YELLOW FLAG IRIS IN BLOOM AT AGATE FOSSIL BEDS NATIONAL MONUMENT
Posted 9 months ago
By John Axtell
The Yellow Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus) is now blooming along much of the Niobrara River in Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. Many local visitors make a yearly excursion to view the spring blooms, while others who happen by are pleasantly surprised by the scene.
The park’s wetlands are dotted with these yellow blooms in numbers that can be seen from the road, but visitors’ services assistant Lil Mansfield says the best way to enjoy the iris is on the Fossil Hills Trail to the bridge crossing the river, a quarter-mile walk from the visitor center.
Mansfield says the trail is a pleasant way to spend time on the prairie, whether just ambling to the bridge and back or walking the entire trail to the historic excavation sites with views overlooking the valley. She won’t guess how long the blooming will last since it started earlier than usual this year, but says it’s typically about 2 weeks, which means the short season is already winding down.
The Yellow Flag Iris is not native to the area and was brought to the historic Agate Springs Ranch…part of which became Agate Fossil Beds…by University of Nebraska professor Dr E-H Barbour, who conducted some of the early excavations there and whose daughter Eleanor later married Harold Cook, son of ranch founder Captain James Cook.
Barbour loved iris and brought bulbs to the ranch around 1906, planting them near a pond behind the ranch house. They flourished and have since migrated all the way through the park, 11 miles along the river or 3 miles by road. Though pretty, the aggressive spread of the Yellow Flag Iris has led park officials to study if it is displacing native plant species.
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is located 22 miles south of Harrison, or 34 miles north of Mitchell, on State Highway 29, then east on River Road for three miles to the visitor center. The visitor center is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and admission is free. The park’s two trails are open from dawn to dusk. For more information, visit http://www.nps.gov/agfo/index.htm or visit Agate Fossil Beds on Facebook.