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Clearing Musk Thistle from the Tall Grass Prairie

Musk thistle is an invasive species that was introduced to the United States as a showy, ornamental flower, however, it is an invasive and noxious week that takes over an area crowding out native plants and wildlife. This invasive species must be controlled to prevent its spread as it produces large seed heads that can quickly and easily disperse seed over a large area.

Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge, Prairie City, Iowa

Driving Question

  • Why is it important to manage the presence of non-native (invasive) species instead of allowing nature (natural selection) to take its course?

Probing Questions

  • Have you seen this flower before?
  • What do you notice about the plant?
  • What are these biologists focused on?
  • Why would scientists be pulling up, cutting the heads off, and bagging the flowers for disposal in the field at a wildlife refuge?

Classroom Suggestions

Students could:

  • Use an app (example: Seek by iNaturalist) to identify native and non-native plants around their school. If non-native invasive species are found they could research and develop a plan for safely managing the presence of the invasive plant.
  • Identify common invasive species in their area and record the number found.
  • Compare and contrast a native and non-native species present in their community.

Relevant Related Resources

Iowa Core Alignment


Evaluate the evidence supporting claims that changes in environmental conditions may result in: (1) increases in the number of individuals of some species, (2) the emergence of new species over time, and (3) the extinction of other species

Credit Info

Submitted by Julia Benson as part of the Iowa STEM Teacher Externship program.

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