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Updated: 6 min 46 sec ago

Local Restoration Successes Lead Global Movement

5 hours 24 min ago

Wildfire. Flooding. Thirst.

These issues can all be addressed through large-scale landscape restoration according to speakers at the 2015 Janet Meakin Poor Research Symposium. Addressing a crowd of regional stewardship professionals and academics, as well as Conservation Land Management (CLM) and Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) interns at the Chicago Botanic Garden on June 12, they focused on solutions for ecological challenges.

The effects of strong conservation work are magnified when done on a large scale, they shared, and the theme of the day was how to magnify every step from seed-management procedures to restoration time frames and budgets to make the process as beneficial as possible. As mining, drilling, and similar industries move broadly across open lands in the United States and abroad, along with increasingly frequent and far-reaching extreme weather events, conservation practices must evolve with the times to keep pace.

 Conservation and Land Management (CLM) interns measure species density in the field.

Conservation and Land Management (CLM) interns measure species density in the field.

As the CLM interns prepare to set off on a summer of hands-on restoration work across the United States, and potentially launch their careers shortly thereafter, these are critical issues for them to understand, according to Kay Havens, Ph.D., of the Chicago Botanic Garden, who organized the symposium. Many of the interns work in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the ground in forestry, wildlife management, and habitat restoration, among others.

Fittingly, the first speaker of the day was Amy Leuders, the acting assistant director of BLM who noted that the partnership with the Garden since 2001 has led to the training, hiring, and placement of more than 1,000 interns on federal lands. About 50 percent of those interns are later hired by a stewardship agency. “The Bureau of Land Management has had a long and successful partnership with the Chicago Botanic Garden…developing the next generation of land stewards,” she said.

In particular, she imparted to the audience the importance of developing a large scale national seed strategy, so that targeted plant seeds will be thoughtfully collected and preserved for future use. She cited examples of events in which seeds saved by chance allowed for the restoration of areas that later succumbed to natural disasters like wildfires and hurricanes. This new process would allow for seed saving to take place in a more proactive and calculated manner.

 Seeds are collected at the Garden and stored in the Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank.

Collected seeds are stored in the Dixon National Tallgrass Prairie Seed Bank.

According to the second speaker, Kingsley Dixon, Ph.D., professor at Curtin University and the University of Western Australia, the current supply of wild seed cannot support global restoration demands. Innovations are helping to change that. Tools that process seeds into pellets or other small packets facilitate their successful mass delivery into recovering ecosystems, helping to achieve the level of seed performance seen in the agricultural sector. He noted that, “Only by thinking at an industrial level of efficiency will ecological restoration be able to achieve the pace needed to protect and enhance natural resources.”

Drinking water quality can also be managed by restoration, said Joy Zedler of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She shared examples of how restoration has been ‘scaled up’ adaptively (learning while restoring) to benefit large areas. When it comes to managing water, she explained, it is essential to manage an entire watershed. One area of poor water quality will flow into every crevice in the system, for example. In the end, she explained, it is about safeguarding ecosystem services that human health and wellbeing depend on, from clean water to fresh air. “Our global society needs to redirect itself to achieve a sustainable future,” she said.

Brian Winter of the Nature Conservancy in Minnesota echoed her sentiments, as he ran through a real-life wetland restoration process for the audience. He emphasized that wetlands hold rainwater and are capable of preventing disastrous amounts of water from washing through nearby agricultural fields. The value of wetland restoration is immense and ongoing, he explained.

Conservation is in transition, explained speaker John Rogner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Rogner discussed the steps involved in planning for a successful restoration, and the importance of landscape conservation cooperatives that can work together across states or even countries to identify and address issues in a given geographic area such as the Great Lakes watershed. He outlined an ongoing project to improve blockages in the Great Lakes system that impede fish migration. This can lead to a buildup of invasive plant species that create additional system blockages. A regional perspective and collaboration across entities is critical, he said. “It is absolutely essential that everyone have access to the same information to keep moving in the right direction,” added Rogner.

Issues that often fall to the side in planning are conceptual, according to James Aronson of the Missouri Botanical Garden. He urged the audience to pay attention to the economic side of their work by learning to speak and think in terms of renewable natural capital. Across land and ocean, natural capital can be restored to facilitate the flow of ecosystem services such as fresh air and clean water.

 the Colorado River Basin.

One of our greatest national resources and treasures: the Colorado River Basin.

Lastly, Megan Haidet with Seeds of Success emphasized the importance of partnerships to meet the goals of the Bureau of Land Management’s National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration 2015-2020. She noted that increased coordination is vital to accelerate the pace and scale of restoration and provide native plant materials when and where they are needed.

The Garden’s CLM interns have now dispersed across the United States where they will work for the next five months on public lands to put these lessons into action.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Insta-improved Photos!

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 9:46am

Simplicity is critical in creating a striking Instagram photo. Here are some tips to help you reduce distractions and bring focus to your pictures.

Show us your reds, whites, and blues on Instagram June 29 through July 7! Go outside and snap a pic of any red, white, or blue flower or plant for a chance to be featured on our feed and website. Tag @chicagobotanic in your post and use #CBGcontest15.

The most important thing to keep in mind when photographing for Instagram, is that your photo will be viewed at a relatively small scale. Your composition needs to grab the viewers’ attention as they scroll through their feed. Nature is full of beautiful detail, intricate patterns, and delicate textures. However, keep in mind that once a picture is posted, the subtlety and tiny details of the subject matter may be lost.

Consider placing subject matter that has very small details in a context. A close-up of these penstemon flowers alone makes for a very chaotic image, but when the surrounding landscape is included, the flowers form a shape that mirrors the line of trees above.

 Closeup of Penstemon.

Penstemon blooms make a chaotic closeup.

 Penstemon in the landscape.

Framing the shot gives these blooms context.

The opposite is also true. Removing context by getting closer to your subject usually simplifies your composition. In the case, of these penstemon flowers, most phones will not focus close enough to capture just one.

 Roses in dappled sunlight.

Dappled sunlight draws attention away from these blooms.

 Roses photographed in even shade.

Even shade brings out the color of the roses.

Avoid dappled sunlight to allow viewers to focus their attention on your subject matter. Try finding shade if you are photographing on a sunny day, or take pictures during the morning and evening when the light is softer.

Choose a point of view for your subject where light falls on the subject but not the background. This will emphasize the shape of your subject and increase contrast between it and the background. Keep your eye out for this lighting situation at the edge of large shadows cast by buildings where tall flowers pop out into the light.

 Echinacea with path in background.

The background in soft focus detracts from our highlighted subject.

 Echinacea isolated on dark background.

Isolating the bloom makes this echinacea the star of the photo.

These two photos are of the same flower but taken from different perspectives. You can see the edge of the shadow cast by a building in the first photo. The second photo was taken after stepping to the right and facing toward the building.

Instagram is a great place to get and share ideas; don’t hesitate to experiment and try new things.

Most importantly, have fun!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Food for Thought: Celebrating the Vegetables of the 1890s

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 5:10pm

Think about this vegetable fact: In 1903, 544 varieties of cabbage were listed by seed houses across the United States. By 1983, just 28 of those varieties were represented in our national seed bank at the National Seed Storage Laboratory (now the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation).

