A blog for visitors to the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Updated: 12 min 13 sec ago
Mon, 06/17/2013 - 12:42pm
Hummingbirds zip here and there so quickly that I’m not always sure if I see what I think I see. Often, I hear the low buzz of their wings before I actually see them. Zip, zip, zip, there they go. Can I focus in time? Is my shutter speed fast enough? These are just a few of the challenges of photographing these beautiful “jewels of the air.”
If you see one of these gems, it is virtually guaranteed to be the ruby-throated hummingbird, the sole breeding hummingbird of the eastern United States. They winter in Central America, and spend the summers in North America. There are often breeding pairs here at the Chicago Botanic Garden. You can see them feeding if you know where to look.
I always check their favorite flowers: any color of trumpet-shaped flowers, red and orange flowers, and even flowering trees. I’ve seen them regularly in three places in the Garden.
One area is in and around the English Walled Garden. You can stand on the main sidewalk and watch them as they visit the flowers and then rest on one of the small trees. They will often visit the same patch of flowers over and over again and then go back to the same perch, giving you a perfect chance to snap a few photos. I use at least a 200mm lens and prefer my 300mm lens for best results. I set my camera to f8, 1/1000 of a second, for sharp shots with just a touch of wing blur. I use manual focus and take lots of photos. I’d say I get one good photo for every 15 or 20 I take! So keep at it! These are tricky birds to get in the air.
Another good place to find hummingbirds is around the Sensory and Enabling Gardens. It’s a large area, but walk around and look for the colorful flowers. There is a good chance a hummingbird will be nearby.
The third place where I often see them in late summer is in the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden. There is a nice patch of bright red salvia near the little pond, which seems to be a favorite hangout for hummingbirds. You can just park yourself a few feet away from the flowers, wait 15 minutes or so, and most likely a hummingbird will stop by!
But be ready, as you just might have a close encounter with a hummingbird almost anywhere in the Garden. I’ve seen them by the Bulb Garden, the Fruit & Vegetable Garden, McDonald Woods, the Native Plant Garden, and even out in the Prairie! It’s always a thrill and a joy to see these amazing birds any day, and if I happen to get a photo, well that’s just the icing on the cake.
Fri, 06/14/2013 - 11:59am
Horticulturist Courtney Quigley reports that African moon moths are now emerging!
The African moon moth (Argema mimosae) is another spectacular large moth found at Butterflies & Blooms this summer. Slightly smaller than its cousin, the Giant Madagascan moon moth, or comet moth (Argema mittrei), it can be well-camouflaged among the branches in the exhibition because its bright, bright green color blends in well with new leaf growth. The four “eyespots” on the moon moth’s wings mark it as a member of the Saturniidae family—moths with concentric spot designs that mimic the rings on the planet Saturn. Saturnid moths also use a pheromone mating system in which female moths release a chemical scent trail for male moths to follow.
As a caterpillar, this native of South Africa prefers corkwood (Commiphora), marula (Sclerocarya birrea), and tamboti (Spirostachys africana), but it does not eat during its lifespan as a moth. It trades mouthparts for wings in its transformation. It also trades its green caterpillar body for a beautiful, furry coat!
Find male moths in the exhibition by checking their antennae—male moths have thicker, more strongly feathered antennae.
Wed, 06/05/2013 - 9:59am
Horticulturist Courtney Quigley alerted us that the first moth to emerge in the Butterflies & Blooms exhibition is the Atlas moth (Attacus atlas), which is native to Southeast Asia. The Atlas moth lives for one to two weeks, so its main purpose after emerging from its cocoon is to mate. Most moths do not have functioning mouthparts, and the Atlas will not feed at all. It survives its adult life feeding off stored fat. Though not the largest Lepidoptera in the world (that award goes to the white witch moth [Thysania agrippina]), the Atlas moth comes in second with a recorded wingspan of 262 millimeters. Several other cocoons are still in the pupa emergence room, so if you do not see this moth on your visit, you may be lucky enough to see one on a return visit. We encourage you to visit often, as new butterfly species will be emerging throughout the summer!
Sun, 06/02/2013 - 9:03am
In gardening, small things often have larger meaning. A single flower, pressed, becomes a memory for life; an acorn planted on a whim can grow to shade a city block. Such is the case with the humble rolling cart marked “Book Sale” parked just inside the Lenhardt Library’s doors. It’s connected to a much larger story.
The cart rolls out as summer (and visitor attendance) ramps up; this year’s rollout date is June 7. All of the books on it are garden-related, and most are donations brought in by folks like you. Other books are deaccessioned from the library’s stacks. Prices for both hardbound books and paperbacks are modest, and the cart is replenished throughout the season. In short, what gardener could resist?
Last year, more than 500 books were sold.
This is where the story grows. With last year’s proceeds, the library then purchased a rare book (actually a two-volume set): Flora Boreali-Americana by André Michaux.
Have any gardening books you’d like to donate? Call the library at (847) 835-8201 to arrange a drop-off (garden topics only, please). A librarian will cross-check the index to see if they’re needed in the collection; if not, they’ll be added to the sale.
What a story behind this book! Ed Valauskas, our rare book curator, tells the tale:
In 1785, France’s King Louis XVI sent André Michaux (1746–1802) to the United States to collect plants for use as building materials, for medicine, and in agriculture. (France had used up its natural wealth of forests.) With his then 15-year-old son Francois André (1770–1855), gardener Pierre Saunier, and domestic Jacques Renaud, Michaux spent the next 11 years shipping boxes of plants back to France. This was thanks to collecting trips throughout the new country, plus experiments at two gardens—one established in New Jersey, on 11 acres opposite New York City, and another on more than 110 acres in Charleston, South Carolina.
This work is one of two significant publications resulting from Michaux’s efforts in the United States at the end of the eighteenth century. Initiated by André, Flora Boreali-Americana (Flora of North America) was largely completed by his son.
