What plants can be found at Nahant Marsh?

Nahant Marsh is part of a 513-acre complex of wetlands formed when the Mississippi River changed it’s course and left behind oxbow lakes that gradually began to silt in.

Numerous plant, animal, and fungus species have been documented at Nahant Marsh over the years. Over 360 vascular plant species, some rare, some common, some large and some quite small have been recorded here. The rare Ear-Leaved False Foxglove (Tomenthera auriculata) and Rose Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua) are found in only a few other places in the Midwest and pop up from time to time here at Nahant Marsh, generally, after a fire or flood.

The tiny duckweed and mosquito fern can be seen spreading across the quieter ponds during the summer months. Impressive cottonwoods (the tallest trees in Iowa), are a favorite spot for red-tailed hawks to sit and watch for their prey. The small tracts of forest at Nahant Marsh are filled with box elder trees, elms, green ash, and silver maples, all common in Midwestern bottomland forests. Wild grape vines and poison ivy cling to the trees as they struggle to get off the forest floor and get sunlight.

Cattails and sedges dominate the wetter areas at Nahant Marsh. Amongst these plants, one can find halberd-leaved rose mallow blooming in the summer, sensitive and marsh ferns, arrowheads, and an occasional patch of calamus.

You can also see tallgrass prairie here. It seems to come alive in the spring with the the blue and purple spiderworts and the white Canada anemone, the first flowers to bloom here. They seem to set off an ever-changing mosaic of colors that can be seen throughout the year.

Countless butterflies and other insects thrive amongst the grasses and flowers. During the winter, the skeletons of tall grasses and wildflowers remain while their roots and seeds wait for warmer days to once again emerge and start their brilliant show of color all over again. The grasses serve as shelter and food for various animals that call this place their home and remind us of what the endless sea of prairie must have looked like at one time in Iowa and Illinois.


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