Hundreds of other varieties have disappeared—not only of cabbages, but also of lettuce and corn and tomatoes and too many other crops to list. And that, in a nutshell, is why it continues to be important to plant heirloom varieties.

Vintage Varieties,
Still in Vogue

 Cover of Vaughn's seed catalog, featuring Osage musk melon.

Stunning color illustrations made vintage nursery catalogs hard to resist. A fine selection of them are now on view at Chicago and Its Botanic Garden: The Chicago Horticultural Society at 125 in the Joutras Gallery and its sister exhibition, Keep Growing: The Chicago Horticultural Society’s 125th Anniversary, at the Lenhardt Library. Through August 16, 2015.

Heirlooms have special meaning at the Garden this year, as we celebrate the 125th anniversary of our parent organization, the Chicago Horticultural Society, which was officially established in 1890.

What was growing in Chicago vegetable gardens that year? Two big and beautiful beds at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden honor the tried-and-true midwestern varieties that were the staples of our great- and great-great-grandparents. The cabbages beloved by the immigrants who flocked to the Midwest, like ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’ and ‘Mammoth Red Rock’. The beans that could be canned to sustain the family, like ‘Henderson’s Bush’. The root vegetables that could overwinter, like parsnip ‘Mammoth Sandwich Island’ and rutabaga ‘Laurentian’. And the onions and lovage and cutting celery that were the flavor enhancers of the day.

Horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg tracked down the varieties by going to the source: the seed catalogs that nurserymen, farmers, and gardeners ordered from and depended on. In the Rare Book Collection of our Lenhardt Library, she pored over an 1891 Storr’s & Harrison catalog, a Burpee’s from 1901, and numerous Vaughan’s Seed Store catalogs. (Vaughan’s started on the East Coast, then became one of the leading Chicago seed houses.) Recognizing that some varieties from the turn of the twentieth century were still available today (‘Bull Nose’ pepper, ‘Philadelphia White Box’ radish, ‘Wapsipinicon Peach’ tomato), she sought out those seeds from sources like Seed Savers Exchange, the D. Landreth Seed Company, and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

As seedlings arrived at the Fruit & Vegetable Garden from the production nursery this spring, Lisa planted them in a classic bed layout inspired by the vegetable gardens at Monticello: 4-foot by 6-foot beds (easy to harvest from either side) separated by mulched paths made with wood chips that would have been straw in earlier centuries. As one crop is harvested, the next crop is planted—a nod to the constant production that was a matter of survival for our forefathers and foremothers.

 Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage.

Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage

 Mammoth Red Rock cabbage.

Mammoth Red Rock cabbage

 A view of the heirloom seed beds in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

As they fill in, the beds create a strikingly beautiful mosaic of color, of texture, and history.

Heirloom fruits and vegetables are more than interesting food ingredients—they represent the voices of each generation informing the next. Think about that as you tour the beds (turn left past the breezeway), and as you plan to grow heirloom varieties in your own vegetable garden this year.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Summer Comes to the Dwarf Conifer Garden

Mon, 06/22/2015 - 9:13am

Early summer in the Dwarf Conifer Garden is all about the new growth. Everything is bursting forth with fresh new growth in vivid shades of green, chartreuse, yellow…and blue!  

 Dwarf Conifer Garden in spring.

Layers of color draw you into hidden paths throughout the Dwarf Conifer Garden.

Many of the trees feature entirely unexpected colors. For most of the year, Spring Ghost blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Spring Ghost’) looks like your average Colorado spruce. From early spring through midsummer, however, the tips of every branch shine with the palest yellow—nearly white—new growth. Likewise, Taylor’s Sunburst lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’) is a handsome green tree for most of the year—until spring, when radiant yellow new growth bursts forth, bringing a welcome dose of sunshine to the garden.

 Picea pungens 'Spring Ghost'.

Picea pungens ‘Spring Ghost’

 Pinus contorta 'Taylor's Sunburst'.

Pinus contorta ‘Taylor’s Sunburst’

 Pinus cembra 'Blue Mound'.

Pinus cembra ‘Blue Mound’

New needles aren’t the only attraction this time of year. Many conifers have cones that start out in surprising shades! Blue Mound Swiss stone pine (Pinus cembra ‘Blue Mound’) would be a beautiful plant in its own right, with its long, soft, blue-green needles. But when you throw in dusky purple cones, you get a plant that is truly a gem. As the cones age, they’ll slowly turn into the more typical brown of a ripe cone, but right now, they’re as pretty as any flower.

Red can be a difficult color to find in conifers, but Acrocona spruce (Picea abies ‘Acrocona’) has cones that start out a vivid ruby red and slowly fade to a soft tan. The cones start out upward-facing, but slowly begin to droop as they age.

 Picea abies 'Acrocona'.

Picea abies ‘Acrocona’ has cones that start ruby red, and slowly fade to tan.

 Abies koreana 'Silver Show'.

Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’

Another unique plant is Silver Show dwarf Korean fir (Abies koreana ‘Silver Show’). Unlike other conifers, the firs (Abies sp.) have cones that always face upward. ‘Silver Show’ is beautiful any time of the year, but its purple upward-facing cones really make it special in spring. The cones start out small and green, but as you can see in this picture, they begin to turn purple as they grow until you’re left with dozens of dark purple cones set against perfectly tiered, silvery green foliage. There really is nothing else like it in the Garden.

 Male cones on Pinus leucodermis.

Male cones on Pinus leucodermis

On most conifers, it’s the female cones that are most showy and most often noticed, but on Bosnian pine (Pinus leucodermis), it’s the male (pollen-bearing) cones that steal the show. Arranged in groups at the end of every branch, they light up the tree like little Christmas lights. Even on a gloomy day, the bright orangey-tan color stands out against some of the deepest green needles in the garden.

All of these colors are a seasonal show that is best appreciated before things start to heat up for the summer, so now is your best time to come see them!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Summer Infographic

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 9:30am

What does June 21 mean to plants? Day length, temperature, sunlight, and water trigger all sorts of behavior in the world of plants…

Summer Infographic

Another Outstanding Year for the Chicago Botanic Garden

Thu, 06/18/2015 - 2:18pm

Halfway through its ten-year strategic plan, “Keep Growing,” the Chicago Botanic Garden has never been stronger. Since the plan was launched in early 2010, the Garden’s science, education, urban agriculture, and horticultural therapy programs have grown significantly. Our wide array of programs, classes, and exhibitions—including the new Orchid Show—attract more visitors each year, and in 2014, more than a million visitors came to the Garden for the second year in a row. We have had five years of record-breaking fundraising and operating budget results. Last year was particularly important as we broke ground for a new nursery on the Kris Jarantoski Campus and finalized plans for the Regenstein Foundation Learning Campus; we broke ground for Learning Campus and its centerpiece, the Education Center, this past April.