Significantly, this 1820 edition is simply a reissue of the original 1803 edition. The only change is a different title page. This edition is scarcer than the original 1803 release. The copper engraving illustrations in this publication were executed by the most important illustrator of his time, Pierre-Joseph Redouté (1759-1840).
Leora Siegel, director of the Lenhardt Library, purchased the set for the Garden’s rare book collection in September 2012. It’s a beauty, with original leather bindings and marbleized paper endsheets. And those incredible Redouté illustrations! Like most of the books in our rare book collection, it can be viewed at the library by appointment.
And so it is that a small thing (a used gardening book) has larger meaning:
- You, the gardener, get to recycle books you’ve known and loved into the hands of other gardeners.
- Garden and Lenhardt Library visitors get the chance to learn about gardening while purchasing a book for a song.
- The library gets to build its rare book collection simply by providing the venue for the exchange.
What does Siegel have her eye on this year? American Medical Botany: Being a Collection of the Native Medicinal Plants of the United States, by Jacob Bigelow, published in 1817.
I’m heading over to the bookshelves now and starting a donation stack!
Fri, 05/31/2013 - 9:10am
Saving the planet can seem like a daunting task, and raising our children to join in the effort can feel overwhelming. Give children a focus. Rather than trying to solve all problems at once, families can do a world of good for the planet by concentrating on one thing at a time.
This summer, we suggest focusing on water. The availability of fresh, clean drinking water is a big problem in some places. In Chicago, we tend to forget this because we live near a plentiful supply—Lake Michigan. Just because we have this resource does not mean we can waste it!
Think of ways your family can reduce the amount of water you use: don’t run water while brushing teeth, put a timer in the bathroom to limit showers to five minutes, or let the grass go dormant and not water it during a dry spell. Make it a family project to find ways to conserve this precious resource. This is all about training yourselves to be aware of waste and think of new ways to conserve.
You can engage your family in calculating the amount of water you conserve. Make a list of all the ways you are going to try to conserve water, and then keep track of how much water you save. For instance, if you use water only when you’re ready to rinse after brushing your teeth, credit yourselves with saving 15 cups of water each time anyone brushes teeth. At the end of the month, add up the total amount of water you saved and celebrate your achievement.
Will you see a significant difference or get any instant reward for your efforts? No, but you will develop a sensibility that translates to reducing waste in other parts of your life. If we all do this, the effect will be cumulative, but everyone has to contribute. This is how kids can play an essential part in making a difference.Long-term learning is not a “lightbulb” moment.
Learning that you can make a difference may not be a “light-bulb-going-off” experience for most people, especially children. That may be why the idea that kids can make a difference might be considered a myth—but it’s only a myth to people who expect instant gratification and immediate rewards. More often, we discover our power to have a positive influence on the environment over a period of time.
One of our Chicago Botanic Garden programs, Green Youth Farm, teaches students to grow their own vegetables—another way a family could learn to make a difference. Growing your own food is not only healthy, it also cuts down on energy consumption and pollution caused by shipping produce from farm to market to home. Students in this program experience the satisfaction of seeing what happens when they work with the environment—the sun, soil, water, and air—to feed themselves and help their communities.
It takes months to plant and tend a garden before you get to taste the produce. Likewise, it takes time to see the benefits of positive changes we make and their results on the environment. We have seen children discover the impact they can have on their communities and homes most obviously in these kinds of programs. There is no instant payoff. Making change permanently takes patience, and commitment—and not just for one summer.What can the Chicago Botanic Garden teach my children?
We encourage children to discover wonderful things in nature. We help them understand why plants have flowers and how those flowers attract bees. We teach them what plants need to grow and how people need plants. Understanding these things helps children understand why we all need to take care of the environment, and how they are part of the environment, too. The wonderful feelings children get from experiencing gardens and nature help to instill a love of the natural world—an essential component of wanting to make a difference.
Join us for World Environment Day on June 1, a fun family event where kids and their parents can learn about water conservation and other critical environmental issues. Kids will get to help plant the Grunsfeld Children’s Growing Garden and learn a little about growing a garden. They will also discover the myriad of creatures that live in a healthy lake, and they’ll be challenged to think about water conservation to protect these delicate habitats.
Free drop-in programs are held every weekend at the Children’s Growing Garden and Kleinman Family Cove. Topics vary throughout the summer, but all will engage children with fun activities to learn more about plants and healthy ecosystems.
Summer camps offer week-long sessions for a variety of interests for children ages 2 to 15.
Grow a “green” family in your home and at the Garden this summer.
Thu, 05/30/2013 - 11:04am
Butterflies are beautiful, magical, and mysterious creatures.
They have to be one of nature’s greatest achievements. Their transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly is truly mind-boggling when you really think about it. Seeing one is a joy. Seeing hundreds at one time is truly amazing! I had the pleasure of photographing butterflies at Butterflies & Blooms last summer. I had a wonderful time, and was just thrilled with the variety of butterflies and the quality of the plantings.
When photographing butterflies, I like to look for fresh specimens on pretty perches in a well-lighted area. Even though there are a lot of butterflies there, finding one you like sitting still on an attractive surface might take some time. One approach is to find a flower that you like and position yourself ahead of time. First, set up your camera. Then, make sure there is nothing distracting in the background, and wait. Usually within just a few minutes, a butterfly or two will land in the area. Another option is to look for the kind of butterfly you like already perched on a flower or leaf. Most newly hatched butterflies will stay still on flowers or foliage while they dry, giving you an excellent opportunity to photograph them.
Since this is an indoor exhibit, the structure of the building and the people walking around can often complicate shots. My favorite lenses for photographing butterflies in this situation are my 105mm and 200mm macro lenses. They allow me to be a comfortable distance away from the butterflies, get excellent details, and also keep the background soft.
