Botany Beginners 2021

Trail in grass

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.

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 online grass course this year because of the great significance of grasses for prairie restoration and conservation.


Cool season grass

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. 
  • Download the TPC Grass Species Reference Guide with our scheme for narrowing down the range of possible grasses in flower, in Iowa.


‌Staff and Instructors 



Guest Lecturers

Cool Season Grasses

JuNe 22, 2021 
Lesson One

JuNe 24, 2021 
Lesson Two


July 1, 2021 
Lesson Three

July 8, 2021 
Lesson Four


Warm Season Grasses 

August 19, 2021 
Lesson Five

august 26, 2021 
Lesson Six


September 2, 2021 
Lesson Seven


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