Please take a few minutes to review the Garden’s strategic plan update for 2014, which includes our Annual Report and the wonderful new video of the year’s accomplishments below. On the strategic plan website, you will also find an array of supporting documentation, including operating plans for various Garden departments. In every way, the Garden’s achievements exemplify its mission: We cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life.

Click here to view video on youtube.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Get Ready, Get Set, Grow! New Windy City Farm Launches

Sun, 06/14/2015 - 9:37am

Something is growing in a food desert on Chicago’s West Side. A farm designed, built, and managed by Windy City Harvest for the PCC Austin Family Health Center began operation in the spring to help provide more of what the challenged Austin neighborhood lacks—ready access to produce that is fresh, affordable, and nearby—and enable the center’s patients to more easily fill the prescription for healthy living they receive in the examination room: eat more fresh vegetables. Spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, and other produce grown at the farm will be sold on-site.

 Creating the raised beds at PCC Austin Farm last fall.

Creating the raised beds at PCC Austin Farm last fall

The project finds Windy City Harvest, the Chicago Botanic Garden urban agriculture and jobs-training program, partnered with an urban health provider, PCC Community Wellness Center, in paired missions of feeding communities and improving the health of those living in them. The Austin location is one of the PCC system’s 11 Chicago-area centers.

“We needed to come out of the four walls of our medical center and look at ways to give back to the community, get the community involved, explore ways to change the environment, and let people learn about gardening,” said Bob Urso, PCC president and CEO, explaining the project’s genesis. Funding comes from a $350,000 Humana Communities Benefit grant awarded to PCC Wellness Community Center by the Humana Foundation.

The farm’s groundbreaking took place in October on a grassy vacant lot a few steps from PCC’s modern LEED Gold-certified building at Lake Street and Lotus Avenue. Called the PCC Austin Community Farm until neighborhood residents choose a permanent name, the 8,000-square-foot site comprises more than 20 raised beds that include plots where eight families each year can grow food for their own use, a hoophouse (similar to a greenhouse), and a small outdoor seating area surrounded by fruit trees for gatherings and relaxation. Housing flanks the 50-foot-wide, fenced-in farm on two sides, with a parking lot on the third and more homes across the street. Trains rumble by on the Chicago Transit Authority elevated tracks a half block away.

 Harvesting carrots.

Carrots: a late spring crop, and one of the first to come out of the PCC Austin Community Farm.

The farm’s seasonal coordinator is Windy City Harvest’s Brittany Calendo, whose role dovetails with her background in public health and social work. “It’s exciting to look at the farm as a away of promoting health and preventing disease rather than just treating symptoms,” she said. Plans include monthly workshops on nutrition and gardening for neighbors and patients led by Windy City Harvest and PCC. “Preventive medicine is some of the best medicine,” agreed Humana spokesperson Cathryn Donaldson. “We’re thrilled to be partnering with PCC on this important initiative.” Looking ahead, Urso said he will know the farm has achieved success when he meets patients who say they feel healthier and whose chronic conditions are under control after learning to eat better.

While it is among Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, “Austin is beautiful,” Tyrise Brinson said of the people in the place where she grew up and lives now. Although no one believes the project can by itself meet the area’s produce needs or change lifelong eating habits overnight, “It breaks cycles within the community,” Brinson said. “It’s the beginning of a chain of beautiful events to come.”

This post by Helen K. Marshall appeared in the summer 2015 edition of Keep Growing, the member magazine of the Chicago Botanic Garden. ©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Ten Romantic Spots to Pop the Question

Thu, 06/11/2015 - 1:14pm

Gardens are romantic by nature. That’s why one of our most frequently asked questions is, “What’s the most romantic spot at the Garden?”

So we scoped it out, asked around, and compiled a list of our top ten most romantic spots. Now it’s up to you to…
Pop the Question.

Daisy Chain

 Rose Garden arbor.

The Krasberg Rose Garden’s arbor is the perfect place to pause on a romantic stroll.

1. “Doesn’t it smell wonderful?”

Claim a bench under the Krasberg Rose Garden’s arbor and take a deep breath. Then another. Soon you’ll be discussing the bouquet of roses—one smells of musk, another of tea, a third of myrrh—just as you do a fine wine. (Which, by the way, is available at the Garden View Café.)

 The blue bench in the niche at the English Walled Garden.

“Something borrowed, something blue…” sets the tone in the English Walled Garden.

2. “Would you like to sit here?”

With climbing hydrangeas overhead, a pergola of white wisteria just ahead, and a romantic morning glory tile inset behind you (are those leaves or hearts?), the vividly blue bench tucked into the niche at the English Walled Garden is the prettiest seat at the Garden.

3. “Shall we cross that bridge?”

On summer evenings, the bridges to Evening Island—the Arch Bridge and the Serpentine Bridge—are lit at night. A bridge is such a splendid place for a private conversation and…reflection.

 The Serpentine Bridge at night.

The dramatically lit Serpentine Bridge is the path to summer evening romance.

4. “Can you top this?”

The top of the Waterfall Garden has it all: rushing water, a sweet arbor, birds chirping in shady trees. It’s one of the best spots at the Garden to sit…very…close.

 Arbor at the top of the Waterfall Garden.

The peaceful hideaway atop the Waterfall Garden is a romantic destination in any season.

5. “Pics or it didn’t happen?”

Romantic memories need a great background. At the top of the Sensory Garden is the photo-worthy frame you’re looking for.

 The view from the top of the Sensory Garden.

Tucked away in the Sensory Garden is this shady arbor, ready for a romantic moment.

6. “Want to try a new place?”

One of the newest—and therefore least-discovered—spots in the Garden is Kleinman Family Cove. (Yes, it’s open during construction on the Regenstein Foundation Learning Campus across the road.) Take advantage of the quiet, the deck that hovers over the water, and the natural chorus of frogs…

 The Cove at dusk.

A shoreline chorus is the perfect accompaniment to your proposal at the Cove.

7. “Doesn’t that sound amazing?”

On Monday nights, carillonneurs from around the globe transform Evening Island into an outdoor concert hall. Not coincidentally, it’s also picnic night. Got the picture? A romantic picnic, the music of bells, and a secluded spot on Evening Island, where two perfectly placed rocks make a perfect seat for a perfect couple.

 Sitting boulders at Evening Island.

Enjoy a concert for two on Monday nights from this secret spot on Evening Island.

8. “Which path do you want to take?”

A summer walk through the Dixon Prairie is inherently romantic, with grasses and prairie flowers taller than your head, and late-day light filtering through the foliage. Take the boardwalk bridge across the water to tiny Marsh Island for a memorable sunset moment.

 The boardwalk to Marsh Island.

Prairie plants grow tall enough to hide stolen kisses off the beaten path on Marsh Island.

9. “Do you feel like a beer?”

There’s something different about this arch: it’s made from hops—which, of course, are the key ingredients in beer. Take photos under the archway, sit for a while in the Circle Garden’s very romantic “secret” side gardens, then ask the beer question. The answer will be “Yes.”

 Arch at Circle Garden side garden.

Pop the question in one of the side gardens of the Circle Garden for a “hoppy” answer!

 A sunset samba on the Esplanade.

