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All-Season Nature Crafts for Kids

Garden Blog - Wed, 04/06/2016 - 9:12am

As a mom and working artist, I try to think of ways I can introduce my 3-year-old daughter to the outdoors and the power of imagination through craft projects. And as an employee at the Chicago Botanic Garden, I am inspired by all sorts of family programs and drop-in activities for kids and families that celebrate the outdoors.

What’s fun about nature art is that it starts with an adventure and ends with a surprise. For instance,  the “family of owls” that we created may appear in story time later.

Here are some of the nature-inspired activities and kid-friendly crafts that have come out of my journey as a mother and continue to get the best reviews from Laila, my toughest little critic.

Dirt is cool

Even when she was a baby, my daughter was intrigued by dirt. She is still fascinated by it, in any form. In the long winter, when we’re tired of being cooped up, we bring a little of the outdoors inside and put together a mud pie prep kitchen. Supplies include dropcloth, potting soil, spray bottle, pouring cups, pie plates, and sticks, rocks and/or sand for decorating.

 Mudpie in progress.

Don’t forget to have an old towel underneath your creation station.

 Laila holds her finished mudpie.

The finished muddy treat

Happiness is when mom says it’s OK to play with your food

This is the best way to distract a picky eater, or wow guests with an inexpensive dish you can design with your kids. Laila and I made these creations out of various fruits, vegetables, herbs, and cheeses.

 A cheese and fruit plate in a holiday theme is fun for kids to graze.

Bite-sized holiday snacks are great for kids who graze.

 A vegetable butterfly makes for delicious, healthy snacking.

A vegetable butterfly makes for delicious, healthy snacking.

It’s an outdoors treasure hunt

Laila and I start by taking adventure walks and filling our pockets or a basket with sticks, leaves, flowers, and other found art objects. Everywhere you look, there are free art supplies.

 Laila through the year, enjoying the outdoors.

Every season has something outside to explore.

 Sticks and grass make a portrait of our house; Laila works on a mulch sun.

We made a portrait of our house. Sticks and grass set the scene; Laila works on a mulch-made sun.

 Onion skins provide the fall leaves for our tree painting.

Take gatherings inside to make nature scenes or collages inspired by the seasons. Here, onion skins provide the fall leaves for our tree painting.

Rock ’n’ roll with it

Hand-picked rocks can be collected, cleaned, painted, and polished to transform into precious stones with a story attached. Even little nature lovers can apply homemade or washable paint to their rocks before an adult adds a clear topcoat finish. The rock art can be used as a paperweight or embellishment to a potted plant. Add a pipe cleaner and clothespin to make it a photo holder.

 Laila collects stones on the beach; the painted stones below.

Every child likes to collect rocks.

 A photo holder made from a painted stone, clothespin, and colorful pipe cleaner.

Collected stones can be painted or polished as keepsakes. Here, we’ve added a pipe cleaner and clothespin for a photo holder.

Impromptu art

One day we found pine cones and added fabric, buttons, and ribbon to create a family of owls that found a new home in our Christmas tree. Another time we used sticks, wire, glitter, and beads to build a twinkling mobile.

 A family of hand-made pinecone owls using buttons for eyes and ribbon feet.

A family of pine cone owls made great Christmas ornaments.

When the projects are done, we talk about what we made, where our supplies came from, and who we can share our creations with.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are of outdoor exploration with my mom. I hope Laila someday will feel the same way.

Want to get more nature into your child’s education? Learn about our Nature Preschool program.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

All-Season Nature Crafts for Kids

Youth Education - Wed, 04/06/2016 - 9:12am

As a mom and working artist, I try to think of ways I can introduce my 3-year-old daughter to the outdoors and the power of imagination through craft projects. And as an employee at the Chicago Botanic Garden, I am inspired by all sorts of family programs and drop-in activities for kids and families that celebrate the outdoors.

What’s fun about nature art is that it starts with an adventure and ends with a surprise. For instance,  the “family of owls” that we created may appear in story time later.

Here are some of the nature-inspired activities and kid-friendly crafts that have come out of my journey as a mother and continue to get the best reviews from Laila, my toughest little critic.

Dirt is cool

Even when she was a baby, my daughter was intrigued by dirt. She is still fascinated by it, in any form. In the long winter, when we’re tired of being cooped up, we bring a little of the outdoors inside and put together a mud pie prep kitchen. Supplies include dropcloth, potting soil, spray bottle, pouring cups, pie plates, and sticks, rocks and/or sand for decorating.

 Mudpie in progress.

Don’t forget to have an old towel underneath your creation station.

 Laila holds her finished mudpie.

The finished muddy treat

Happiness is when mom says it’s OK to play with your food

This is the best way to distract a picky eater, or wow guests with an inexpensive dish you can design with your kids. Laila and I made these creations out of various fruits, vegetables, herbs, and cheeses.

 A cheese and fruit plate in a holiday theme is fun for kids to graze.

Bite-sized holiday snacks are great for kids who graze.

 A vegetable butterfly makes for delicious, healthy snacking.

A vegetable butterfly makes for delicious, healthy snacking.

It’s an outdoors treasure hunt

Laila and I start by taking adventure walks and filling our pockets or a basket with sticks, leaves, flowers, and other found art objects. Everywhere you look, there are free art supplies.

 Laila through the year, enjoying the outdoors.

Every season has something outside to explore.

 Sticks and grass make a portrait of our house; Laila works on a mulch sun.

We made a portrait of our house. Sticks and grass set the scene; Laila works on a mulch-made sun.

 Onion skins provide the fall leaves for our tree painting.

Take gatherings inside to make nature scenes or collages inspired by the seasons. Here, onion skins provide the fall leaves for our tree painting.

Rock ’n’ roll with it

Hand-picked rocks can be collected, cleaned, painted, and polished to transform into precious stones with a story attached. Even little nature lovers can apply homemade or washable paint to their rocks before an adult adds a clear topcoat finish. The rock art can be used as a paperweight or embellishment to a potted plant. Add a pipe cleaner and clothespin to make it a photo holder.

 Laila collects stones on the beach; the painted stones below.

Every child likes to collect rocks.

 A photo holder made from a painted stone, clothespin, and colorful pipe cleaner.

Collected stones can be painted or polished as keepsakes. Here, we’ve added a pipe cleaner and clothespin for a photo holder.

Impromptu art

One day we found pine cones and added fabric, buttons, and ribbon to create a family of owls that found a new home in our Christmas tree. Another time we used sticks, wire, glitter, and beads to build a twinkling mobile.

 A family of hand-made pinecone owls using buttons for eyes and ribbon feet.

A family of pine cone owls made great Christmas ornaments.

When the projects are done, we talk about what we made, where our supplies came from, and who we can share our creations with.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are of outdoor exploration with my mom. I hope Laila someday will feel the same way.

Want to get more nature into your child’s world? Join us for a Nature Preschool open house April 7, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Wisconsin girl meets the Golden West!

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 04/05/2016 - 1:55pm

Although I arrived in Wenatchee, Washington for my CLM internship two weeks ago today, I still look around as I step outside every morning with a sense of wonder and excitement. The city is in a valley–to the east, across the glittering Columbia, are foothills and orchards quickly giving way to a rolling expanse of sagebrush steppe, while to the west looms the magnificent Cascade mountain range. Having lived in the Midwest my entire life, I’m overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the landscapes that surround me, and I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it. It’s a different world here, and I love it already.

Despite the fact that we’ve been living in a motel for the past two weeks waiting for our apartment to become available, my fellow CLM intern and I have been settling in here effortlessly. Although larger than most places I’ve lived, the city has a small-town feel that makes it seem very homey to me. Most everyone we’ve met here has been friendly, and they all seem to have a suggestion of a trail we need to hike, a restaurant we need to try, or a town we need to explore. I don’t think we’ll ever run out of recreational opportunities!

Since both of us are new to the area, Katherine (my fellow intern) and I have been working hard to learn the flora and fauna of the sagebrush steppe. So far, most of our work days have been spent in the local BLM office, completing various training requirements, studying field guides, reading up on fire ecology, and learning to use ArcMap and ArcPad, which will be vital to our upcoming fieldwork. We’ve had three days in the field so far, shadowing our supervisors and learning to navigate to various study sites on some of the roughest roads I’ve ever driven! We’ve had some exciting wildlife sightings so far–on our first day out, we saw a sage grouse AND two golden eagles! We also learned how long it can take simply to arrive at a site. Earlier this week, we traveled to a place called McCartney Creek to help collect data on the riparian system. The creek was located in a canyon, and simply finding a safe route down took almost an hour! I never imagined that there would be so much topography to navigate in the sagebrush steppe, but I’m learning quickly that this place is full of surprises.

April is already shaping up to be a busy month. Today, Katherine and I are finally moving into our apartment! Hooray! I’m not sure what I’m more excited for–having a kitchen or having my own bedroom! However, we won’t have long to enjoy it. Next week, we’re traveling to Prineville, Oregon for a GeoBOB (Geographic Biotic Observation) training course. The week after we’ll be in Wenatchee, but then we’ll be back on the road, first to an AIM (Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring) training in Prineville and then to a Rangeland Health course in Reno, Nevada. Hotels are really starting to feel like home!