As with all wildlife, I always focus on the eyes. It is human nature to look at the eyes first. If they are in focus, then the whole photograph will have a more satisfying feel. If you are photographing the side of a butterfly, get parallel to the wings to keep your plane of focus aligned with entire length of the butterfly. That way you can get more of the wing details in focus without having to increase your depth of field (aperture) which would mean a slower shutter speed and possibly a soft photo. While there is plenty of light, the screen mesh does cut down the available light, and shaded areas cut the light even further. It will take some experimenting to find settings that work for you when balancing your shutter speed, ISO, and aperture to get sharp, interesting photos.
To keep from getting in the way of other guests, I leave the tripod at home and handhold my camera. This means that I search for butterflies on flowers in the sun, so that I have a fast enough shutter speed for sharp photos. My most successful images come from observing the butterflies for a while and seeing what flowers seem to be the ones that get a lot of attention. There always seem to be a few plants that have more activity than others. If I’m lucky, one or two of those plants will have some nice light on them. Then I wait, enjoying the butterflies that land on me instead, eventually being graced by a few that choose to stop by and allow me to photograph them.
Tue, 05/28/2013 - 10:47am
Traveling along a quiet, dusty road in the western United States, Shannon Still, Ph.D., is on the lookout for an evasive plant. He hopes to find it before it disappears to another location, or just disappears altogether.
A postdoctoral research associate at the Chicago Botanic Garden, Dr. Still is investigating nearly 500 plant species living in parts of 11 western states from Washington and Montana south to Arizona and New Mexico.
“Between now and 2080, most of these species are predicted to lose suitable habitat,” said Still. By acting now, his hope is that he can help direct future research and conservation resources toward preserving species in greatest need.
Rolling in the Dust
On this trip, he was hunting for the federally endangered Siler pincushion cactus (Pediocactus sileri). Similar to most others on Still’s list, Siler pincushion is a rare species, meaning few plants exist, or those that do are loosely spread over a large area.
Like most rare species, it is also very particular about its living conditions — surviving only where elements like the type of soil and pollinator match its preferences.
The cactus only grows on gypsum, an uncommon soil type. So, Still hopped into a Garden research vehicle and drove to where gypsum can be found, in the Arizona Strip — a range of desert located just north of the Grand Canyon in southern Utah.
He was glad to find populations of Siler pincushion continuing to exist where they had been previously documented.
But, he was elated to discover another 500 individuals, or an additional 5 percent of the total number of individual plants.
His excitement was short-lived. Back at the Garden, he compared the plants’ precise locations to expected habitat changes in those areas as a result of climate change — temperature increases, changes in rainfall, or other shifts.
Although Siler pincushion has a firm grip today, its future is on shaky ground.
Sadly, this is the case for many rare plants.
Where the Pollen Goes
If their current habitat changes as significantly as is predicted, these species could drop off the map. Unless, that is, with the help of pollinators they are able to move to new locations, which may become more livable as a result of climate change. If they do, he wants a forwarding address.
Joining Still in front of his computer, I was amazed to see the number of charts and graphs he had created for this purpose.
A plant scientist with computer-programming expertise, he has written code to build evaluation tools and populated them with data he collected in the field and elsewhere.
“We’re making models for the current predictions which helps us then look ahead decades to the 2020s, 2050s, and 2080s,” he said. “Instead of using several different programs, I can write everything through one interface.”
Unlike common plants, which are expected to migrate north as temperatures warm, Still has found that there is no such norm for his study plants. “What we’re seeing for the rare species is that there is no given direction. It is much more complicated,” he said.
One graph he showed me was covered with arrows of varying lengths and directions. There, he had plotted the anticipated direction and distance of movement of hundreds of species.
“I really enjoy working with people to solve problems and find different ways to do things,” said Still. Learn more about his work.
A Course for Expansion
A small number of rare plants are expected to remain in relatively unchanged habitat areas, he found. In fact, climate change may actually expand the number of places where they can thrive. The San Joaquin woollythread (Monolopia congdonii) is one of those. Still’s chart showed that this federally endangered herb is likely to grow in population by 20 percent and expand to new areas that will become more desirable.
Which Road to Travel?
This three-year research project is well on its way to mapping the species and habitat areas to receive extra attention in the near future.
However, it seems even more challenging to predict how far Still could go in coming years. His master’s thesis on the Himalayan blue poppies (Meconopsis) paved the way for the dazzling flower to be grown and displayed at public gardens around the United States.
Learn more about this story in the fall issue of the Garden’s member magazine, Keep Growing. Join the Garden now to receive your copy!
Sun, 05/26/2013 - 9:03am
Garden blog followers may remember that in “How to Train Your Plant” I demonstrated a way to grow a bean seed in a plastic bag to test geotropism. I started working on that project around Thanksgiving week last year. At that time, I started a few bean bags just to see what would happen. I kept one seed growing in the bag all winter, adding water as needed.
The plant produced a white flower about a month ago. I should have taken a picture. Now this week I discovered a seedpod growing where the flower had been! In the picture, you can see the wilted flower petals still hanging from the tip of the reddish colored pod. Botanically speaking, this is the fruit of the plant, even though you might not think of beans as fruit in your diet.
So if you try this activity, and you stick with it for six months, you, too, may be rewarded with a little treasure!
Tue, 05/21/2013 - 12:41pm
My 3-year-old son and I have enjoyed many seasons of Little Diggers. We have learned new things together and have had a lot of fun with the projects—but our favorite project so far this year was with insects. We got up close and personal with ants, butterflies, grasshoppers, and ladybugs. The instructor set up habitats in mesh containers where we could look at each group of insects with magnifying glasses and two-way viewers—the same tools real scientists use every day!
After looking at all the insects up close, we talked about all the different body parts an insect has, and why that makes an insect an insect and not a spider or another bug (even though they have a lot of the same body parts). All insects have three body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen), six legs, antennae, eyes—and sometimes wings! We remembered what the body parts were and where they go by building our own model insect. It was really easy—a fun and funny way to teach our little people about the different parts.