Pop the question after a sunset samba on the dance floor with the best view in town: the Esplanade.

10. “May I have this dance?”

Dancing is romantic. Outdoor dancing is super romantic. Outdoor dancing at the Garden is meta romantic. And it happens every weeknight during the summer. Salsa, swing, big band, bluegrass, and jazz rock the most beautiful “dance floor” in town.

After you pop the other question…

Wonderful weddings happen at the Garden. Find out more from Mary or Connie at events@chicagobotanic.org.

Wonderful weddings happen at the Garden.
Daisy Chain

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

What I learned at World Environment Day

Tue, 06/09/2015 - 11:34am

World Environment Day at the Chicago Botanic Garden was a success! Visitors all over the Chicagoland area came to learn environmental and sustainable tips and tricks, and enjoyed educational displays and family activities throughout the day.

[View the story “Highlights of World Environment Day” on Storify]

Glorious Mysteries in the World of Plants

Sun, 06/07/2015 - 8:55am

Popular culture moves in strange ways. Since the release of the eponymous movie, the idea of a “bucket list” has quickly become part of our modern vernacular.

My botanical bucket list includes plants like the ancient bristlecone pines of Nevada and the cobra-lilies of Northern California. Recently, in the Peruvian Amazon, I checked off my list the giant Amazonian waterlily. I’ve seen it many times before; it is grown all over the world. But coming across it in an Amazonian backwater, untended by people, is quite a different experience. 

 Victoria amazonica, the giant Amazonian waterlily.

The giant Amazonian waterlily (Victoria amazonica), with its magnificent leaves beautifully arrayed like giant solar panels in the tropical sun

Plants like Amazonian waterlilies, bristlecone pines, and cobra-lilies have a presence. Even brief contemplation invokes a sense of wonder, and sometimes an emotional, even spiritual, connection. These charismatic plants are tangible expressions of the glory and mystery of nature. And paradoxically, that sense of mystery is undiminished by scientific understanding. As Einstein once said, “What I see in Nature is a magnificent structure that we can comprehend only very imperfectly, and that must fill a thinking person with a feeling of ‘humility’.” 

The Amazonian waterlily is one of the botanical wonders of the world, but look closely and every plant has its own mysterious life story full of evolutionary twists and turns. Whether in the garden, in the forest preserve, or along the roadside, even the most inconspicuous weed is a twig atop the gnarled and much-ramified tree of life. Every plant is a living expression of the vicissitudes of thousands, often millions, of years of history. 

 Guest columnist and Garden board member Peter Crane, Ph.D.

Guest columnist and Garden board member Peter Crane, Ph.D.

Over the past three decades the evolutionary tree of plant life has come into clearer focus, as we have learned more about living plants, including about their genomes. We have also learned more about plants of the past by exploring their fossil record. There is still much that remains beyond our grasp, but scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden are at the forefront of current research, including efforts to integrate information from fossils and living plants toward a more complete understanding of plant evolution. And viewing the world’s plants through an evolutionary lens only accentuates our sense of wonder. The leaves and the flowers of the Amazonian waterlily are massively increased in size and complexity compared to those of its diminutive precursors, which begs further questions about why and how such dramatic changes occurred. 

To borrow a phrase from Darwin, “There is grandeur in this view of life.” Such perspectives, rooted in deep history, emphasize the power and glory of evolution over vast spans of geologic time, as well as its remaining mysteries. In the face of rapid contemporary environmental change, they also underline the need for enlightened environmental management. Looking to the past to help us understand the present sharpens our view of the glories of nature. It also reminds us of our place in the world, and the value of humility as we together influence the future of our planet. 

Renowned botanist Sir Peter Crane is the Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. Dean, Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and former director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Dr. Crane received the 2014 International Prize for Biology, administered by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, for his work on the evolutionary history of plants. The award, created in 1985, is one of the most prestigious in the field of biology.

This post is a reprint of an article by Sir Peter Crane, Ph.D. for the summer 2015 edition of Keep Growing, the member magazine of the Chicago Botanic Garden. ©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Pest Alert: Viburnum Leaf Beetle

Fri, 06/05/2015 - 8:30am

Viburnum leaf beetle is here, and he’s not a good neighbor!

Yesterday was an exciting (yet worrisome) day for me here at the Garden. We found viburnum leaf beetle here for the first time ever—although his arrival was not unexpected. Two separate discoveries were reported to me within just a couple of hours. One of our horticulturists made a discovery in one location, and one of our trained plant healthcare volunteer scouts found the beetle in another location. Both finds were on arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), the beetle’s preferred host (and high on our watch list).

Tom Tiddens will be available at World Environment Day on Saturday, June 6, for Q & A about viburnum leaf beetle in your neighborhood.

If you live in the area, I suggest you monitor your viburnums for our new foreign friend. The sad thing about this critter is that once he moves in, he will become a perennial pest, just like Japanese beetles.

In ornamental horticulture (your home landscape plants), the viburnum leaf beetle seems to be on the verge of having a great impact in our area, as nearly everyone’s home landscape has viburnum. I’d like to take a moment to review this new critter.

Viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni)

The viburnum leaf beetle (VLB) is native to Europe and was first found in the United States (in Maine) in 1994. It was first found in Illinois (Cook County) in 2009. In 2012 and 2013, the number of reports increased from Cook County and also from DuPage County. In late summer 2014, there were numerous reports from Cook County and some specifically from neighboring Winnetka, where complete defoliation was reported—only five miles from the Garden!

 Leaf damage to Viburnum dentatum at the Chicago Botanic Garden by viburnum leaf beetle larvae.

Leaf damage to Viburnum dentatum at the Chicago Botanic Garden by viburnum leaf beetle larvae.

 Viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni) larva.

Viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni) larva

 Viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni)

Viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni) by Siga (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The VLB larva and adult both feed on foliage and can cause defoliation, and several years of defoliation can kill a viburnum. If you live in the area, I strongly suggest you begin monitoring your viburnums for this critter. There are many great university-created fact sheets for VLB that can be found online, or contact the Garden’s Plant Information Service for additional information. Please report new finds to the Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois Department of Agriculture, or University of Illinois Extension Service.   

 Plugged cavities on a viburnum twig containing egg masses of the viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni).

Plugged cavities on a viburnum twig containing egg masses of the viburnum leaf beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni). Photograph by Paul Weston, Cornell University, Bugwood.org

The Garden is a member of the Sentinel Plant Network, a group that unites botanic gardens in monitoring and providing education on exotic plant pests and pathogens, and works in partnership with the National Plant Diagnostic Network (NPDN).

If you are a plant and bug person like me, please consider becoming a NPDN First Detector and help be on the lookout for these exotic invasive plant pests and pathogens. The NPDN offers an online training course to become a First Detector at firstdetector.org. It’s free, and upon completion, you even get a printable certificate!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Five Things To Bring to the Chicago Botanic Garden for World Environment Day

Wed, 06/03/2015 - 2:20pm

World Environment Day (WED) will take place on June 6, 2015. The United Nations started WED as a global platform for raising awareness around pressing environmental issues and motivating collective efforts for positive change. Activities will take place around the world including in Milan, where global leaders will host a conference to focus on the links between water and sustainable development.