We hiked up to Saddle Rock our first weekend here. Gorgeous!

We hiked up to Saddle Rock our first weekend here. Gorgeous!

View of McCartney Creek from the top of the canyon

View of McCartney Creek from the top of the canyon

Katherine takes a GPS point

Katherine takes a GPS point

We found this cow skull in the creek--so cool!

We found this cow skull in the creek–so cool!

Home sweet home these past 2 weeks

Home sweet home these past 2 weeks!

Katherine Schneider. Bureau of Land Management, Wenatchee, WA.

Cactus Makes Perfect

CLM Internship Blog - Tue, 04/05/2016 - 10:34am

Greetings, readers, from the Mojave of California!

This blog marks the end of my fourth (!!) week working as a Botany Intern for the Needles, CA BLM Field Office. The majority of my time so far has been spent wrapping my mind around our field office– a whopping 3.2 million acres. On top of that, a large portion of the field office has just been designated as Mojave Trails National Monument by President Obama, and I feel fortunate to be here in a time of such dynamic transition. Palo verde blooming in Whipple Wash

Palo verde blooming in Whipple Wash

I have found (as I had suspected) that the desert is often mischaracterized in places outside of the desert. I’ve spent the majority of my life in the green of the Midwest, and the perception of the desert around those parts is that it is bleak, void of life. I’m here to tell you, readers, that this is not so. Hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus engelmanii)

Hedgehog cactus (Echinocereus engelmanii)

Myself and my fellow intern, Jessica, will be working on sensitive and invasive plant monitoring, so we have been familiarizing ourselves with the plant families of the Mojave and the species we will be looking for. I have also been becoming reacquainted with GIS, which I am very excited to use a lot throughout my internship. This past week, I helped digitize a trail in our field office, and created a trail map and brochure for future hikers visiting the Turtle Mountains. I hope to continue to develop my GIS skills in the next few months. How cute is Coryphantha chlorantha?!

How cute is Coryphantha chlorantha?!

The past couple weeks, Jessica and I have been able to get out in the field and start looking for sensitive plants. It’s a bit challenging right now, as we are still familiarizing ourselves with the plant communities of the Needles Field Office, but we’ve already had a few successes. So far, we have recorded populations of Saguaro (Carnegia gigantea), Hairy Blazingstar (Mentzelia hirsutissima), and multiple populations of Desert Senna (Senna covesii) and Desert Pincushion (Coryphantha chlorantha). Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia)

Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia)

One of the highlights of the past few weeks was a trip out to the Turtle Mountains Wilderness to spend time with a service trip from the Sierra Club. Many of the participants have been involved with the Sierra Club for upwards of 40 years, and have been in conservation even longer. It was inspiring to hear their stories and accomplishments, especially from the women who have paved the way for women in conservation like myself and my fellow interns. One participant shared a quote from David Brower, the first executive director of the Sierra Club: “Polite conservationists leave no mark save the scars upon the Earth that could have been prevented had they stood their ground.” This is something I am thinking about. Our mentor, Lara Kobelt, pointing out the trail to Sierra Club members.

Our mentor, Lara Kobelt, pointing out the trail to Sierra Club members.

Happy trails, Kate Sinnott Needles Field Office Bureau of Land Management

Deeply Rooted: Garden educators, scientists, and horticulturists are made early in life

Garden Blog - Mon, 04/04/2016 - 9:39am

A growing body of research tells us that children are better off when they have daily contact with nature.

Nature play encourages creativity and problem solving, boosts academic performance, helps children focus, increases physical activity, improves eyesight, reduces stress, and promotes positive social relationships. 

Chicago Botanic Garden scientists, educators, and horticulturists credit their personal growth and professional development to early doses of “Vitamin G” (a term used to describe the benefits of exposure to green environments). Their words and childhood pictures best capture the joyful effect of nature on their lives.

Deeply Rooted Educators

Jennifer Schwarz Ballard, Ph.D. Jennifer at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, age 4

Jennifer, age 4, at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle

Jennifer Schwarz Ballard

Vice president, education and community programs

“Even though I spent the early part of my childhood in Hyde Park, Chicago, I can’t remember a time when as a family, we didn’t take every opportunity to head out of the city to northern Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula, or northern Michigan for camping, canoeing, or hiking. Later, we moved to (almost) rural New York, where my sister, friends, and I became intimately familiar with the acres of woods, fields, and streams behind our house, disappearing for hours to explore our private, imagined world. As an adult, when I had the opportunity at the Chicago Botanic Garden to combine my expertise in learning science with my love of nature and share it with others, I thought, ‘This is the place for me.’”

Eileen Prendergast Eileen at Silver Lake in Grand Junction, Michigan, age 4

Eileen, age 4, at Silver Lake in Grand Junction, Michigan

Eileen Prendergast

Director of education

“The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”—Richard Louv, journalist and author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

“Some of my fondest memories of childhood include our summer vacations at Silver Lakes in southwestern Michigan. My brothers and cousins and I would spend all day, every day, playing in the sand and splashing in the water. We’d take the rowboat out to the ‘lily pads’ to see if we could catch any frogs—we were (disappointingly) never successful, though we did manage to get the rowboat stuck once for what seemed like an hour, but was probably just a few panicked minutes.

I have a particular fond memory of my close cousin Jean and I filling buckets with sand, mixing in just the right amount of water, and carefully making a batch of sand pancakes to cook on our folding chair stove. The simple pleasures derived from the freedom to play and explore outside throughout my childhood reinforces for me the importance of ensuring those same opportunities for play time in nature are available for my own children at home and the children participating in the programs at the Garden—making sure there are places to run, to hide, to dig, to splash, to have fun.”

Julia McMahon Julia as a toddler in Pittsburgh, Pensylvania

Julia as a toddler in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Julia McMahon

Coordinator, family programs

“I grew up in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with a landscaped front yard and a wooded backyard. I spent hours jumping from stone to stone in my mother’s rock garden, picking blueberries from bushes in our front yard before the birds gobbled them up, and ‘designing’ and planting the annual bed along the walkway to our front door. When I was 7 or 8 years old, my best friend and I were allowed to explore the woods by ourselves. One time we ‘discovered’ a plant we called the umbrella plant. It was about 5 inches tall with horizontally held, fan-like branches covered in scale-like leaves. We excitedly brought it home and, although it didn’t last long, the impression did.

“Preschool educators have long known that animals, plants, water, and other aspects of the natural world delight children and draw them in as learners.”—Natural Start Alliance

This exposure to nature and being allowed to explore outside on my own shaped many aspects of my life, including my decisions to study plant science at Cornell University and earn a master’s degree in elementary education at Loyola University, Chicago. My position as family programs coordinator at the Chicago Botanic Garden combines my fondness for the natural world and my love of children and teaching. I look forward to teaching and sharing similar experiences with children at the new Regenstein Learning Campus.”

Amaris Alanis-Ribeiro Amaris, age 14, at the Chicago River clean-up

Amaris, age 14, at the Chicago River cleanup

Amaris Alanis Ribeiro

Manager, secondary education

“Here I am in my teens at a Chicago River cleanup in the woods, holding a toad. I was lucky enough to have attended a Chicago public high school that got me out in the forest preserves and into nature. The experiences are part of why I studied ecology, and also why I wanted to inspire other Chicago teens to do the same. Now, I recruit Chicago public high school students for Science First and College First.”

Deeply Rooted Conservation Scientists

Kayri Havens, Ph.D. Kay on vacation in Maroon Bells, Colorado, age 7

Kay, age 7, on vacation at Maroon Bells in Colorado

Kayri Havens

Medard and Elizabeth Welch Senior Director, Ecology and Conservation

“My best childhood memories were all outdoors…playing in the garden, growing vegetables, picking up seashells, going bird-watching. That love of nature has stayed with me, and I consider myself very fortunate to be able to have a career that allows me to continue to explore and study plants and the natural world.”

Pati Vitt, Ph.D. Pati in Virginia, age 6

Pati, age 6, in Virginia

Patt Vitt

Susan and Roger Stone Curator, Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank

“There are very few pictures of me as a child, most of them posed…except this one. It is outside in an open field, where I and my siblings tramped around at will, falling in love with the outdoors.”

Andrea Kramer, Ph.D. Andrea in her backyard in Nebraska, age 2

Andrea, age 2, in her backyard in Nebraska

Andrea Kramer

Conservation scientist, restoration ecology

“I grew up in a small town in Nebraska in the corn belt where, as you can imagine, trees were not very common. I spent a lot of quality time either climbing in or sitting under this particular tree when I was young. A few years after this photo was taken, a family of owls took up residence in it. I can’t imagine a childhood that didn’t involve nature play—climbing trees or sitting quietly with binoculars to watch owls interact with each other and the plants that they called home helped me see the world from a larger vantage point, and made me want to understand it by becoming a scientist.”