You can build your own model insect at home, too. Here’s what you’ll need:
- An egg carton—Cut into strips of three eggs-worth. You can get four insect bodies out of one egg carton, so you can explore and make more than one kind of insect.
- Coffee filters—Cut these each into six pieces for wings. You can see how to cut them from the photo of our completed insect below.
- Pipe cleaners—Cut these into 3-inch pieces for legs.
- Craft supplies to decorate and color your insect—Use feathers, googly eyes, crayons, gems, and tacky glue. Insects come in all shapes and sizes from simple black ants to very colorful, shimmery beetles. Have fun creating!
As we built our insect and decided what it should look like, we talked about the different parts of our particular insect. We put antennae and one eye on the head, a feather and another eye on the thorax, and wings on the abdomen—and this was fine by me! While he was hesitant to put parts where they should go, he said “head,” “thorax,” and “abdomen” out loud as we built and talked about our insect. He was very proud of this final specimen.
Every class we go to uses different activities to explore a different theme. We’ve used play dough, enjoyed circle time with great books, gone on Garden walks, and let’s not forget our favorite activity, planting! (This time we planted some Mexican heather as part of the insect theme. Butterflies and bees love the nectar from the flowers of this plant.) We planted our heather at home and are waiting to see if we get visitors this summer.
We can’t wait until the fall season of Little Diggers, but if you don’t want to wait, you can sign up for My First Camp for 3-year-olds, and enjoy more hands-on science, art, food, and gardening.
Thu, 05/16/2013 - 4:00pm
Have you heard the sounds coming from nearby lakes, ponds, and puddles this month? The American toads are singing!
Every spring, the toads emerge from hibernation in wooded areas and hop to the nearest standing water to breed. The sound you hear comes from the males, who are singing to attract a mate. You’ll hear the sound of hundreds of toads at the Kleinman Family Cove for the next week or so, maybe longer.
The toads will pair up and lay a string of eggs in shallow water where it is warmest and rich in food for their offspring. After laying eggs, the adults will return to the woods or shady gardens to look for food, leaving their babies to fend for themselves.
The black embryo inside each egg will grow into tiny tadpoles and hatch in about a week. They will grow and develop into half-inch toadlets over the next few weeks. Then they will leave the water and join their parents in the shady gardens and woods. With any luck, some of them will survive the next two years, developing to full maturity, and return to the Cove to breed.
This is the only time of year to hear the toads singing, so visit the Cove this month. If you visit over the next four weeks, maybe you’ll see some little black tadpoles swimming in the water.
Please resist the urge to collect them to take home. You won’t be able to provide enough of the right kind of food for a growing tadpole or toadlet, and they will die. Watch them grow up successfully in their natural habitat at the Cove throughout the month of May and early June instead!
Wed, 05/15/2013 - 2:01pm
This year, it sure felt like spring was a long time coming — especially compared to last year when it seemed that we went straight into summer! I wonder how the wildflower timing of spring compared to previous years in the Chicago area…
For several years now, I’ve been working on a web-based citizen scientist project, called Project BudBurst, with colleagues at the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). We study the phenology — the timing of natural events like blooming, fruiting, and leaf fall — of plants around the country. Our participants track when plants bloom in their area, and we compare the reports to records from other parts of the country.
You can help us collect data! Sign up to help at Project BudBurst.
For instance, I’ve been tracking when the first forsythia flower opens on the plants near the Garden’s front gate since 2007. The earliest bloom I have on record in that time was last year, on March 15, 2012. The latest first flower for this specimen was this year, on April 20, 2013. In 2007 and 2008, however, we also had first flowers in mid-April (April 16, 2007, and April 17, 2008, respectively). So, as we look back in time, this year’s bloom time doesn’t feel quite so late. In the graph below we show the variation in flowering dates (using Julian dates, which standardize for differences in dates between nonleap and leap years).
In the Chicago area, we have a wealth of phenology data collected by the authors of our local flora, Plants of the Chicago Region by Swink and Wilhelm (1994). While they were gathering data for their book, they recorded when they saw plants in bloom from the late 1950s to the early 1990s. They record the forsythia bloom period as April 25 to May 5. So, when we look still further back in time, our “late” spring is much earlier than it has been in the past.
I took a similar look at several other species, both native and nonnative, for which we have both Project BudBurst data and data from Swink and Wilhelm’s book. About 70 percent of the species have earlier flowering dates in the last six years compared to those recorded by Swink and Wilhelm. Some of the species that have advanced their flowering dates are in the table below.
|Species||Earliest First Flower Observations|
|Swink & Wilhelm
1950s – 1990s
2007 – 2012
Forsythia x intermedia
|April 25||March 15||-40|
|May 14||April 12||-32|
|April 6||March 20||-17|
|March 20||March 6||-14|
|May 1||April 17||-13|
|May 3||March 20||-44|
|May 9||April 20||-19|
|April 15||April 13||-2|
Plant phenology, particularly when plants leaf out and bloom in the spring, is remarkably sensitive to the annual weather. Looking at phenological records over much longer periods of time can tell us a lot about how the climate is changing. Many scientists are comparing contemporary bloom times with historic bloom times recorded by naturalists like Aldo Leopold in the early 1900s, and Henry David Thoreau in the mid 1800s, as well as records kept by farmers, gardeners, and others interested in the natural world. Two of the longest phenological data sets are those maintained for cherry blossoms in Japan (dating back to 900 AD) and for grape harvest dates by winemakers in Switzerland (dating back to 1480 AD).
Plants have so much to tell us, if we take the time to listen!
Tue, 05/14/2013 - 12:32pm
Wow, the woods have come alive after a loooooonnnngggg, winter. Just feet into McDonald Woods you will be greeted by a variety of amazing spring flowers. These include spring beauties, cutleaf toothwort, purple cress, marsh marigold, trillium, Virginia bluebells, wild ginger, trout lily, rue-anemone, and many more. Take a few minutes to enjoy the bounty through the end of May. Once the trees get all their leaves, the spring flowers begin to fade. They bloom now to take advantage of the extra sun that reaches the ground before the trees take over.
