Tallgrass Prairie Center


Botany Beginners 2021 - Grasses for the Masses

Grasses for the masses

BOTANY BEGINNERS 2021 - Grasses for the Masses



This virtual course is designed for anyone who wants to learn how to identify the most common native and introduced grasses of the tallgrass prairie region, and possibly a few prominent sedges and rushes. This course is for beginners, and the emphasis is on learning how to learn the plants, and becoming more self-sufficient through guided practice. Once students can learn the names of the plants they are interested in, it can open up a whole new world to explore. Although the classes are no longer live, the videos of each course are listed below: 

Cool season grasses - Click on the course title to view the video of this class

Warm season grasses

About Botany Beginners


At the University of Northern Iowa’s Tallgrass Prairie Center, we identify plants in order to monitor and troubleshoot prairie plantings and evaluate the results of experiments. Plant identification also allows us to more fully appreciate and understand the beauty and complexity of remnant (original) tallgrass prairies. In recent years, we have trained undergraduate research students and AmeriCorps service members during a 3-week “Botany Boot Camp.” However, with the advent of the COVID19 pandemic in spring 2020, we found it necessary to provide their initial training some other way. In the process we realized that others across the region might also want an introductory plant ID course and the opportunity to practice with some expert guidance.  

The inaugural Botany for Beginners 2020 course, led by Green Iowa AmeriCorps Communications Associate Paige Shafer attracted over 550 students from all over Iowa and beyond. We are offering this  on line grass course this year because of the great significance of grasses for prairie restoration and conservation. 


What you will need / What to expect


  • The course textbook is Grasses, Sedges, Rushes: an Identification Guide by Lauren Brown and Ted Elliman, with original drawings by Lauren Brown (2020) Yale University Press. It is available on Amazon for $19.40 or directly from the publisher. This new version of the original, well-loved 1979 guide has clear line drawings and text descriptions, and helpful color photos. 
  • Places to visit for practicing plant ID, for example, roadsides, CRP, and pastures
  • Any 7x to 10x magnifying lens such as a folding pocket loupe  (see this one for $8.99). This tool is essential identifying many grasses   
  • You may need PPE for sunburn, ticks, chiggers and poison ivy  
  • A dedicated listserv will help you connect with other Botany Beginners, compare your plant photos, and collaborate with one another to solve plant ID questions. The Facebook group Botany Beginners will remain active and lightly moderated as well. 




Staff and Instructors 



Laura Jackson, Director, Tallgrass Prairie Center / laura.l.jackson@uni.edu

Guest Lecturers

Justin Meissen, Research and Restoration / justin.meissen@uni.edu

Laura Walter, Plant Materials Program / laura.walter@uni.edu 

Kristine Nemec, Iowa Roadside Management / kristine.nemec@uni.edu


Pryce Johnson, Botany Training Assistant, Tallgrass Prairie Center/ pryce.johnson@uni.edu

Anne Phillips, TPC Community Engagement Coordinator /  anne.phillips@uni.edu





These courses are free. Financial support is provided by:

 Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture / Practical Farmers of Iowa / Green IowaAmeriCorps - Land and Water Stewards / UNI College of Humanities Arts and Sciences

  Leopold Center logo       PFI logo      AmeriCorps logo PNG      UNI logo


And, a special thanks to the financial support of the Friends of the Tallgrass Prairie Center. If you would like to support Botany Beginners courses, click here to access this secure online giving form through the UNI Foundation, and select "Tallgrass Prairie Center." 

You may also mail a check payable to the UNI Foundation, Attn: Friends of the Tallgrass Prairie Center, and addressed to UNI Foundation, 121 Commons, Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0239.