Jeremie Fant, Ph.D. Jeremie, age 6, at home in Adelaide, Australia, with a friendly kangaroo

Jeremie, age 6, at home in Adelaide, Australia, with a friendly kangaroo

Jeremie Fant

Conservation scientist, molecular ecology lab manager

“Growing up in a part of Australia where the weather was often nice, it was easy to spend most of your time outside. I am not sure I can remember when I was not outside in flip-flops and board shorts. No matter what we were doing, there was always something to get me excited. Sometimes it was something as amazing as a dolphin swimming close to the beach or a kangaroo caught by surprise on our hikes. It was clear from a young age that the thing that got me so excited was the flora, and a botanist was born. The smell of the eucalyptus still sends memories flooding of hikes after rains, recalling the wonderful discovery of small patches of donkey orchids in winter.

Ultimately, I combined this love of native flora with working in the garden. I would often spend afternoons walking through the Adelaide Botanic Garden for inspiration and to marvel at its collections. I went to university to study horticultural sciences and volunteered on weekends at the botanic gardens as an undergraduate. All of these interactions played an obvious role in my life’s trajectory as a scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden.”

Deeply Rooted Horticulturists

Lisa Hilgenberg Lisa, age 3, with her dad in Iowa

Lisa, age 3, with her dad in Iowa

Lisa Hilgenberg

Horticulturist, Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden

“My mother was a teacher and felt that it was so important to incorporate learning play. Here’s what she had to say: ‘Lisa, there was probably no time in your early years that you were not connected to nature. Starting with the simple joy of playing outdoors, you watered flowers for grandma and dad, made daisy chains, raked and played in the leaves, built snowmen, ice skated, and sculpted sand castles at Lake Harriet, Minneapolis. You planted gardens, learned to fish at Deer Lake. You loved having collections of rocks and leaves (author’s note: yes, I majored in geology and my childhood rock collections are still in the basement). You showed a love of dogs, gerbils, fish, white mice, even squirrels (you fed them peanut butter crackers at the back door). You were bonded to nature as a young child and it continues to this day!’”

Heather Sherwood Heather in a greenhouse in California, age 7

Heather, age 7, in a greenhouse in California

Heather Sherwood

Senior horticulturist, English Walled Garden and English Oak Meadow

“In my early childhood, I remember playing at my friend’s house. They had a very old forsythia bush, perfect for ‘house building,’ great tunnels, and hours of imaginative fun! When we were a bit older, the same best friend and I would meet down by the creek (between our two houses about a mile from each of us). We would spend hours walking in the creek bed, looking for crayfish, spiders, plants. (We brought skunkweed home to harass our siblings.) We would build forts with branches and grasses. When I was 12 years old, on a family vacation, we went to an enormous conservatory at the Grand Ole Opry Hotel. I walked into a breathtaking environment, and I knew. I knew I wanted to make people feel that same rush, excitement, wonder, as I did, and I was going to do it with plants. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Tom Weaver Tom in Little Canada, Minnesota, age 7

Tom, age 7, in Little Canada, Minnesota

Tom Weaver

Horticulturist, Waterfall Garden and Dwarf Conifer Garden

“This picture (left) was the first time I had flowers of my own, and it was so exciting! Even to this day I still try to make sure I have at least one zinnia plant somewhere in my life, whether it’s in a garden I work in at the Chicago Botanic Garden or at home because I fell so in love with the flowers as a child.”

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Deeply Rooted: Garden educators, scientists, and horticulturists are made early in life

Youth Education - Mon, 04/04/2016 - 9:39am

A growing body of research tells us that children are better off when they have daily contact with nature.

Nature play encourages creativity and problem solving, boosts academic performance, helps children focus, increases physical activity, improves eyesight, reduces stress, and promotes positive social relationships. 

Chicago Botanic Garden scientists, educators, and horticulturists credit their personal growth and professional development to early doses of “Vitamin G” (a term used to describe the benefits of exposure to green environments). Their words and childhood pictures best capture the joyful effect of nature on their lives.

Deeply Rooted Educators

Jennifer Schwarz Ballard, Ph.D. Jennifer at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, age 4

Jennifer, age 4, at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle

Jennifer Schwarz Ballard

Vice president, education and community programs

“Even though I spent the early part of my childhood in Hyde Park, Chicago, I can’t remember a time when as a family, we didn’t take every opportunity to head out of the city to northern Wisconsin, the Upper Peninsula, or northern Michigan for camping, canoeing, or hiking. Later, we moved to (almost) rural New York, where my sister, friends, and I became intimately familiar with the acres of woods, fields, and streams behind our house, disappearing for hours to explore our private, imagined world. As an adult, when I had the opportunity at the Chicago Botanic Garden to combine my expertise in learning science with my love of nature and share it with others, I thought, ‘This is the place for me.’”

Eileen Prendergast Eileen at Silver Lake in Grand Junction, Michigan, age 4

Eileen, age 4, at Silver Lake in Grand Junction, Michigan

Eileen Prendergast

Director of education

“The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”—Richard Louv, journalist and author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

“Some of my fondest memories of childhood include our summer vacations at Silver Lakes in southwestern Michigan. My brothers and cousins and I would spend all day, every day, playing in the sand and splashing in the water. We’d take the rowboat out to the ‘lily pads’ to see if we could catch any frogs—we were (disappointingly) never successful, though we did manage to get the rowboat stuck once for what seemed like an hour, but was probably just a few panicked minutes.

I have a particular fond memory of my close cousin Jean and I filling buckets with sand, mixing in just the right amount of water, and carefully making a batch of sand pancakes to cook on our folding chair stove. The simple pleasures derived from the freedom to play and explore outside throughout my childhood reinforces for me the importance of ensuring those same opportunities for play time in nature are available for my own children at home and the children participating in the programs at the Garden—making sure there are places to run, to hide, to dig, to splash, to have fun.”

Julia McMahon Julia as a toddler in Pittsburgh, Pensylvania

Julia as a toddler in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Julia McMahon

Coordinator, family programs

“I grew up in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with a landscaped front yard and a wooded backyard. I spent hours jumping from stone to stone in my mother’s rock garden, picking blueberries from bushes in our front yard before the birds gobbled them up, and ‘designing’ and planting the annual bed along the walkway to our front door. When I was 7 or 8 years old, my best friend and I were allowed to explore the woods by ourselves. One time we ‘discovered’ a plant we called the umbrella plant. It was about 5 inches tall with horizontally held, fan-like branches covered in scale-like leaves. We excitedly brought it home and, although it didn’t last long, the impression did.

“Preschool educators have long known that animals, plants, water, and other aspects of the natural world delight children and draw them in as learners.”—Natural Start Alliance

This exposure to nature and being allowed to explore outside on my own shaped many aspects of my life, including my decisions to study plant science at Cornell University and earn a master’s degree in elementary education at Loyola University, Chicago. My position as family programs coordinator at the Chicago Botanic Garden combines my fondness for the natural world and my love of children and teaching. I look forward to teaching and sharing similar experiences with children at the new Regenstein Learning Campus.”

Amaris Alanis-Ribeiro Amaris, age 14, at the Chicago River clean-up

Amaris, age 14, at the Chicago River cleanup

Amaris Alanis Ribeiro

Manager, secondary education

“Here I am in my teens at a Chicago River cleanup in the woods, holding a toad. I was lucky enough to have attended a Chicago public high school that got me out in the forest preserves and into nature. The experiences are part of why I studied ecology, and also why I wanted to inspire other Chicago teens to do the same. Now, I recruit Chicago public high school students for Science First and College First.”

Deeply Rooted Conservation Scientists

Kayri Havens, Ph.D. Kay on vacation in Maroon Bells, Colorado, age 7

Kay, age 7, on vacation at Maroon Bells in Colorado

Kayri Havens

Medard and Elizabeth Welch Senior Director, Ecology and Conservation

“My best childhood memories were all outdoors…playing in the garden, growing vegetables, picking up seashells, going bird-watching. That love of nature has stayed with me, and I consider myself very fortunate to be able to have a career that allows me to continue to explore and study plants and the natural world.”

Pati Vitt, Ph.D. Pati in Virginia, age 6

Pati, age 6, in Virginia

Patt Vitt

Susan and Roger Stone Curator, Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank

“There are very few pictures of me as a child, most of them posed…except this one. It is outside in an open field, where I and my siblings tramped around at will, falling in love with the outdoors.”

Andrea Kramer, Ph.D. Andrea in her backyard in Nebraska, age 2

Andrea, age 2, in her backyard in Nebraska

Andrea Kramer

Conservation scientist, restoration ecology

“I grew up in a small town in Nebraska in the corn belt where, as you can imagine, trees were not very common. I spent a lot of quality time either climbing in or sitting under this particular tree when I was young. A few years after this photo was taken, a family of owls took up residence in it. I can’t imagine a childhood that didn’t involve nature play—climbing trees or sitting quietly with binoculars to watch owls interact with each other and the plants that they called home helped me see the world from a larger vantage point, and made me want to understand it by becoming a scientist.”