To get great photos of these flowers you will do best with a close-up lens, as many of the flowers are small. Also, be prepared to get a little muddy as most of these flowers are low to the ground. I like to shoot level with the flowers to minimize distractions, which means sitting down or even laying down to get the shot. Be sure to stay on the path as the habitat is fragile. There are great plants close to the path so there are plenty of photo opportunities. For more pleasing compositions look for simple backgrounds, and flowers that stand apart from the others.
Fri, 05/10/2013 - 12:37pm
Spring is now in full glory at the Chicago Botanic Garden, prompting us to show you the best gardens to visit right now, and hinting at what is yet to come.
We toured the Garden with Boyce Tankersley, director of plant documentation, to get some tips for making the most of your visit. Hint, hint — the crabapples are set to open this weekend, and the effect of over 200 crabapple trees in bloom along the shores of the Gardens of the Great Basin is a sight not to miss! Plus, it’s a great opportunity to try our new app!
Watch the video above to hear Tankersley offer tips to maximize your visit with our new smartphone Garden app, called GardenGuide. The app is designed to enhance and enrich your Garden visit. Using the GPS technology in your smartphone, GardenGuide will guide you to any plant or point of interest with an interactive map. Use it at home as well — the features work without GPS.
Have you ever wanted to know more about a plant you loved on your visit? Are you looking for information on a plant you want to see as you stroll the Garden today? Use the “Find” feature to pull up stunning photos or gardening information about the 2,524,687 plants in the collections database. Enter the common or Latin name, and GardenGuide will pinpoint both the plant’s location and your location so you can walk to it. A touch on the plant name will display gardening information. You can also search by plant characteristics to find types of plants. For example, is it purple, flowering, perennial, or does it have a preference for partial shade? Save the results to a favorite list for future reference, or share your plant favorites on Facebook or e-mail.
Plan your visit
Visiting with small children or a group? Use the GardenGuide to find water fountains and restrooms among other features, or to see what events are happening at the Garden during your visit. Check the Garden app for what’s in bloom, to see our event schedule, or check our open hours.
Use the Garden app to learn more about featured gardens with audio tours by Kris Jarantoski, executive vice president and director of the Garden. Try a curated walking tour of our most popular display gardens. Every tour stop is accompanied by interpretation of that location. Try a 14-stop tour of the English Walled Garden, a 16-stop tour of the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Japanese Garden, a four-season photo tour, a bird-watching tour, tours for families, or a fitness walk.
Sun, 05/05/2013 - 6:28am
First things first: Mark your electronic calendar for June 1! That way you won’t miss out on the Garden-wide celebration of World Environment Day.
It’s a day to meet our scientists and horticulturists, to see the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center in action, and to check out senior ecologist Jim Steffen’s very cool display table on native spiders, which promises to be a kid magnet (live specimens, a big model spider, lots of good spider stories).
After you’ve saved the date, work this quiz with every kid you know:
Thu, 05/02/2013 - 11:13am
Stranded, a purple coneflower stretches up from an unplowed slice of Minnesota grassland, signaling for help like a shipwrecked sailor on a desert island. Separated from its lifeline — a native prairie filled with plants and pollinators — it illustrates a widespread threat to the entire species.
This specimen arises with a few relatives from a remnant bound by railroad tracks and row crops. It is one of 27 study sites in Douglas County, Minnesota, evaluated each year by Stuart Wagenius, Ph.D., senior scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Although this plant may survive many more years, he says, it is unlikely to produce offspring due to its isolation. This is serious trouble for a species that relies on a habitat that has already dwindled to 1 percent of its original size.
Prairie, says Dr. Wagenius, “is one of the most endangered habitats in the world. We want to learn as much about it as we can in part because the opportunity is fading, but also because there are opportunities for us to conserve it.”
His research focuses on Echinacea angustifolia, or narrow-leaved purple coneflower, a prominent prairie species native to Minnesota. Begun as his doctoral research project in 1996, it has since become a lifelong mission. He wants to create an improved habitat for existing plants, and increase the species’ ability to reproduce and thrive.
Each year, he watches the plants on his study sites for damage from a triple-edged sword—pollination, genetic, and ecological issues.
The Pollination Puzzle
When the prairie stretched from horizon to horizon more than 100 years ago, Wagenius explains, a bee could have flown endlessly from flower to flower, carrying and delivering pollen. Are these insects still able to do their job?
Wagenius’s research has shown that the coneflowers continue to receive adequate visits from native bees. In fact, as he gave me a tour of his lab, he showed me an impressive collection of preserved sweat bees—small, emerald-green locals who have not succumbed to the plight of so many bees like the nonnative honey bees.
Instead, the problem is that the bees can only carry pollen so far. When they have few plants to work with in a small area, the pollen they deliver is not always accepted by the recipients.
The Genetic Glitch
After a few generations, Wagenius explains, all of the coneflowers in a small prairie become related, sharing pollen and some of the same genes. Then, if a bee delivers pollen with the same genes as the recipient plant, the pollen is likely to be rejected. In that case, no new seeds would be produced and no new generation of coneflowers would exist.
“Studying the genetics has offered some pretty good insight into what is going on in these small populations,” he says.
If related pollen is accepted, inbreeding can occur, which often results in weak offspring. Both issues diminish prospects for future generations.
Larger prairies are one potential solution to this problem. The other, Wagenius has found, lies right at his feet.
The Ecological Equation
In the past, natural fires on the land encouraged plants to flower, leading to new mating opportunities and refreshing local genetic diversity. Development meant the end of most of those fires. So, Wagenius and his team encourage trained land managers to restore fire through controlled burns.