In Chicago, the Chicago Botanic Garden is hosting a day of action around WED. The theme of this year’s event is “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care.”

 Learn sustainable gardening techniques and more from a variety of experts around the Garden on World Environment Day.

Learn sustainable gardening techniques and more from a variety of experts around the Garden on June 6.

Here’s what you’ll need to bring for a fun-filled, zero-waste day of environmental activities:

Recyclables: Don’t forget to bring your electronics, plastic pots, vases, and baskets with liners, which can be donated for recycling from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in parking lot 4. Learn more zero-waste life hacks here.

 Items accepted for recycling at WED.

Click here for a list of acceptable electronics items for recycling.

Reusable Bags: Windy City Harvest will be hosting a farmers’ market featuring local and organic produce on the Esplanade. Bring a taste of Chicago back home with you!

Notebook: Danielle Nierenberg, president of Food Tank, will discuss the role of urban agriculture in the food system as the keynote presentation. Nierenberg will host a panel of Chicago’s leaders in sustainability to engage others in the discussion. Take advantage of their expertise, ask your burning questions, and jot down notes for later!

Appetite: Watch a demonstration by Chef Cleetus Friedman of Fountainhead, The Bar on Buena, and The Northman at 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden’s open-air amphitheater.

Bright Clothing: Beneficial insects are pollinating the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden! Be sure to wear colorful summer clothing so you can make friends with hummingbirds, butterflies, and ladybugs. Several plant scientists will be giving demonstrations and presentations at the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center, through which you can explore the science behind nocturnal pollination and prairie management. Beekeeper Ann Stevens will provide lessons on apiculture.

 Bees transferring to new comb.

Learn about apiculture with beekeeper Ann Stevens.

Don’t miss family-friendly performances by the Dreamtree Shakers (11:30 a.m.) and Layla Frankel (1:30 and 2:30 p.m.) on the Make It Better stage. Younger visitors will enjoy learning about plant parts, pollination, and making stick sculptures.

You can share your pledge for World Environment Day with people around the world and come together for #7BillionDreams on June 6, 2015. Join the Dream Team and inspire others to do the same!

Join the #WorldEnvironmentDay conversation online! Follow the Chicago Botanic Garden on Twitter and Facebook using #CBGWED2015 or #WED2015.

Continuous shuttle service is provided throughout the day from the Visitor Center to the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center. Sign up for membership at the Chicago Botanic Garden or donate to their mission.

—Guest bloggers Emily Nink and Danielle Nierenberg

 

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Environmental Benefits of Backyard Chickens

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 4:18pm

Sure, they are fun pets and a good educational tool for your kids, as well as a great source of fresh eggs. But what do chickens have to do with the environment? There are a number of ways that having hens in your backyard can be environmentally beneficial.

 Jennifer Murtoff with one of her pullets.

Jennifer Murtoff with one of her pullets

Poultry Pest Patrol

Forget those nasty pesticides! Chickens are omnivores by nature and thoroughly enjoy chasing down plant-destroying insects like grasshoppers, grubs, beetles, and larvae. 

Betsey Miller and her colleagues at Oregon State University recently conducted a study with red ranger chickens to test the insect-finding power of poultry. They placed hundreds of insect pest decoys in leaf litter. They put some of the litter in the chicken pen and some outside. A day later, they examined both piles and recovered any remaining decoys. The results: all the decoys remained the control pile, but there were no decoys to be found in the chickens’ pile. The birds had gobbled them up! This study illustrates the chickens’ persistence in ridding an area of potential pests in a very short time.

Poultry pest patrols can be applied to flower and vegetable gardens. In addition, business enterprises are also reaping the benefits of chickens: Earth First Farms, run by Tom and Denise Rosenfeld, is a local organic orchard that uses chickens as natural “insecticide.”

Biddie Biorecycling

Many eco-minded individuals tout a zero-waste trash stream as an important part of their green living plan: no materials leave the home as trash to be added to a landfill. Many people recycle waste, repurpose materials, and compost their vegetable matter. Chickens can be included in this schema as well, helping to reduce the amount of organic waste.

 A mother hen teaches her chicks to forage.

A mother hen teaches her chicks to forage. By fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au [GFDL 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons

An adult chicken eats around 9 pounds of food per month. For the sake of argument, let’s say that 75 percent of that is layer ration (which I recommend for a healthy, balanced diet). That means each bird can biorecycle more than 2 pounds per month in vegetable matter and table waste. A flock of four birds, if fed a diet of 75 percent layer ration and 25 percent food waste, can eat more than 100 pounds per year in waste. If you take layer ration out of the equation completely, four birds can power through more than 400 pounds of food waste in a year. (As an aside, only fruit and vegetable matter should be fed to the chickens on a regular basis; too much pasta, dairy, bread, etc., can lead to obesity and health problems.)

The idea of chickens as biorecyclers was so appealing to officials in the villages of Pince in northwest France and Mouscron in Belgium that they are offering chickens to residents. Says the mayor of Pince, “To begin with it was a joke, but then we realized it was a very good idea. It will also reinforce community links: just as people look after their neighbors’ cats and dogs while they’re away, they’ll also look after the chickens.”

Fowl Fertilizer

All the natural waste byproduct, better known as poop, comes out the back end of the bird to the tune of 1 cubic foot of manure every six months. While chicken manure can be messy, stinky, and just all-around not desirable, this “black gold,” as some call it, is very high in nitrogen. However, it contains ammonia, which makes it “hot” compost: it needs time to break down into a usable format. When mixed with organic “brown” material such as grass clippings and leaves, the waste eventually decomposes into nitrites (which are toxic to plants) and finally into nitrates (which can be used as fertilizer). This chemical process can take anywhere from six to nine months. The mature compost can be added to the surface of a flower bed or worked into the soil. So a flock of chickens can turn all that vegetable matter from your kitchen into highly effective, free fertilizer.

 Chicken feet at work! These feet are made for scratching—and ridding your yard of insect pests.

Chicken feet at work! These feet are made for scratching—and ridding your yard of insect pests.

Hens and Humus

While chicken manure contributes to your compost bin, the birds can enrich your garden in other ways—with their feet. Chickens are ground birds, with strong, sturdy feet that are meant for digging and scratching in search of food. Turn your birds loose in the garden or on a raised bed and they will till the soil with their feet in search of grubs, worms, bugs, tender shoots, and other tasty tidbits. All this activity will turn leaf litter and dead biomatter into the soil while providing an easy aeration solution. If your soil is in need of a boost, put your chicken to work. When the birds have worked over a garden plot or raised bed, it will be tilled and ready to plant!

Environmental Egg-sistence

Envision an agribusiness egg farm with stack upon stack, row after row, of hens in cramped cages. You’ve no doubt questioned the system and its humanity and viability. Chicken houses produce tons of manure per year, and the hens who live in these barns may be force molted by withdrawing food and water in order to keep up egg production. These barns are considered concentrated animal-feeding operations, and the U.S. EPA cites them as being “a significant source of water pollution.” In addition, the air around these farms “can be odorous,” and the nitrogen can leak into bodies of water, causing algal bloom and destroying the natural habitat.