Jeremie Fant, Ph.D. Jeremie, age 6, at home in Adelaide, Australia, with a friendly kangaroo

Jeremie, age 6, at home in Adelaide, Australia, with a friendly kangaroo

Jeremie Fant

Conservation scientist, molecular ecology lab manager

“Growing up in a part of Australia where the weather was often nice, it was easy to spend most of your time outside. I am not sure I can remember when I was not outside in flip-flops and board shorts. No matter what we were doing, there was always something to get me excited. Sometimes it was something as amazing as a dolphin swimming close to the beach or a kangaroo caught by surprise on our hikes. It was clear from a young age that the thing that got me so excited was the flora, and a botanist was born. The smell of the eucalyptus still sends memories flooding of hikes after rains, recalling the wonderful discovery of small patches of donkey orchids in winter.

Ultimately, I combined this love of native flora with working in the garden. I would often spend afternoons walking through the Adelaide Botanic Garden for inspiration and to marvel at its collections. I went to university to study horticultural sciences and volunteered on weekends at the botanic gardens as an undergraduate. All of these interactions played an obvious role in my life’s trajectory as a scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden.”

Deeply Rooted Horticulturists

Lisa Hilgenberg Lisa, age 3, with her dad in Iowa

Lisa, age 3, with her dad in Iowa

Lisa Hilgenberg

Horticulturist, Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden

“My mother was a teacher and felt that it was so important to incorporate learning play. Here’s what she had to say: ‘Lisa, there was probably no time in your early years that you were not connected to nature. Starting with the simple joy of playing outdoors, you watered flowers for grandma and dad, made daisy chains, raked and played in the leaves, built snowmen, ice skated, and sculpted sand castles at Lake Harriet, Minneapolis. You planted gardens, learned to fish at Deer Lake. You loved having collections of rocks and leaves (author’s note: yes, I majored in geology and my childhood rock collections are still in the basement). You showed a love of dogs, gerbils, fish, white mice, even squirrels (you fed them peanut butter crackers at the back door). You were bonded to nature as a young child and it continues to this day!’”

Heather Sherwood Heather in a greenhouse in California, age 7

Heather, age 7, in a greenhouse in California

Heather Sherwood

Senior horticulturist, English Walled Garden and English Oak Meadow

“In my early childhood, I remember playing at my friend’s house. They had a very old forsythia bush, perfect for ‘house building,’ great tunnels, and hours of imaginative fun! When we were a bit older, the same best friend and I would meet down by the creek (between our two houses about a mile from each of us). We would spend hours walking in the creek bed, looking for crayfish, spiders, plants. (We brought skunkweed home to harass our siblings.) We would build forts with branches and grasses. When I was 12 years old, on a family vacation, we went to an enormous conservatory at the Grand Ole Opry Hotel. I walked into a breathtaking environment, and I knew. I knew I wanted to make people feel that same rush, excitement, wonder, as I did, and I was going to do it with plants. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Tom Weaver Tom in Little Canada, Minnesota, age 7

Tom, age 7, in Little Canada, Minnesota

Tom Weaver

Horticulturist, Waterfall Garden and Dwarf Conifer Garden

“This picture (left) was the first time I had flowers of my own, and it was so exciting! Even to this day I still try to make sure I have at least one zinnia plant somewhere in my life, whether it’s in a garden I work in at the Chicago Botanic Garden or at home because I fell so in love with the flowers as a child.”

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Antiques, Garden & Design Show: Experts’ Tips

Garden Blog - Sun, 04/03/2016 - 10:18am

Everything old is new again, especially when you integrate antiques into a twenty-first century home.

Here are some style-savvy tips from two high-profile interior designers, both presenting lectures at the Antiques, Garden & Design Show, April 15 to 17, at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

 Martyn Lawrence Bullard.

Martyn Lawrence Bullard

Mixing it up: “Today it’s not really about doing interiors that are filled with one particular period or style,” says Los Angeles-based interior designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, author of Live, Love & Decorate and the upcoming Design & Decoration (Rizzoli, due in April). “It’s really about learning to be eclectic and how to edit and how to mix and match.”

Balance equals harmony: “Editing is one of the most important elements in creating harmonious interiors,” says New York-based interior designer Timothy Whealon, author of In Pursuit of Beauty (Rizzoli). “The trick is mixing pieces from different periods and countries, juxtaposing textures, i.e., the time-worn against a crisp lacquer, without drawing attention to any particular element.”

 Timothy Whealon.

Timothy Whealon

Follow your heart: “When I’m looking for antiques with a client, I’m looking for them to respond to it on an emotional level,” Whealon says. “If it speaks to you, buy it.…If you love it, usually you can find a place to work it in.” Bullard agrees: “The great find is actually just something that you love,” he says. “There should never be a monetary value on things. If you love it, then it is worth a fortune.”

Sensibility of scale: Bullard says that “the most important thing for interiors is scale.…You need to know the scale and size you want and where you are going to put (something).” Measure the spaces you want to fill, as well as the doorways these items need to pass through, ahead of time. A tape measure will come in handy at the Show, too.

Seeing the light: To create a seamless continuum from indoors to outdoors, Whealon writes in his book, “I always start a project by looking out the windows, which more often than not informs my design decisions for the interiors.”

 Bold yellow interior design by Martyn Lawrence Bullard.

Bold yellow interior design by Martyn Lawrence Bullard. Photo by Tim Street Porter.

Color your world …“People shouldn’t be afraid of color,” Bullard says. “I think one of the first rules of color is to choose one you look good in.…If you look good wearing it, think how great you’ll look surrounded by it. It really works.”

But don’t forget white: “I like color that gradually reveals itself,” Whealon writes, “and no color has the capacity to do that quite like complex whites.”

 Interior design by Timothy Whealon.

Interior design by Timothy Whealon. Photo by William Waldron.

Comfort is king: “The biggest trend in interiors is really comfort,” Bullard says. “People really want to be able to use everything, to be able to sit on everything….The idea of really precious things that you don’t really use is so outdated now.”

Bullard presents “Design and Decoration” at 11 a.m. April 15; Timothy Whealon presents “Classicism Revisited: Mixing Art & Antiques in 21st Century Interiors” at 1 p.m. April 15. Joint lecture tickets are available. All lecture tickets include a three-day Show pass. 

Guest blog by Renee Enna.
©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Stinkin’ Cool! New Designer Scents from Botanic Candle

Garden Blog - Fri, 04/01/2016 - 8:30am

New! Relive the thrill of cheering on Spike and Alice with our creative line of richly scented candles. A great gift for Mother’s Day, anniversaries, birthdays, and all the special people in your life.

Very Titan Berry gives new meaning to “fruit flavored.” It is very, very, very berry. Note, the scent may be too sophisticated for small children and pets. 

Eau de Titan Arum is spicy and surprisingly energizing. Recalls the electrifying moment when the titan arum blooms! Deeply organic and powerful enough to scent the whole house. 

Skunk Cabbage No 5 is a mysterious and musky scent. Guarantees that guests will flock to your candle like flies. 

Chicago Botanic Garden candle

Can you order online? Of corpse!
BUY NOW.

Tap into the power of plants, you will love these 
titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) inspired scents.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Viburnum Leaf Beetle Update – Winter Scouting

Garden Blog - Tue, 03/29/2016 - 2:54pm

Last year we discovered Viburnum leaf beetle (VLB) here at the Chicago Botanic Garden for the very first time. As I said then, “I strongly suggest you begin monitoring your viburnums for this critter” as once they move in, they become a perennial pest, just like Japanese beetles.

In early March, we monitored many of the Garden’s viburnums for signs of VLB egg laying and focused on areas where we observed VLB activity last summer. I had read recommendations for pruning out these twigs (with eggs) in the winter as a management technique and wanted to give it a go. To assist with this project, I called in our Plant Health Care Volunteer Monitoring Team; the more eyes the better. The six of us (all armed with hand pruners, sample bags, and motivation) began a close inspection with a focus on last season’s new twig growth for the signs of the distinctive straight line egg-laying sites. In less than five minutes, we found our first infested twig, pruned it out, and put it in a sample bag. After about three hours, we had collected about 20 twigs with eggs.

Truly, I was expecting to find a lot more. This was somewhat disappointing, as I had created a challenge to see which volunteer would fill his or her sample bag and collect the most. This turned out to be more like a needle in a haystack search, as it was a lot more difficult than I had thought. I also feel that the egg-laying sites would have been easier to see if we had done this in early winter, as the egg-laying locations had darkened with time.

Viburnum leaf beetle

Viburnum leaf beetle

Back at our lab, I dissected some of our samples under the microscope. When I removed the cover cap (created by the female after egg laying) material of a few of the egg-laying locations, I found about six orange, gelatinous balls (the overwintering eggs). These eggs were about a month or two from hatching.

For background on this new, exotic insect pest, please see my June 5, 2015, blog on the Viburnum leaf beetle.

