Before settlement, Iowa was mostly covered with tall prairie grass which burned frequently. As a result, most woodlands were found along rivers and streams where the moist flood plain would stop the fire. The rich woodlands of Iowa’s past provided a unique habitat for animals such as black bear, elk, and wolves.
When European settlers first arrived in present-day Iowa, there were approximately seven million acres of woodlands. As Iowa became more populated, Iowa’s forest turned into lumber for houses, wood for fences, fuel for fireplaces, and ties for the railroads. Today, only two million acres of Iowa’s woodlands remain. Unfortunately, as the woodlands of Iowa began to disappear so did the black bear, elk, and wolves. Woodlands not only provide habitat for animals, they’re also a valuable resource to us. Trees keep our climate cool, provide us with medicine, give us food to eat, and make oxygen for us to breathe.
It is for these reasons we need to realize the importance of proper forest management. Presently in Iowa, 92% of all woodlands are privately owned making it even more important that we take good care of our public forested areas.
Trees can be divided into deciduous or coniferous. Deciduous trees loose their leaves every fall. Oak, maple and hickory are good examples of deciduous trees that live in Iowa. Coniferous trees, or evergreens, do not loose their leaves (needles). Pines and spruces are examples of coniferous trees that can be found in Iowa.
If you would like to see a diverse display of trees, visit the arboretum at Fort Des Moines Park. The Arboretum has over 50 species of trees. Each tree is labeled by genus species and common name. Labels also include a unique identification characteristic.