 Eggs in straw.

The best benefit of backyard chickens—the eggs!

Backyard chickens provide a better alternative to the excessive environmental impact of factory farming. Compared to a factory farm, backyard hens produce a fraction of the manure in a much smaller footprint. You can handle their waste properly, returning it to the environment in an eco-conscious manner. If the coop is kept well, there will be little to no odor. In addition, the birds will also be happier and healthier. Their eggs, too, will contain better nutrition due to the birds’ ability to forage and eat a varied diet.

Chickens, like most critters, are at their happiest when doing what comes naturally to them—eating veggies and bugs, digging in the dirt, pooping, and living a happy, carefree existence on the open range. So consider adding these delightful birds to your garden as part of an eco-conscious living plan. You’ll be thanked with hours of entertainment and the best eggs you’ll ever eat!

Join me on World Environment Day, Saturday, June 6, and come learn more about keeping backyard chickens!

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Taste of the Garden

Mon, 05/25/2015 - 8:30am

On an early spring day in the offices of the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden, Lisa Hilgenberg, Garden horticulturist, is seated at a rustic conference table sorting through pencil drawings of garden beds and photos of vegetable plants. Across the Garden, in the Garden View Café kitchen, chef Peter Pettorossi is considering a cabbage slaw recipe inspired by those same plants.

The concept of serving fresh, seasonal, local food at the Garden was key to café renovations completed one year ago. Produce and fruit from the garden, as well as from Windy City Harvest plots in the area, and other local vendors, is increasingly available in many dishes including salads, calzones, daily soups, and other specials.

 The bountiful Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden in 2014.

The bountiful Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden in 2014  ©North Branch Communications

Although the café and the Fruit & Vegetable Garden are physically separate, they come together in the growing season through an intricate network of connections that bring garden to table.

“It’s such a unique opportunity,” said Harriet Resnick, vice president of visitor experience and business development. “It opens people’s eyes to what we offer here.” New signage in the garden indicates which plants are on their way to the café. It also feels right, she explained. “If you are a true gardener, that’s how you live your life—by the plants of the season.” She added that the café has only grown in popularity, seeing about 200,000 unique food purchases last year.

Hilgenberg spent much of her lifetime learning how to match seeds with soil and growing conditions, perfecting each step. She lives with the rhythm of the seasons. “We are moving back in the right direction,” she said. “There’s something exciting about eating freshly grown vegetables seasonally. It’s always new and nutritious.”

Hilgenberg begins planning a year in advance for each growing season, mapping out what she will plant and how it will be arranged for display. Seeds for cool-season plants begin to grow in the Greenhouses in late winter, go into the ground in April, and are harvested in May and June. A similar cycle follows shortly after for warm-season crops.

 Chef slicing fresh cabbage.

Fresh cabbage from the Garden is put to use at the Garden Chef Series. Join us on Saturdays and Sundays, May 23 – October 4.

This is Pettorossi’s first spring at the Garden, after beginning in his role in November. He eagerly welcomes the arrivals of produce this spring. “If you can get something at the peak of freshness it always tastes better,” he said. As for the menu, “the season definitely dictates it,” he explained. “The menu features a lot of specials, depending on what we have in house.” No matter the season, he said the menu is always “fresh, mostly organic, local, and garden-inspired.”

Cool-season crops such as heirloom Tennis Ball butterhead lettuce (Lactuca sativa ‘Tennis Ball’) are the first to be ready this year. They will soon be joined by French Breakfast radish (Raphanus sativus ‘French Breakfast’), Hakurei salad turnips (Brassica rapa ‘Hakurei’), beets, and bunching onions. “All of our ingredients are very simple based on what they tell me they can grow,” he said, indicating that the most seasonal foods can be found in daily specials that he plans a day ahead.

 Staff and volunteers plant the Fruit & Vegetable Garden terraces with fall season crops.

Staff and volunteers plant the Fruit & Vegetable Garden terraces with fall crops.

The connection from garden to table extends to connect people as well, from garden mentor to student, or from an individual to their culture or family traditions, for example. Hilgenberg loves hearing from garden visitors about their connections to the garden crops. She spent much of her childhood on her Norwegian grandparent’s farm in Iowa, building her own such connections.

Hilgenberg makes a point to grow widely recognized plants in the garden each year, including herbs, edible flowers, and vegetables. She grows annual small fruits such as strawberries, gooseberries, and currants in addition to blueberries and bramble fruit. She also grows less common plants such as Marshall strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa ‘Marshall’), which she and her team propagated from three donated plants. Everything grown in the garden is done so organically. “I think it’s interesting for people to try different local varieties,” she said. Many, she explained, cannot be found in a typical grocery store, especially in organic form.

This year, several beds have been planted in the French potager style, and others laid out to mirror the gardens of Monticello. There are two beds planted with vegetables people may have seen in seed houses in 1890, the same year the Chicago Horticultural Society was founded. In honor of the Society’s 125th anniversary, seeds were made available through seed catalogs, the Seed Savers Exchange, and other sources. Edible flowers, such as Empress of India nasturtium (Nasturtium ‘Empress of India’), artfully border beds of radish, rutabaga, and turnips, for example. In addition, she included carrots, kale, collard, and three varieties of cabbage (Brassica oleracea): ‘Mammoth Red Rock’, ‘Early Jersey Wakefield’, and ‘Perfection Drumhead Savoy’. Each one was selected because it is adapted to our local growing conditions, a process Hilgenberg and her staff, volunteers, and interns have mastered over the years. Last year, they grew and harvested two tons of produce. The year before, that was combined with a bumper apple crop for 6,000 pounds of production.

 The Herbs de Provence garden bed in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

The Herbes de Provence garden bed in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden: what is not used fresh can be dried in one batch at the end of the season.

How does the chef manage to find a way to serve even the most unusual varieties with style? “I always try to add a little acid [such as lemon or vinegar] to food because acid makes flavors pop,” he advised. “A lot of lettuces are sweet, but others have a bitterness to them,” he added, “so you would have to find that perfect vinaigrette to go with that bitterness,and maybe add a touch of honey or something sweet.”

In addition to growing and preparing food at the Garden, “we are also this amazing workforce and training program for underserved youth and adults,” said Resnick, who explained that participants in the Windy City Harvest program, with large growing beds off-site, provide a significant amount of produce for the Garden View Café and learn to sell their produce at farmers’ markets. On-site each year, a few Windy City Harvest interns work directly with Hilgenberg.

Anyone walking through the Fruit & Vegetable Garden today may see the beginnings of a dish they can enjoy in the café by early summer. The season will continue to evolve in coming months, with the Garden Grille opening in late May. In June, warm-season crops such as heirloom corn, Japanese Nest Egg summer squash (Cucurbita pepo ‘Japanese Nest Egg’), White Patty Pan squash (Cucurbita pepo var. melopepo ‘White Patty Pan’), Yellow Pear tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Yellow Pear’), and Blueberry Blend tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Blueberry Blend’) will replace the spring plantings in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden, giving way to new edible discoveries.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

A Rare Affair is a gardener’s dream come true

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 2:00am

If you are reading this blog, you are probably a plant person. So am I.

