Green and growing

Perhaps it’s the GREEN that defines an Iowa summer. Grassy lawns and pastures, trees, gardens, even corn and soybean fields almost shout their message of growing plants.

But when you look more closely, you may be dazzled by a whole array of other colors.

Indigo bunting

What’s bluer than an indigo bunting? The males almost glow with the deep, iridescent color that gives them their name.


Then you see a clump of spiderworts, dew shimmering from their leaves, trios of pastel-blue petals accented by the yellow stamens. Spiderworts bloom for weeks, marking the transition from the cool prairie spring to the heat and humidity of summer.

Loess Hills hikers

And there’s the summer sky. The white of the billowing clouds turns the sky in between even bluer.

Oriole at the jelly feeder

Orange? Check out the Baltimore orioles at the jelly feeder. From the flaming adult males to the more muted females and immature birds, orange distinguishes the species.

Doe on alert

Birds don’t have a monopoly on the color orange, however. The doe whose tree-bark-gray hair blended in with the woods all winter has now donned her orangish summer coat. She stands out against the greens – perhaps drawing predators’ attention away from the spotted fawn she’s hidden away in the shadowy vegetation.

Butterfly milkweed

Out in the prairie, the butterfly milkweed has opened its orange blossoms, as well. Although not as sweet smelling as the weedier cousin, the common milkweed, the delicate flowers attract a host of insects. We humans may overlook the tiniest pollinators – but we delight in the beautiful monarch and great-spangled fritillary butterflies that seek out the milkweeds.

Bumblebee & false indigo

When we stop to listen, we realize that the prairie is abuzz with countless other insects. A parade of bumblebees methodically checks the tall spikes of false indigo flowers, the low, hidden blooms of false gromwell, and the drooping petals of pale purple coneflowers.

rose-breasted grosbeak

Listen, too, as the summer bird songs roll from the shady woods and across the sun-spackled prairie. The rose-breasted grosbeaks belt out almost non-stop choruses. A red-eyed vireo teases, “See me? Here I am. Over here!” A mourning dove coos plaintively from the fencerow. And the scarlet tanager chir-rups a hoarse, robin-like song from its hiding place in the upper branches of the hackberry.

Goldfinch & pale purple coneflower

The goldfinches chatter and gossip as they flit from bird feeder to bird bath to the coneflowers. Speaking of color – did we mention yellow? With his black wings for contrast, a male goldfinch epitomizes yellow.

Summer sunset

We savor the wonders of a June day, relishing the extra minutes, even hours, of daylight that the solstice brings. Still, we welcome the coming darkness, and the pink-purple-orange of a summer sunset.

Care to relax by the campfire, count fireflies, listen to the night melody of the lark sparrow, or chuckle at the yips and wails of the young coyotes? For the naturalist, summer can become yet another season of sensory overload.

Bison at dusk, Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge
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