When Wagenius returns to fieldwork this June, he plans to start with a blaze. He will conduct such a burn on a private landscape to increase the number of flowering plants and improve their chances of successful pollination and seed production.
A Family Affair
To begin fieldwork, he will meet on one of the larger study sites with his academic collaborators—including his wife Gretel, who is a botanist, and graduate and undergraduate students. His stay will be long enough that his other family members will join him there.
During fieldwork, he and his crew will measure the length and width of the leaves on each plant, and collect seeds that are later counted by Garden volunteers in a laboratory at the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center.
These characteristics help document the fitness of the plants. He will also compare the size of each preserve to the number of incompatible coneflower mates by studying the plants’ genetic patterns.
In addition, Wagenius will meet with local land managers and organizations to share advice on effective techniques. For example, he has suggested a controlled burn rather than plowing and replanting. “I’m glad to promote good conservation practices,” he says.
“I study habitat fragmentation and its consequences,” says Wagenius. Watch a video and learn more about his work.
Fortunately, many people would like to help him save the prairie, from duck hunters to farmers. “I’m in the role of not telling people to do more, but telling them how to do it better,” he explains. “I like being a person in our society helping others to do the right thing.”
This summer, a vision of hope rather than hopelessness will accompany Wagenius as he stands on the prairie with his research team and, well, a few relatives.
Wed, 05/01/2013 - 10:15am
With spring’s arrival, one can’t help but daydream about greener pastures, or in my case, lawns. Now is the time for spring lawn maintenance.
The main purpose of spring lawn care is to get the turf through the summer months. Cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass, perennial rye grass, and the fescues need to develop a strong root system to survive summer’s heat and dry conditions. There are a number of things you can do to ensure that your lawn gets off to a good start in the spring. Listed below are some things to do in April and May.
Spring Lawn Tips
Using a stiff metal leaf rake, go through your lawn and rake up any trash, debris, and fallen branches. This is a good time to asses your lawn to see if there has been any damage from the long winter months. Examples would be salt damage or dead spots, as well as any physical damage from animals or plows. Ideally, compost the leaves, stems, and other plant debris you rake up.
Core aerating is the process of inserting hollow tines into the lawn and removing plugs of soil using specialized equipment. This practice will help reduce soil compaction and thatch. It also opens up the soil to let in nutrients and oxygen, and improves soil drainage. This practice should be done at least twice a year — once in the spring and again in the fall. If you can only do it once in a season, I would recommend early to mid-September.
Once you get a chance to inspect your lawn, you may find a number of areas that need to be filled in. Inspect the area that you are going to work on and determine if it is in full sun, full shade, or a combination of the two. This is very important when choosing the correct type of grass seed to use in the area. When working in a full-sun area, a blend of Kentucky bluegrass and turf-type perennial rye grass works best. For a full-shade area, a fine-leaf fescue works best. If your area is a mixture of part shade and part sun, then you would want to go with a mixture of the three types of grasses.
Scratch up the area so that you get all of the debris off of the soil. You want to have exposure to bare soil. Sprinkle on a light-to-medium layer of seed over the top of the soil, and very lightly rake it into the top 1/4 inch. It is very important that the seed come in contact with the soil. Cover the seed with about 1/8 inch of a very fine compost or peat moss and water with a fine spray. You will need to make sure that the seed stays moist every day for about two weeks, or until the seed begins to germinate. Then you can slowly back off on the watering.
Fertilization is a very important part of a lawn care routine, as it influences the color of the grass and its ability to recover from the stress of the long season, and helps prevent weed infestations and disease. There are some very important features to consider when you travel to your local garden center to buy your fertilizer.
Knowing the square footage of lawn that you have on your property will enable you to purchase the right amount of fertilizer for your home and prevent multiple trips to the garden center. Once you have figured out the square footage, write it down for future reference.
Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) are the three major nutrients needed by your lawn. Nitrogen is the nutrient needed the most, although you do need to be careful because excess nitrogen can lead to abundant top growth and sometimes even kill the lawn if applied improperly.
On a bag of fertilizer you will see three numbers, such as “21-3-20.” The first number is nitrogen, the second is phosphorus, and the third is potassium. They are all in percent by weight. For example, the 21-3-20 fertilizer contains 21 percent nitrogen. This number is important because it determines how much fertilizer is needed. In most cases, a rate of 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet is suggested for each fertilizer application to your lawn. Recommended ratios of N-P-K for lawn fertilizers include 3:1:2 or 4:1:2.
I recommend a controlled-release nitrogen source for your fertilizer, which would be indicated on the label of your fertilizer bag. With a slow release, you will see a more uniform grass growth. It is unlikely to burn the grass or cause losses through the soil and air.
I recommend at least three fertilizer applications per season for best results and to help out-compete most weeds.
As soon as the grass needs cutting, mow it. Do not wait. Most cool-season grasses should be cut at a height of 3 to 3 1/2 inches in height. When you cut the grass at this height, it develops a thicker and denser stand of turf, and can out-compete most weeds. In addition, it will help conserve water by shading the bare soil and reducing evaporation during the heat of the day.
Always use sharp mower blades. I recommend sharpening the blades every week. Keep a spare blade on hand so that you can quickly change them out.
Don’t collect your grass clippings — let them fall back into the soil to decompose and add some nutrients back. Contrary to popular belief, they do not contribute to a thatch buildup in the lawn. Purchasing a set of mulching blades for your mower will help. They are available at most big box retailers.
With these few tips, you should be off and running to having the best lawn on the block. And remember, the grass is always greener in your yard.
Tue, 04/23/2013 - 2:33pm
The hiring process for the 2013 Conservation and Land Management (CLM) Internship Program is nearly complete, and newly hired interns are just beginning their experiences in unique locations across the western U.S.!