American cranberrybush viburnum

American cranberrybush viburnum

  • The favored viburnums are the following:
  • Arrowwood viburnum (V. dentatum)
  • European and American cranberrybush viburnum (V. opulus, formerly V. trilobum)
  • Wayfaringtree viburnum (V. lantana)
  • Sargent viburnum (V. sargentii)
  • When to monitor and for what:
  • In early summer, you would look for the distinctive larva and signs of leaf damage from the larva feeding.
  • In mid- to late summer, you would look for the adult beetle and leaf damage from the beetle feeding.
  • In the winter, you would look for signs of overwintering egg-laying sites on small twigs.
  • Life cycle, quick review:
  • In early May, eggs hatch and larva feed on viburnum leaves.
  • In mid-June, the larva migrate to the ground and pupate in the soil.
  • In early July, the adult beetles emerge and begin to feed on viburnum leaves again, and mate.
  • In late summer, the adult female beetle lays eggs on current season twig growth in a visually distinctive straight line.

viburnum leaf beetle egg laying sites

Hopefully our efforts will lessen the VLB numbers for this coming season. We will see when we monitor the shrubs for leaf damage and larva activity in late May. If nothing else, it was a great learning experience with this very new, exotic insect.

Special thanks to the Plant Health Care Volunteer Monitoring Team: Beth, Fred, Tom (x3), and Chris.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Kickin’ off the field season in the high desert

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 03/28/2016 - 3:52pm

When asked to conjure up a scene of natural beauty and serenity, the go-to image for a lot of folks I know – including myself from a not so distant past – is a lushly vegetated vista. Maybe it’s psychological, or linked to some evolutionary hard-wiring. After all, lots of green, lots of wet, lots of resources. Or at the very least a good place to string up a hammock.

Moving to Central Oregon’s “high desert” – in quotation marks because many areas around here are actually semi-arid and get a touch more than ten inches of rain a year – has, for me, added some third party intrigue to the marital suite shared by lushness and beauty. First of all, photos of the sagebrush-steppe around here don’t always do them much justice. It’s hard to capture the emotive vastness and calmness of being out there. It can also be easy to wash out the soft shades of the forest-gray of the Artemisia with its reddish-brown to tawny inflorescence skeletons; the mint-gray of the rabbitbrush (a sure sign of disturbance and/or overgrazing) with its yellow star-like flower remains; the deep blue of the buttes and mountains that line the distant horizon from nearly every direction; the little pops of near neon orange, yellow and green on volcanic rock formations; and yes, the more vibrant greens of the new shoots of bunchgrasses and forbs screaming hey! Look at me! Under your foot, ya oaf! Spring is here!

Secondly, there’s a lot of narrative going on here in this ecosystem, and there isn’t a thing this girl loves more than some natural history. A strapping tale of over-grazing, water-suckin’ (although native) western juniper creeping into shrub-steppe lands due to fire exclusion, noxious invasives at every turn – with our protagonists, the native bunchgrasses and forbs, trying to push back against all odds with the help of their buds at the BLM and SOS! Or something like that. (I’ve got a whole season to work on all the nuances.)

I’ve only been here for two weeks as of this post, so most of the work my fellow SOS intern and I have been doing with the Prineville BLM has revolved around training, learning about the plants we should try to collect this year, scouting some of the sites recommended to us from last year’s SOS intern, and miscellaneous opportunities like leading some kids in a native seed sowing day and checking out some sensitive species populations. It’s still early so many of the plants are still just popping out of the ground, but there’s some early flowers – like Ranunculus glaberrimus var. glaberrimus (sagebrush buttercup) and Lomatium spp. (biscuitroot).

... wait a day. Or in our case, five minutes.

Caught in a surprise burst of snow on a muddy drive.

SAM_0371

Little tiny Draba verna!

Some Ranunculus glaberrimus var. glaberrimus leading the way for spring!

Some Ranunculus glaberrimus var. glaberrimus leading the way for spring.

Beautiful Smith Rock.

Hikin’ around beautiful Smith Rock.

Crazy cool lichen.

Likin’ the lichen.

Are you serious or just Echinocereus?

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 03/28/2016 - 3:49pm

Today marks the end of my third week working for the BLM in the Needles field Office, California! The Needles Field office manages around 3.2 million acres in California. A little over two million acres of that land has recently been designated as the Mojave Trails national Monument. Being a Floridian, the learning curve has been fairly steep, but I am excited by how quickly myself and my fellow interns are learning the native flora and fauna of this area, and also how quickly we have all become friends. The Needles Field office is full of a diversity of landscapes, including springs, mountains, dunes, and a volcanic crater!

Many plants are blooming ahead of schedule this year, which meant we had to jump into things very early on and have been learning a lot through hands-on experience. Our first seed collection was of Chylismia claviformis ssp. claviformis, a flower in the Onagraceae family. For this, we went to Amboy crater, our home away from home. This area is a hot spot (pun intended) of biodiversity. Interesting insects and lizards scurry along the lava field rocks while the wildflowers inhabit sand patches leading to the crater. At this location we also collected seeds of Gerea canescens. We returned the following week with Dr. Sarah De Groot, field botanist and Seeds of Success coordinator at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden. This was easily one of my favorite experiences thus far. With Sarah we took a hike up into the crater where we collected Atriplex hymenelytra and Peritlye emoryi. Not many people can say that they’ve eaten lunch on top of a volcanic crater. But now we can! We scrambled along the inner walls of the crater moving from plant to plant collecting seeds, skillfully avoiding sliding down the rocky slopes, and feeling incredibly small in comparison to our surroundings. We also collected Plantago ovata and more Gerea canescens along the bottom flat areas surrounding the crater. Sarah also taught us how to do tissue collections of Larrea tridenta, and later that week we did collections on our own of Chylisma brevipes ssp. arizonica in the Kingston Mountains!

Whenever I move to a new area I like to learn about its history. We got a taste of that so far as well! We went on a tour with a local Chemehuevi elder. The Chemehuevis are one of many indian tribes that have inhabited this area. We walked around in the Chemehuevi mountains (which are gorgeous) talking about the native plants and wildllife with other students from Duke university who were helping them install solar power on the reservation. The interns and our mentor, Lara, were invited to the Chemehuevi cultural center on the Reservation afterwards where we got introduced to their history, customs, art, and even their plant collections and vouchers!

Because we are just beginning to become familiar with the area, a lot of what we have been doing is scouting for sites and taking notes on what populations are present, what species we can expect to find in various areas, when we should come back to the area, and comparing our notes to those of past interns. We are eager to continue exploring and finding as many populations as we can in the five months we are here!

I’m excited to learn more about this area and everything that lives here. The desert really is a diverse place and I’ve only just become learning all it has to offer!

Atriplex hymenelytra

Atriplex hymenelytra

Cholla cactus

Cholla cactus

Echinocereus engellmannii

Echinocereus engellmannii

Amboy

Amboy

Encelia farinosa-brittle bush

Encelia farinosa-brittle bush

Ocotillo

Ocotillo

Blooming Ocotillo-Fouquieria splendens

Blooming Ocotillo-Fouquieria splendens

Petrolyphs at Chemehuevi Mountains

Petrolyphs at Chemehuevi Mountains

Desert Five Spot-Eremalche rotundifolia

Desert Five Spot-Eremalche rotundifolia

20160307_174257

Photo courtesy of the fabulous Lara Kobelt

Photo courtesy of the fabulous Lara Kobelt

The best crew there ever was

The best crew there ever was

Chylismia brevipes ssp. arizonica

Chylismia brevipes ssp. arizonica

Desert Iguana at Amboy Crater

Desert Iguana at Amboy Crater

Gerea canescens at Amboy

Gerea canescens at Amboy

The best crew there ever was atop a volcano

The best crew there ever was atop a volcano

The beautiful Chemehuevi Mnts

The beautiful Chemehuevi Mnts

 

 

A Ridgecrest Arrival

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 03/28/2016 - 3:45pm

My first couple weeks in Ridgecrest, California have been a whirlwind of activities and new experiences. I had never spent much time in a desert ecosystem and thus had stereotypical expectations of cacti and very few other plants. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Already, I have encountered more species of vibrant wildflowers and pale green shrubs than I can count. When my fellow intern and I first arrived in the area, we were curious about the identity of the little green shrub that seemed to be everywhere. Little did we know there are actually at least twenty species of little green shrubs!

A view of Ridgecrest, CA from the nearby Rademacher Hills

A view of Ridgecrest, CA from the nearby Rademacher Hills

A few of the "little green shrubs" found in the northern Mojave Desert

A few of the “little green shrubs” found in the northern Mojave Desert

I kicked off the week with orientation and training in the office. The BLM office is filled with specialists in a host of areas including wildlife biology, archeology, wilderness, recreation, geology, botany, grazing, reality, and many others. On my second day, I had the chance to attend a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) meeting. These meetings create a space for the experts to come together and analyze how a new project will affect the land from each of these perspectives. The meeting was a great way to meet everyone in the office and learn about how they apply their unique knowledge to manage land.

