Land and Facilities Steward Jean Wiedenheft was out recently in search of wild rice in our wetland and makes this report.
When the Lynch Wetland was initially planted in 1999, wild rice (Zizania aquatica) was on the species list. This native annual is an important food source for everything from muskrats to ducks, so it is a valuable plant to have in a diverse ecosystem. Unfortunately, the wild rice population never established itself. We won’t ever know if it was gobbled up by a tiny weevil or a red-winged blackbird, or whether the conditions at the time of the planting just weren’t right. The wetland would seem to be an ideal setting for wild rice, with several feet of standing water in the small pond and a gentle current as the water flows into the larger pond.
Because wild rice is an annual and needs very specific, wet growing conditions it disappeared from the local landscape as wetlands were drained. Harvesting it, either to eat or to establish elsewhere, is difficult. Native Americans used canoes, shattering the ripe seeds into the canoe and allowing some to land on the water to sink and grow for the next year. When winter thaws into spring is a perfect time to plant seeds. I kept the seeds wet and cold all winter, to mimic a normal stratification process. This should support a high germination rate. I’ve also formed most of the seeds into mud balls. Some of the seeds float on the surface of the water for a while before sinking, and during that time they are quite vulnerable to being eaten. The mud balls help them sink and help ensure they have good soil contact.
The cattails in the area are starting to emerge, and the red-winged blackbirds returned February 27. As spring progresses, I’ll be looking for the emergence of prairie cord grass—another water-loving species that belongs in Iowa wetlands. And I’ll be looking for the Canada goose pair that traditionally nests on the island to return.