In my dreams I’m at a party, and there is no dirt under my nails. It’s a late spring evening at the most beautiful botanic garden in the world, with great food and drinks, and everyone who is there also loves plants. There is an auction of exceptional, unusual, and hard-to-find plant specimens I need to have. They have been vetted by a panel of experts and were donated by some of the top nurseries in the country. Best of all, the event will support fellowships for the plant biology and conservation graduate program, which is a collaboration between the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University.

Click here to download a PDF catalog containing the entire rare plant inventory.
 Bidsheets and plants at A Rare Affair.

This plant lover’s dream come true is known as A Rare Affair. It is the ninth biennial plant auction presented by the Woman’s Board of the Chicago Horticultural Society. It will be held Friday, May 29, at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and silent auction begin at 6 p.m. in the Regenstein Center, with a catered dinner and live auction to follow at 8 p.m. in McGinley Pavilion.

The Woman’s Board and Chicago Botanic Garden staff members have worked hard to gather an amazing collection of exceptional offerings, including plants and garden-related items. A sampling of the plant offerings includes:

Snow Cloud maidenhair tree
(Ginkgo biloba ‘Snow Cloud’) 

The leaves of this slow-growing ginkgo emerge blonde with white-tipped edges, gradually becoming bright green with white streaking. It has brilliant gold fall foliage.

 Ginkgo biloba 'Snow Cloud'.

With its unusual variegated leaves, Ginkgo biloba ‘Snow Cloud’ makes a wonderful specimen tree. Photo © Buchholz & Buchholz Nursery

Inquinans geranium
(Pelargonium inquinans)

This may look like any geranium, but it comes from Monticello, and is a cutting of a species plant that is one of the parents of our modern bedding geraniums.

 Pelargonium inquinans.

Pelargonium inquinans is grown from a species geranium cultivated at Monticello. Photo by Magnus Manske (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Cutleaf Japanese emperor oak
(Quercus dentata ‘Pinnatifida’)

This wonderful tree comes from our friends at Fiore nursery. Its grayish-green leaves are deeply bisected, resulting in a unique, feathery texture.

 Quercus dentata 'Pinnatifida'.

The delicately-lobed cutleaf Japanese emperor oak, Quercus dentata ‘Pinnatifida’ is a beautiful, smaller ornamental oak, growing only to about 15 feet tall. Photo via JC Raulston Arboretum

Peony collection
(Paeonia sp.)

A peony collection from Cornell Plantations includes Paeonia ‘Myrtle Gentry’—resembling a rose in both form and fragrance—in shades of pink and salmon aging to white.

 Paeonia 'Myrtle Gentry'.

Paeonia ‘Myrtle Gentry’ will be available as part of this rare peony collection. Photo © 2007 by Dr. Wilhelm de Wilde, Mariehamn, Aland-Islands

Floribunda is a collection of non-plant items for plant lovers who may have no more room in their garden and those who love them. Most of these treasures are garden-related or themed. 

Highlights include:

  • A pontoon boat ride at sunset led by Bob Kirschner on the lakes of the Chicago Botanic Garden. (Includes refreshments.)
  • An orchid photograph by Anne Belmont, similar to those that graced the walls of Krehbiel Gallery during the Orchid Show.
  • An exceptional opportunity for a foursome to play golf at the Dunes Club in New Buffalo, Michigan.
  • Lessons in flower arrangement and container gardening, taught by talented members of the Woman’s Board.

The Woman’s Board invites you to attend this event and partner with us in supporting fellowships for the plant biology and conservation graduate program—a collaboration between the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University. Reservations are limited. For tickets and information, call (847) 835-6833.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Warbler Heaven

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 8:30am

A lot of birds migrate through the area this time of year, but I have to say warblers are my favorites. The other day, when the rain cleared and the sun came out, I found myself in warbler heaven!

 Yellow-rumped warbler.

Yellow-rumped warblers (Setophaga coronata) are some of the most common warblers to be seen at the Garden. You can spot them almost anywhere! Photo © Carol Freeman

As soon as I walked out of the Visitor Center, I saw movement in the trees next to the bridge: my first warbler of the day—a prothonotary! (Protonotaria citrea)—an uncommon warbler, and the first time I’ve ever seen one at the Chicago Botanic Garden! Next stop: the top of the Waterfall Garden. The birds were hopping! Here I added eight more warbler species, including yellow-rumped, palm, black-and-white, Cape May, American redstart, Wilson’s, magnolia, and yellow warblers! Wow! So much fun! I also saw red-eyed and warbling vireos, a scarlet tanager, and a ruby-crowned kinglet, to name a few.

 Red-eyed vireo.

Another lovely migrant: the red-eyed vireo ( Vireo olivaceus) Photo © Carol Freeman

 Black-and-white warbler.

The black-and-white warblers (Mniotilta varia) can be seen hopping along branches looking for insects. Photo © Carol Freeman

After delighting in the abundance of birds for a few hours, I slowly made my way back to my car, choosing to walk under the amazing flowering crabapple trees. Just at the end of the line of trees I heard what I thought was another warbler. I couldn’t quite see what it was. I tried calling it out, and to my delight, out popped the most beautiful male northern parula warbler (Setophaga americana). He hopped right onto a flower-filled branch and seemed to pose while I got some photos. I’ve only seen a parula a couple of times before, and never this close, and never on such a pretty perch. A perfect way to end my journey in warbler heaven.

 Northern parula warbler.

I could hardly believe my eyes when this beauty popped up in the flowering crabapple tree! Northern parula warbler (Setophaga americana) photo © Carol Freeman

While I can’t promise you will see this many warblers in a day, there is always something to see, and the fun part for me is never knowing just what might show up. Last week it was a white-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus). This week, warblers. Next week, who knows? All I do know is I’ll be out there to see what wonders there are to discover and then I’ll be in heaven again.

 Palm warbler.

Palm warblers (Setophaga palmarum) can easily be identified by their tail pumping and rusty crown. Photo © Carol Freeman

 White-eyed vireo.

An uncommon visitor! I was surprised to find this white-eyed vireo (Vireo griseus) in a tree in a parking lot. Photo © Carol Freeman

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Language of Flowers

Sun, 05/17/2015 - 8:48am

Today we text hearts. But in Victorian times, flowers acted as the instant messaging and emojis of the day.

In nineteenth-century Europe (and eventually in America), communication by flower became all the rage. A language of flowers emerged. Books appeared that set the standard for flower meanings and guided the sender and the recipient in their floral dialogue. Victorians turned the trend into an art form; a properly arranged bouquet could convey quite a complex message.

Naturally, books on the subject often had lavishly decorated or illustrated covers.

Naturally, books on the subject often had lavishly decorated or illustrated covers.