My first day in the field, I shadowed an archeologist surveying potential restoration sites for artifacts. It turns out anything (especially “trash!”) is considered archeological evidence if it is over fifty years old. The day also provided an opportunity to learn the in’s and out’s of GPS operation.

I spent another day in the field helping with small mammal monitoring, specifically the threatened Mojave ground squirrel. We began the morning bright and early by opening and baiting the 225 traps set-up in a 15×15 grid formation. At mid-day we walked the transects and checked the traps for animals. Despite warnings not to get our hopes up, I was disappointed to find every trap empty.  We repeated the procedure at the end of the day and this time we were rewarded with an antelope ground squirrel! Although not our target species, it was still exciting to meet the furry creature and see the documentation process before letting it scurry off into the desert.

The captured antelope ground squirrel just before its return to freedom

The captured antelope ground squirrel just before its return to freedom

Even my off time has been bursting with new experiences. On my first free day, we headed out to Death Valley. There, I was quite surprised to find water! In fact, we took a short hike to Darwin Falls where there were suddenly trees, cattails, and generally an expected lushness. I found I recognized several relatives of familiar Midwestern plant species that I would never have expected to find in the desert. The valley itself even boasted a few trickles of water beneath salts flats. At first glance the salt appeared to be snow, but the 96 degree weather quickly contradicted that observation.

Salt coated plants on the floor of Death Valley

Water and salt coated plants on the floor of Death Valley

I also had the chance to help out with a Student Conservation Association (SCA) crew performing desert restoration. I have some background in ecological restoration in Midwestern wetland and oak-savannah ecosystems and I found it fascinating to learn about restoration in a desert ecosystem. For example, while woodland restoration often focuses on invasive species removal to allow the growth and return of native species, desert restoration concentrates on erosion control and re-establishment in areas damaged by off-highway vehicles. Additionally, since the desert is so much drier, restoration requires even more patience for rejuvenation.

Overall, my time thus far has been one enormous learning curve, from basic office procedures to local geography to plant identification (and botany and more plant identification). My field notes are quickly evolving from “little yellow flower with fuzzy stem” to “Amsinckia tessellata “fiddleneck,” boraginaceae family, pubescent,” as I become familiar with the local flora and hone my botany vocabulary. I look forward to learning more and exploring the diverse environment around Ridgecrest in the coming months!

Eschscholzia californica, California poppy and other species

Eschscholzia californica, California poppy and other species

E. O’Connell

Ridgecrest BLM Office

National Seed Strategy

CLM Internship Blog - Mon, 03/28/2016 - 3:42pm

Hello again from Washington, DC!

Life in the capitol city is still excitingly busy. It’s the middle of March and the BLM’s Washington Office Plant Conservation team and I have already hosted two meetings this month: an interagency meeting to discuss implementation of the National Seed Strategy and a Plant Conservation Alliance meeting. We will be traveling to Pittsburgh for a conference next week (more on that to come).

I visited NYC on the coldest weekend of the year! Despite temperatures being well below freezing, I enjoyed Central Park and the High Line.

The Martin Luther King Jr Memorial. The scale of the memorials in DC is breathtaking and inspiring. I can’t help but point out that the memorials are overwhelmingly male and white, but they are awesome despite their lack of diversity.

The interagency meeting on implementing the National Seed Strategy was the first week of March. Planning and organizing for it began in November. It was a big deal. A couple words I heard used to describe this interagency meeting included monumental and historical. Although I haven’t been in DC long, I quickly learned that an event in which leadership from many different Federal agencies are at one table at one time to discuss working together on a common goal is not something that happens every day. While Plant Conservation Alliance meetings often have representatives from 8 or more federal agencies, the interagency meeting on implementing the National Seed Strategy had a higher level of government leadership in attendance.

Helping to organize and attending the interagency meeting was an eye opening experience. I felt both discouraged and inspired. Together these federal agencies manage huge amounts of land. But, each agency has its own mission it must follow, its own programs and policies. Additionally, many of these agencies are underfunded, especially when it comes to plant conservation. These barriers aside, the opportunity to work together in a coordinated effort and restore the health of the plant communities and the functioning of ecosystems across our country has presented itself in a real way that could be hugely successful. This is what inspires me.

Barbra Kruger’s exhibition “Belief and Doubt” at the Hirshhorn Museum. I have been taking full advantage of free access to art, history, and science at the museums in DC this winter.

Working in Washington DC has exposed me to high level land management policy and introduced me to many people in charge of land management programs. More importantly though, it has shown me my voice. Working in an office, I spend the bulk of my time communicating. Avoiding phone conversations is no longer an option (email is far less effective with flooded inboxes and buried messages). It might seem silly to say that talking on the phone has increased my confidence, but it is true. The more I use my voice, the more confident I become. Everything becomes easier with practice, and talking on the phone is a daily exercise in being heard.

My posts are lacking in pretty flower pictures, I know. Spring is on its way and I hope to photograph the cherry blossoms like a good flower-loving tourist in the coming weeks.

Till next time,

Lindsey

Reporting from the Bureau of Land Management’s Washington Office in DC.

Skunk Cabbage: Gross and Cool Herald of Spring in Chicago

Garden Blog - Mon, 03/28/2016 - 9:11am

Do you see something pushing up from the ground that looks like the claws of some creature in a zombie movie? Does it smell bad too?

Happy spring! This charmer is the first native wildflower of a Chicago spring: the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).

 A skunk cabbage blooms in early March in the McDonald Woods.

A skunk cabbage blooms in early March in the McDonald Woods.

It’s a biologically intriguing, ecologically brilliant prelude to the wildflower riot about to burst forth on forest floors from the McDonald Woods at the Chicago Botanic Garden to area preserves.

It’s a welcome sight to Boyce Tankersley, the Garden’s director of living plant documentation, who pointed out skunk cabbage as we walked through the McDonald Woods, the 100-acre restored and protected natural area that is home to at least seven state-listed threatened or endangered plant species.

Skunk cabbage’s appearance means that the trilliums and bloodroot are not far behind. And spring beauties, star-flowered isopyrum, and cardamine, also called bittercress. Within a few weeks, depending on the weather, forest floors will be carpeted with wildflowers, courtesy of the sun streaming onto the earth before the trees leaf out and block it.

Skunk cabbage isn’t conventionally pretty. What you see are the claw-like pointed red-striated hoods called spathes surrounding a nub studded with blossoms. The plant creates its own heat, even amid snow and ice. The temperature inside the hood can be 95 degrees hotter than outside.

Thermogenesis is the goal for skunk cabbages, titan arums, and other “warm-blooded” plants.

The heat creates the plant’s signature smell, a cross between a skunk (hence the name) and rotting meat. This turns skunk cabbage into a paradise for flies, which seek out rotting meat where they can lay their eggs.

“It’s kind of got the rotten vegetation look going on,” Tankersley said. “It’s warm, which means there’s something decomposing, from a fly’s perspective. And then of course it smells bad. So there’s your triple play: ‘You need to come here.’”

And flies do come to skunk cabbage. They flit inside the hood looking for rotting meat, then emerge covered with pollen. Then they fly inside another skunk cabbage, and pollinate it.

Honeybees are the plant’s other major pollinator. They are attracted to skunk cabbage because it is a rare, early source of pollen, on which they feed. You can see a honeybee in pollen-coated action inside a skunk cabbage in the video below by the Illinois Natural History Survey: 

Watch the Skunk cabbage video on YouTube.

Skunk cabbage is picky about where it grows. You can only find it in fens, wet woodlands, and other places where water is moving beneath the soil’s surface. At the Garden, they’re alongside the path through the McDonald Woods. Outside the Garden, a good spot is the River Trail Nature Center, a Cook County forest preserve in Northbrook.

And while you can see skunk cabbage now, the other wildflowers are still holding back. That’s because they’re smart.

“They’ve seen these warm temperatures and then had the weather snap on them,” Tankersley said. “Genetically, they know if they hope to survive, they can’t come out with the first warm weather.”

Which is why native wildflowers are almost never felled by a sudden freeze.

 Prairie trillium (Trillium recurvatum).

The elegant—and less smelly— prairie trillium (Trillium recurvatum) is our next bloom to look for in the woods. Keep an eye out!

In the next weeks, the wildflower show will be on in full force. In addition to the McDonald Woods, you can catch it at forest preserves, where invasive species like buckthorn and garlic mustard are regularly removed, as they are at the McDonald Woods. Some of my Forest Preserves of Cook County favorites not far from the Garden are Harms Woods near Glenview and LaBagh Woods near Cicero and Foster Avenues on the city’s Northwest Side.

But the previews are open now. And it’s a real stinker.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Painting with Veggies

Garden Blog - Fri, 03/25/2016 - 11:08am

We’ve discovered a fun way to encourage our Camp CBG campers to try a salad. Many kids turn up their noses when they hear the word, but after painting with food, our campers are eager to “dig into” their creation.

For little ones, this project is easy and fun to do with a grown-up and provides opportunities to identify colors and start learning about plant parts. Older kids can use new kitchen tools (with adult supervision) and discuss what is really a fruit or a vegetable

Watch Painting with Veggies on YouTube.

