to survey Iowa to locate and document native prairie tracts. She documented 32 prairies and located 89 others. Around half of the prairie acres she documented were protected. One of the largest tracts of prairie now bears her name. Hayden Prairie is found in Howard County in northern Iowa. The photos attached to this blog were taken at Hayden Prairie last June.
Hayden believed that prairies needed to be studied as complete ecosystems and believed the healthiest prairies had the largest diversity of species. The relationships between these species as well as soil types and more all played a part in a healthy tract. She served as an assistant professor of botany at Iowa State from 1919 until her death in 1950. Hayden also became the herbarium curator in 1947, and added over 40,000 specimens to their collection during her career.
Ada Hayden is counted among the top conservation visionaries of Iowa, and she was inducted into the Iowa Conservation Hall of Fame in 1967.
The prairie is still awakening from winter, and now is the time to get outside to see what is taking place. You cannot see the rejuvenation of life sitting in front of your computer.