Since 2001, the Chicago Botanic Garden and many federal agencies (Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA Forest Service, and U.S. Geological Survey to name a few) have combined their strengths to train more than 700 college graduates through the CLM program, primarily in 13 western states. These internships involve work in botany and wildlife-related fields, or combinations that may include monitoring or assessing threatened and endangered species and habitats. As 2013 CLM interns begin a new journey, many of last year’s interns are finishing up, and still others continue their internship experiences into spring. Three interns recently shared their thoughts and experiences on the CLM blog:
- Lauren Stevens worked in Phoenix, Arizona, and reflects on her time there with a poem.
- Carson Moscoso just started his internship in Las Vegas, Nevada, and explains the excitement of upcoming fieldwork.
- Darnisha Coverson, an intern in Lakewood, Colorado, tells about the duties of an intern during the winter months.
Tue, 04/16/2013 - 10:34am
Is there any more welcome sight than daffodils blooming in the spring? Not to me! I’m thrilled by the sight of these flowers, their colors ranging from the most vivid yellows and oranges to muted pastels to pure white.
In the early years of the nineteenth century, daffodils so captivated the poet William Wordsworth that he wrote “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” a poem celebrating their ability to lift the spirit.
“…A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze…”
“…The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company…”
Also enchanted by the flower, the prophet Mohammed reportedly said, “Let him who hath two loaves sell one, and buy the flower of narcissus: for bread is but food for the body, whereas narcissus is food for the soul.”
During the Victorian era, when flowers were selected carefully for their meanings, daffodils conveyed a number of messages, such as friendship, chivalry, and respect. Depending on the context, a daffodil could also signal unrequited love or misfortune. The last two interpretations stem (so to speak) from the plant’s genus name, Narcissus, with its connection to Greek mythology. Most people are familiar with the story of handsome Narcissus, who spurned the affections of the wood nymph Echo and thereby irritated Nemesis, the goddess of revenge; Nemesis doomed Narcissus to becoming so obsessed with his looks that he faded away, reborn as a flower that sprang up beside the pool where he gazed himself into oblivion.
When Wordsworth came upon “A host, of golden daffodils” he marveled, “Ten thousand, saw I, at a glance.” Were the poet to time-travel forward to the twenty-first century and emerge here at the Chicago Botanic Garden, he would no doubt be amazed for many reasons, not the least of which would be the sight of more than 500,000 daffodils. There are 90,000 daffodils on the North Lake’s Bird Island alone, and thousands of others massed on Evening Island and within the Lakeside, Crescent, and Bulb Gardens, among other places. Daffodils are a bright and hopeful beacon of spring, and at the Garden, visitors of all ages, interests, abilities (and centuries) can enjoy 230 varieties of them in all of their forms: trumpet, large-cupped, small-cupped, double, triandus, clyclamineus, jonquilla, and tazetta.
Visit the Midwest Daffodil Society Show, April 27 – 28, for more eye-popping cultivars.
Wander the Garden’s beauty this spring, and keep your favorite Narcissus in your heart. Then, plan for fall and our annual Fall Bulb Festival. Next spring, your landscape will come alive with daffodils, and your heart—like Wordsworth’s—will fill with pleasure at their beauty.
Wed, 04/10/2013 - 1:53pm
Who doesn’t love a warm winter blanket? With unseasonably cold temperatures continuing into early April, that blanket has been especially welcome this year. If you are like me, though, you just can’t wait for that first day when you lose the covers and open the windows. It is that breath of fresh air that tells us summer is just around the corner.
Our Krasberg Rose Garden is ready for its breath of fresh air, too. All winter, many of our roses have been under their warm blanket of composted horse manure. Compost protects roses from the harsh winter winds and freeze and thaw cycles that can be deadly to many cultivars.
As the hours of sunlight increase and daytime temperatures get warmer, however, we need to start inspecting our roses for signs that it is time to remove the compost and prepare the roses for the beauty yet to come.
The process is fairly straightforward. In late March, or whenever we have had several warm days with limited risk of a killing frost, we use our hands to carefully remove the thawed compost from around a rose bush. We need to inspect several bushes because some areas of our Garden thaw and start actively growing earlier than others.
We look for yellow, bright green or reddish growth around the base of the plant — these are new rose canes. If we do not see any new growth or if new growth is still very small, we may cover the roses for a few more days. The warm compost encourages rose bushes to break dormancy.
However, if we see new growth and it is an inch or longer, then is it time to completely remove the compost and let the canes grow freely. The sooner this new growth begins to photosynthesize in the sun, the healthier and stronger your plant will be the rest of season. Remember that this new growth is very fragile, so we use gentle care when removing the compost.
Once we remove the compost, our team then prunes the canes for optimum health. We first remove any cane that is black or brown — these are dead or dying — and anything that looks diseased.
From there, we prune the shrub until it has five or six healthy, large canes that are at least the diameter of a pencil. The pruning should result in an open center, with the top bud on each remaining cane facing away from the center of the plant. The open center maximizes the amount of sunshine and air circulation within the plant — important components to plant growth and disease prevention.
We also take time to frequently disinfect our pruning tools as we work through this late-winter chore. Tools can easily transfer diseases from one rose shrub to another, so sanitation is very important. Mix a solution of 10 percent rubbing alcohol or bleach and 90 percent water in a spray bottle to spray on your tools.
By taking a few simple steps like these right now, the rose bushes will be on their way to beautiful blooms in June. Now that’s a breath of fresh air.
You can learn more about rose care with a class at the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Click here to see what classes are currently available.
Mon, 04/08/2013 - 10:53am
There is a Native American myth that is believed to have originated with the Onondaga tribe of the Iroquois nation of northeastern North America. It is a creation legend about how the earth (the land) was created. The legend incorporates a number of different animals including swans, pied-billed grebes, muskrats, and many others. The central character in the story is a turtle. The turtle, an island in a world of water, was chosen to carry soil and tree seedlings on its back, which eventually became the land the people lived on. So this story is about preservation and nurturing. Although this legend may have originated with the Onondaga, it is a common myth found throughout many Native American cultures.