Supply list:
Cutting board
Sharp knife
Food processor or grater
White plates

Recipe:
1 red bell pepper (see notes)
2 carrots
¾ cup chopped pineapple
½ head red cabbage
1 head broccoli (see notes)
Favorite salad dressing—we used ranch

Notes from the chef/artists:

  • Bell peppers don’t work well in the food processor. I recommend finely chopping them with a good knife. 
  • Broccoli was a bit difficult to work with. Next time I’d use a bag of broccoli slaw.
  • Other vegetables I’d like to try are fresh corn (off the cob), chopped celery, black beans, and dried fruits or nuts.
  • This would be fun to do with a spiralizer, which would add a different texture. Check out this post by fourth-grade teacher Lindsay for eight great spiralizer ideas.

Prepare veggies by shredding in a food processor, and place each kind in a bowl. Use your imagination to “paint” your canvas (plate). Make sure to take a picture before digging in. Once you are done creating, top with dressing and enjoy.

 Face made from veggies.For details about more fun for the family, visit chicagobotanic.org/forfamilies. Camp registration is open. Register for Camp CBG today.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Painting with Veggies

Youth Education - Fri, 03/25/2016 - 11:08am

We’ve discovered a fun way to encourage our Camp CBG campers to try a salad. Many kids turn up their noses when they hear the word, but after painting with food, our campers are eager to “dig into” their creation.

For little ones, this project is easy and fun to do with a grown-up and provides opportunities to identify colors and start learning about plant parts. Older kids can use new kitchen tools (with adult supervision) and discuss what is really a fruit or a vegetable

Watch Painting with Veggies on YouTube.

Supply list:
Cutting board
Sharp knife
Food processor or grater
White plates

Recipe:
1 red bell pepper (see notes)
2 carrots
¾ cup chopped pineapple
½ head red cabbage
1 head broccoli (see notes)
Favorite salad dressing—we used ranch

Notes from the chef/artists:

  • Bell peppers don’t work well in the food processor. I recommend finely chopping them with a good knife. 
  • Broccoli was a bit difficult to work with. Next time I’d use a bag of broccoli slaw.
  • Other vegetables I’d like to try are fresh corn (off the cob), chopped celery, black beans, and dried fruits or nuts.
  • This would be fun to do with a spiralizer, which would add a different texture. Check out this post by fourth-grade teacher Lindsay for eight great spiralizer ideas.

Prepare veggies by shredding in a food processor, and place each kind in a bowl. Use your imagination to “paint” your canvas (plate). Make sure to take a picture before digging in. Once you are done creating, top with dressing and enjoy.

 Face made from veggies.For details about more fun for the family, visit chicagobotanic.org/forfamilies. Camp registration is open. Register for Camp CBG today.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Time to Prune the Apple Orchard

Garden Blog - Wed, 03/23/2016 - 11:27am

It happens every year—like Groundhog’s Day—and I have the same déjà vu annually!

Each winter for the past 20-plus years, I have supervised and worked on the pruning of the apple orchard at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. Since pruning has such a great effect on an apple tree’s health, it became an annual duty of the Plant Health Care Department (that I manage) many years ago.

 Tom Tiddens and Tom Fritz pruning the apple orchard.

Tom Tiddens and Tom Fritz pruning the apple orchard.

 Closeup of pruning.

Cutting in the right location ensures speedy healing, and a good shape when finished.

To prune the north orchard (about 43 trees) it takes three people about two weeks. We wait until late winter/early March to begin pruning and complete the work before the buds begin to plump and open, as this is the optimal window to prune apple trees for plant health. Over the years I have been in every tree many, many times. Some are easier to prune than others, and some are downright intimidating. The one tree that is the most difficult to prune has been named “The Spirit Breaker,” and we always draw straws to see who gets to prune that one—it takes a full day! Overall, I very much enjoy this late winter pruning project, as it has become an annual rite of passage into spring for me.

Our current style of pruning strikes a balance between ornamental pruning and conventional orchard pruning, which focuses more on production (and which can be very aggressive) and less on plant health. The difference is that every cut we make is carefully made by hand back to a branch or bud, without violating the basic ornamental pruning rules. These carefully made cuts allow for healing without the dieback that can promote disease and other problems. We also work on developing proper branch angles, and thin the tree for better light penetration; another goal is to keep the height down. When pruning is complete, our orchard from a distance looks similar to conventional orchard pruning, where the older trees are kept low, but when you look closely, you can see the difference. 

 The apple orchard before pruning.

Before pruning

 The apple orchard after pruning.

After pruning

Why is it so important to prune an apple tree annually as we do to our apple orchard?

  • Proper annual pruning will increase harvest quality.
  • Pruning lessens diseases such as apple scab, fire blight, and leaf spot. It increases air circulation and allows the tree to dry out more quickly; moisture promotes disease. 
  • Keeping the trees thinned out (and not so tall) allows for better spray coverage for insect and disease treatments. (All treatments at the Garden are organic products, such as sulfur [mineral] for disease suppression.)  
  • Pruning regulates the height of the trees for easier harvesting.
  • Pruning allows for better light penetration for more—and higher quality—fruit.
  • Pruning allows for branch directional training that will increase production and lessen apple weight-load breakage in late summer.

 The apple arbor in bloom, April 2012.

The apple arbor in bloom, April 2012. New whipstock was planted on half the arbor a few years ago, and the new trees should soon look this good again.

Being that the orchard is on the far north side of the Fruit & Vegetable Garden, I feel that many visitors miss out on the experience of walking through the orchard. Experiencing a walk through the orchard in the spring when the apple trees are in full bloom, with the fragrance saturating the air, is a sensory overload and a must-do! In the summer, the outer walk becomes almost tunnel-like, and you feel as if you are on another planet. It’s also fun to watch the fruit develop throughout the season, although please avoid the temptation to pick, as the fruit needs to be harvested at the proper time (which is different for each variety), and we use the harvest in many ways. Next time you are visiting the Chicago Botanic Garden, make it a point to “walk the orchard.”

As for me, I am closing this year’s book on “time to prune the orchard;” 2016’s orchard prune is complete!

Special thanks to Thomas Fritz and Chris Beiser (plant health care specialists and certified arborists) who worked diligently to get the orchard prune completed this year.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Make the Farm-to-Table Connection

Garden Blog - Mon, 03/21/2016 - 10:18am

The garden and the kitchen are “dancing partners,” according to a new cookbook from the team behind Blackberry Farm, the luxurious farm and inn in Tennessee. Jeff Ross, farmstead educator and artisan chef at Blackberry Farm, will bring that farm-to-table spirit to the Antiques, Garden & Design Show, April 15 to 17, at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

 Jeff Ross at Blackberry Farm.

Jeff Ross at Blackberry Farm

Ross will show how easy it is to incorporate fresh produce and gardening into your life in a lecture, “Eating Between the Rows,” at 11 a.m. Saturday, April 16. “I want to open people’s eyes to the edible food all around them,” Ross said.

Purchase Jeff Ross lecture tickets

  • Advance tickets (purchased on or before April 14) member/nonmember: $60/$65
  • Show weekend (purchased after April 14) member/nonmember: $65/$70
  • Combo Jeff Ross/Mario Nievera lecture member/nonmember: $110/$115
  • All lecture tickets include a three-day pass to the Antiques, Garden & Design Show.

Ross will show what you can use out of the garden—and it’s not a small list.

He targets 30 to 40 items and encourages gardeners to think beyond the obvious to things like the florets of collard greens or other ways to use coriander. “These plants were historically grown as edibles, but that knowledge has been lost,” Ross said.

It’s not just edibles. Ross looks to the garden for home décor ideas, such as using okra pods in creative ways, and as an unexpected source of inspiration. “A garden shed can be very beautiful, and it changes nearly every day throughout the season.”

In addition to being a well-known restaurant and inn, Blackberry Farms is a fully working farm. Ross spent nearly ten years managing the gardens at Blackberry; now he helps chefs get more involved in the garden.

 Morning at Blackberry Farm.

Morning at Blackberry Farm

Even though the farm is a large operation, the lessons learned there can be easily adapted in containers or raised gardens of just a few feet, according to The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry cookbook. It’s a matter of scale. So, grow smaller vegetables and pick them young. Choose the right plants—such as cherry tomatoes instead of beefsteak for an urban container, or squash blossoms and pick the squash when it is young.

 Barn at Blackberry Farm.

The barn on Blackberry Farm

The cookbook includes a photo of Ross, in his work overalls, holding a handful of beans. Bush, shell, soup, green—Ross loves them all. “I want that to be my last meal.” It’s further proof that the farm-to-table connection is personal and powerful.

During the Antiques, Garden & Design Show, the Garden View Café will feature some items from The Foothills Cuisine of Blackberry Farm, including marbled potato salad with arugula pesto (recipe below), peanut brittle, and a catfish po’ boy.

Marbled Potato Salad with Arugula Pesto

Tips: Use the smallest potatoes you can find. The leftover pesto keeps up to a week or more in the refrigerator; use on roasted vegetables or grilled steak.

For the potato salad:

  • 10 ounces, small purple Peruvian potatoes (about 20)
  • 10 ounces, small yellow creamer potatoes (about 20)
  • 10 ounces, small red bliss potatoes (about 20)
  • 9 cloves of garlic, lightly crushed
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil or bacon fat, plus more for drizzling
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
  • 3 3-inch fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 3 3-inch fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 cup lightly packed arugula
  • 1 cup pickled red onions, drained (optional)

For arugula pesto:

  • ¼ cup roasted, salted sunflower seeds
  • 1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
  • Zest and juice of 1½ lemons (about 3 tablespoons)
  • ¼ cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 4 cups loosely packed baby arugula, stems removed
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely shredded pecorino cheese (about 2 ounces)
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine potatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper; toss to coat. Transfer potatoes to large baking dish or roasting pan. Tuck the rosemary and thyme around potatoes. Cover the dish tightly and roast until potatoes are tender, about 1 hour. Uncover; let potatoes cool to room temperature. Discard rosemary and thyme sprigs.

Meanwhile, prepare the arugula pesto. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, place sunflower seeds and garlic; pulse to finely chop. Add lemon zest and juice; pulse to combine. Add the parsley, half the arugula; pulse to combine. With machine running, add half the oil in a slow, steady stream. Add the rest of the arugula; pulse to combine. With machine running, add the rest of the oil in a slow, steady stream. Add cheese, salt, and pepper; process until smooth. You will have about 1¾ cups. Transfer to airtight container.

To assemble: Cut the potatoes in half and divide among 6 serving plates. Tuck in arugula among the potatoes. Scatter the pickled onions, if using. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the pesto over each salad; drizzle with olive oil or bacon fat. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 6.

Photos © beall + thomas photography.
©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

60-Second Science: The Janzen-Connell Model or Why Are the Tropics So Diverse?

Plant Science and Conservation - Tue, 02/23/2016 - 9:34am

Imagine a large, beautiful canopy tree standing in the middle of a lush, tropical rainforest. This centuries-old tree produces thousands of seeds every year that densely litter the forest floor around it. Where then would you imagine its seedlings are likely to spring up? Probably in the seed-covered area around the tree right? Well, according to the Janzen-Connell model, you’d be wrong.

Daniel Janzen and Joseph Connell are two ecologists who first described this phenomenon in the early 1970s. They put their exceptional minds to the task and independently discovered that the probability of growing a healthy seedling was actually lower in the areas with the most seed fall. They hypothesized that seed predators and pathogens had discovered the seed feast around the parent tree and moved in, preventing any seeds in the area from growing into seedlings. These predator pests include beetles, bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and have been labelled as host-specific predators and pathogens since they appear specifically around the parent tree, or host.

 Janzen-Connell hypothesis.

 This Malaysian silverleaf monkey eats fruit as part of its diet, dispersing seeds far beyond the canopy line.

This Malaysian silverleaf monkey eats fruit as part of its diet, dispersing seeds far beyond the canopy line.

Janzen and Connell’s hypothesis shows just how important the animals that eat the seeds are to the parent tree. These primates, birds, and other vertebrates move the seeds to different areas where they can successfully grow without being bothered by those pesky host-specific predators. Without these animal helpers, the forest couldn’t continue to grow, and the world’s most diverse areas would be in serious trouble.

Garden post-grads and scientists are in the field working on restoration efforts in the Colorado plateau, fossil hunting in Mongolia, and filming videos on sphinx moths. Interested in our graduate programs? Join us. 

 Peter DeJonge.Peter DeJongh is a first-year master’s student studying land management and conservation in the graduate program at Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden. His academic focus is on developing strategies to optimize plant and wildlife conservation and restoration. He aims to work in applied conservation or environmental consulting upon completion of his degree.

Students in the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University Program in Plant Biology and Conservation were given a challenge: Write a short, clear explanation of a scientific concept that can be easily understood by non-scientists. This is our fifth installment of their exploration.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

How Love and Science May Defend a Wild Orchid

Plant Science and Conservation - Thu, 02/18/2016 - 10:27am

Life on the prairie hasn’t been a breeze for the beautiful eastern prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea).

Once common across the Midwest and Canada, the enchanting wildflower caught the attention of collectors and was overharvested throughout the 1900s. At the same time, large portions of its wet prairie, sedge meadow, and wetland habitat were converted to agriculture. By 1989, just 20 percent of the original population of Platanthera leucophaea remained, and the orchid was added to the federally threatened species list.

 Claire Ellwanger takes a leaf sample in the field.

Claire Ellwanger takes a leaf sample in the field.

The struggles of the captivating orchid did not go unnoticed. Its lacey white flowers and unique biological attributes sparked a passion in scientists and volunteers across the Midwest who began gathering leaf samples for genetic analysis and recording measurements on the health of certain populations. Some volunteers dedicated decades to this work, and many continue to monitor their assigned location today.

As long ago as the mid 1800s, an earlier generation of the wildflower’s enthusiasts had preserved samples of actual plants, pressing them onto archival paper with their field notes and placing them in long-term storage facilities called herbaria, for future reference. As it turns out, some of the plant materials they saved are from populations that no longer exist.

Now, all of that data is coming together for the first time in a research study by graduate student Claire Ellwanger.

The master’s degree candidate—in a Plant Biology and Conservation graduate program run by the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University—is using modern analysis tools to uncover the genetic history of the species. What she finds will give scientists a better picture of the present-day status of genetic diversity of the species, and insight into the best ways to manage it for the future.

 Clarie Ellwanger measures orchid seed pods in the field.

Claire Ellwanger measures orchid seed pods in the field.

“This orchid is a pretty interesting species because there has been this massive volunteer effort for over 20 years to restore it in Illinois,” noted Ellwanger, who said that Illinois currently houses more populations, or locations, of the species than any other state.

She is focused on collecting and analyzing genetic information on the remaining plants, working with field collectors in the Midwest from Iowa to Ohio, and also from Maine. She is examining the genes, or DNA, of each of the sampled populations, along with genetic information she collected at eight sites right here in Illinois.

Ellwanger is also extracting DNA from the older herbarium samples to better understand how much genetic diversity was a part of the species in the past. “The herbarium samples will allow us to get a sense of historic genetic variation to compare to levels today,” she explained.

Along with her thesis advisor, Garden molecular ecologist Jeremie Fant, Ph.D., she is especially interested in finding ways to maintain genetic diversity. “We know that if you are able to preserve the most genetic diversity in a species, it is more likely to persist for longer,” she explained.

 Extracted DNA is ready for analysis in the laboratory.

Extracted DNA is ready for analysis in the laboratory.

In the lab today with her research assistant, Laura Steger, she uses a genetic fingerprinting technique on all groups in her study subjects. By watching the same sequence of genes over time and locations, she can see clear patterns and any changes. The bonus to it all is that “understanding more about these plants and their genetic variation will be pretty applicable to other species that have undergone the same processes,” she noted.

As scientists and volunteers worked in the field over the last several decades, they did more than collect genetic information. They also took steps to boost new seed production by hand pollinating plants or conducting a form of seed dispersal. Through her study, Ellwanger is also tracking the success of each technique. “I’ll be able to complete a genetic comparison over time to see if these recovery goals are achieving what they set out to do,” she said, by comparing the genetic composition of a given population from the recent past to today.

 A compound light microscope reveals some plump, fertile embryos inside seeds

A compound light microscope reveals some plump, fertile embryos inside seeds.

At sites Ellwanger visited personally, she collected seeds as well, and brought them back to the lab for examination. There, looking under a compound light microscope, she checked to see what percentage of seed embryos from the sites were plump and therefore viable. Her findings offer an additional perspective on what her genetic analysis will show. After examination, the seeds were returned to their field location.

In early analysis results, “it looks like reproductive fitness does differ between sites so it will be really interesting to see if those sites that have lower reproductive fitness also have higher levels of inbreeding,” noted Ellwanger. Inbreeding, the mating of closely related individuals, can result in reduced biological fitness in the population of plants. In such cases, it could be helpful to bring in pollen or seed from other populations to minimize mating with close relatives and strengthen populations for future generations.

 Eastern prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea).

Eastern prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea)

The eastern prairie fringed orchid will soon be better understood than ever before. The findings of the study may also provide insight into other problems that may be happening in the prairies where they live. “Orchids will be some of the first organisms to disappear once a habitat starts to be degraded. If we can better understand what’s going on with this plant it, could help out similar species,” said Ellwanger.

The researcher is looking forward to the impact this work could have on the future of the plant and the habitat that sustains it. “What motivates me about research is definitely the conservation implications,” said Ellwanger, who developed her love of conservation while growing up on the East Coast and learning about the complex systems that play a role in the health of the environment.

Read more about orchid research at the Garden, and don’t forget to visit the Orchid Show, open through March 13, 2016.

©2016 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

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