The fact that the turtle myth was so widespread across the continent is not really all that surprising when you consider how many different species of turtles there are. There is a turtle species for just about every kind of wetland environment that exists, from sea turtles to bog turtles to river cooters and pond sliders. There are approximately 17 species of turtles native to Illinois and nearly half of those occur at the Garden.
Other than birds, turtles are among the most common animals you are likely to encounter on any given day during the growing season at the Garden. Like the early blooming wildflowers in McDonald Woods, turtles are truly one of the first signs of spring. Soon after the ice melts on our lakes, turtles begin moving from the bottom of the lakes where they spent the winter hibernating. During the dark days of winter under the ice, turtles are able to slow their bodily functions down to the point where they can obtain enough oxygen to survive by absorbing it through the mucus membranes and tiny capillaries of their throat and cloaca (the common opening for defecation and egg laying). They also use some fascinating chemistry, part of which involves dissolving calcium from their shells to help neutralize toxic acids that would be fatal under normal circumstances. Still cold and sluggish from their long winter sleep, they begin swimming around near the surface, often poking their heads out to take their first real breath of air since descending to the bottom of the lakes in fall.
Several years ago, I initiated a turtle project with one of the summer interns. We set out to try to determine how many turtles and how many species occur in our lakes. Utilizing a number of different live traps, we were able to count most of the individuals and almost all of the species that can be found here. Over three months, we were able to capture nearly eighty individuals of eight different species.
The turtles can be divided into two general groups, those that like to bask (sun themselves on logs, rocks, or on the shore) and those that rarely bask. The basking turtles are the species most often encountered at the Garden. The most abundant member of this group is the red-eared slider.
This is the turtle of dime-store fame. There was a time when it seemed like every kid had one of these sliders as a pet – do you remember Cuff and Link from the movie Rocky? They are distinctive, with a bright red slash along the side of their heads. Although they are the most abundant species here, they are not native to this part of Illinois. Sliders have been introduced to many parts of the country where they had not previously been found. This is the result of all those dime-store turtles that grew up to be bigger turtles that were eventually released when their owners either ran out of room for them or the appeal of these long-lived animals wore off. Like many introduced species, the slider is aggressive toward our native species and as a result has achieved a dominant place in the turtle population.
The slider is not the only introduced turtle at the Garden. Some other species that can be found here that were not known in the region historically include the three-toed box turtle, the false map, common map, and the Ouachita map turtles.
Releasing pet turtles is not a good idea. The slider has greatly changed the dynamics of natural turtle populations all over the country. Some species, like the box turtles, which are terrestrial species that do not hibernate in lakes, are sometimes found at the Garden only after they have died after not being able to survive the winter here. There is also the possibility of spreading diseases.
The native turtles found at the Garden include the Midland painted turtle, Western painted turtle, stinkpot or musk turtle, spiny soft-shelled turtle, and the snapping turtle. The stinkpot and the snapping turtles are members of that group of more aquatic turtles that do not typically bask on logs or rocks. So although the snapping turtle is a common species at the Garden, it and the stinkpot are not seen nearly as much as the basking species.
Where do these turtles get their names? The map turtle gets its name from the pattern along the underside of the shell and along its neck and head that looks like topographic lines on a map. The box turtle has a hinged plastron (belly) that allows it to pull its head and legs inside the shell and close the “doors” sealing out predators.
Soft-shell turtles have a soft, leathery shell that bends and flexes like an old leather baseball mitt. They have a very low profile and look like a large, olive-colored drab Frisbee when they are basking on the lawn. Painted turtles often have attractive red markings along the edge of their carapace (shell) and plastron. As far as the stinkpot turtle goes, I’ll let you guess why they have that common name. I’m sure that if you do some digging, you’ll be able to sniff out the answer.
The turtles are egg-laying reptiles. Their eggs are probably best described as leathery-shelled ping-pong balls. During the summer, the adult turtles will haul themselves out along the shore and look for suitable places to dig a hole in which to deposit their eggs. At the Garden, turtles often choose to lay their eggs in the mulch around the tree and shrub planting beds, probably because it is a softer, easier place to dig. This egg-laying season is a dangerous time for turtles.
During this time they are out of the water, many encounter predators, and often cross roads looking for
nesting locations. Once the eggs are laid, the turtle covers the eggs with soil and then retreats to the water, leaving the eggs and young to fend for themselves. Usually the eggs will hatch in 45-90 days, but sometimes, for individuals that lay their eggs too late in the season, they may overwinter. Although turtles generally lay a good number of eggs (2-40 or more, depending on the size of the individual and species), the failure of those eggs is high due to predators. Skunks and raccoons are probably the two most frequent predators of turtle eggs, but almost any predator that comes across a nest is likely to take at least some.
What do these critters eat? Most species are omnivores. They eat a combination of plant and animal material. The common map turtle specializes in mollusks, like clams and snails that it crushes with its broad hard mouthparts. The spiny soft-shell is a fast swimmer and often feeds on fish. The red-eared slider is also omnivorous, but tends to become more of an herbivore as it gets older. It should also be noted that turtles perform a valuable ecosystem service as carrion feeders by feeding on dead fish and aquatic animals that would otherwise remain for long periods as they decompose. So you can think of turtles as sort of turkey vultures of the aquatic world – the sanitation squad.
Visitors frequently encounter turtles crossing the road at the Garden during the summer. Although the urge is strong to help the turtle back into the lake, don’t approach them too closely since turtle are very good at defending themselves and have long necks that can dart out and grab anyone or anything that gets too close. Turtles have very sharp-edged mouthparts and once they get hold of something, they don’t let go. Many a dog has lost a piece of its nose when getting too inquisitive about turtles.
If you happen to be visiting the Garden in summer and spot a turtle basking in the sun, try to see if you can figure out which species it is. Perhaps more importantly, if you spot a turtle, try to remember the Onondaga legend and the great responsibility bestowed on it to preserve the land and plants for the people.
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