Now an amazing collection of books about the subject, including many entitled The Language of Flowers, has been donated to the Lenhardt Library. The gift of James Moretz, the retired director of the American Floral Art School in Chicago, the collection includes more than 400 volumes from his extensive personal library on floral design. Moretz taught the floral arts for 45 years, traveled the world in pursuit of the history and knowledge of flowers, and authored several books on the topic. His bequest gives the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library one of the Midwest’s best collections of literature on the language of flowers.

As even these few photos show, there are books filled with intricate illustrations, books specific to one flower, handpainted books, pocket-sized books, and dictionaries. The oldest volume dates to 1810. Two are covered in pink paper—seldom seen 200 years ago, but quite subject-appropriate. Many books are charmingly small—the better to fit, it was thought, in a woman’s hands.

A non-written type of communication, the language of flowers needed a standardized dictionary in order to be properly understood.

A non-written type of communication, the language of flowers needed a standardized dictionary in order to be properly understood.

 Carnation Fascination bookcover.

Carnations held several meanings: a solid color said yes, a striped flower said no, red meant admiration, while yellow meant disappointment.

The language of flowers translated well: there are books in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch, Japanese…and English. Some 240 of the volumes are quite rare—those will, of course, be added to the library’s Rare Book Collection. (Fear not, you can peruse them by appointment.) The remainder will be catalogued and added to the library shelves during the course of the year. Are you a Garden member? You’ll be able to check them out.

 The tiny books of of The Language of Flowers.

Tiny books were sized for women’s hands—and to slip into pockets.

 Cupid's Almanac and Guide to Hearticulture bookcover.

This pocket-sized Victorian reference could come in handy when courting.

Librarians aren’t often at a loss for words, yet when I asked Lenhardt Library director Leora Siegel about the importance of the donation, she paused for a very long moment before responding. Clearly, her answer would have weight.

“It is the single most outstanding donation in my tenure as director,” she replied.

Pink rose illustrationAnd so to Mr. Moretz, one last word of thanks:

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Join the food revolution on World Environment Day

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 12:39pm

Check out 20 food-waste-saving ideas here—and learn more on World Environment Day at the Garden, June 6.

 Food waste infographic.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Speaking Science: Bringing Plant-Based Research to All Ages

Wed, 05/13/2015 - 9:30am

Do you ever feel like trying to understand plant science research can be as daunting as deciphering a passage written in a foreign language?

As a budding plant scientist in the joint Chicago Botanic Garden/Northwestern University Ph.D. program, I find it exciting to pick through dense scientific text. Uncovering the meaning of a new acronym and learning new vocabulary can be thrilling, especially when decoding something new.

 Kelly Ksiazek speaking in Sydney, Australia.

This past fall I spoke to a group of green infrastructure professionals in Sydney about the importance of urban biodiversity.

But the commonly used styles in scientific writing and presentation packed with language used to convey big topics in small spaces can be really off-putting to an audience of non-scientists. Many of us can conjure up a memory of a professor or teacher who seemed to like their subject matter but couldn’t convey the material in an interesting way. All of a sudden, science became boring.

Rather than struggling to learn this “foreign language,” many folks stop paying attention. Lack of scientific literacy, especially as it applies to plants, is a pity. Plants are all around us! They are so valuable to the entire planet. The very applicable field of botany shouldn’t be something that’s only discussed and understood in laboratories or scientific conferences—it should be for everyone.

This idea inspires me to try and bring my current botany research to a wide variety of people.

 Ksiazek takes her presentation on the road to Pittsburgh.

I’ve had the chance to speak with many visitors to the Chicago Botanic Garden about my research, and typically bring some of my research supplies, as seen here from a trip to Pittsburgh.

 A Book About Green Roofs.

Writing and publishing a children’s book helps bring my research findings to kids all over the world.

For example, I recently realized that there are very few resources available to teach young students about the habitat where I currently collect most of my data: green roofs. While some of the methods I use for data collection and analysis can be quite complex, the motivations behind my work and some of the findings can be broken down into some basic ideas, applicable to students of all ages. So a fellow botanist and I wrote and produced Growing Up in the City: A Book About Green Roofs.

Our children’s activity book teaches youngsters about some of our research findings. The book follows a pair of native bumblebees through a city, where they guide the reader through engaging activities about the structure, environmental benefits, and motivations for building green roofs. At the end, readers even have the opportunity to ask their own research question and carry out a green roof research project of their own.

Interested in your own copy of our book? More information and a free digital download of the book are available at greeningupthecity.com.

 Ksiazek presents her work to a girls' middle school.

Talking to 100-plus middle school girls about why it’s cool to be a botanist was a great experience!

The activity book is just one example of ways that plant scientists can engage with a broader audience and make their research findings more accessible. Some of the other activities that my colleagues here at the Chicago Botanic Garden and I have participated in include mentoring undergraduate and high school students, speaking to community organizations, creating lessons for schools and school groups, volunteering for summer programs, and maintaining a presence on the Internet through online mentoring, blogging, websites, and Twitter.

 Ksiazek and an undergraduate student identify green roof plants.

Teaching undergraduate students how to identify plants on green roofs is one way of passing on my research knowledge.

 Ksiazek discusses her research with a visitor to the PCSC.

My experiments on the green roof at the Plant Science Center are visible to everyone. Come take a look!

Here at the Garden, we scientists also have a unique variety of opportunities to share our science with the thousands of visitors who come to the beautiful Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center. If you’ve never been to the Plant Science Center, you should definitely stop by the next time you’re at the Garden. You can see inside the laboratories where the other scientists and I collect some of our data. There are also a lot of interactive displays that aim to demystify plant science research and decode some of the “foreign language” that science speak can be. For a really interactive experience, come visit us on World Environment Day, Saturday, June 6, and talk to scientists directly. Bring your kids, bring your neighbors, and ask a botanist all those burning plant questions you have! We promise to only speak as much “science” as you want.

For more information about my research and science communication efforts, please visit my research blog, Kelly Ksiazek’s Botany in Action, and follow me on Twitter @GreenCityGal.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

For the Love of Trains

Fri, 05/08/2015 - 8:55am

Once there was a boy who loved model trains. When the boy grew up, he became the chief engineer of train exhibitions at the Chicago Botanic Garden—and he still plays with trains. “I hardly get to play with my railroad at home because I get to play with this one,” said Dave Rodelius, in the tone of a man who can’t believe his good fortune.

 a steam engine!

Dave Rodelius shows off one of the stars of the Model Railroad Garden this spring: a steam engine!

This year marks Rodelius’s 15th season at the Model Railroad Garden: Landmarks of America, which opens Saturday, May 9, with a special treat. This season, the Model Railroad Garden will pay tribute to steam engines, in honor of the 125th anniversary of the Chicago Horticultural Society (the Society founded and manages the Chicago Botanic Garden). Models of historic steam engines will chug along 1,600 feet of track, representing the early days of the Society, when steam engines ran commuter coaches along Chicago’s elevated tracks and hauled freight over long distances.

Q. Dave, you have the greatest job title ever! How did you get this job?

A. I was retired, and my wife saw a little blurb in the newspaper that the Chicago Botanic Garden needed tram drivers. So I became a tram driver. One day, I saw that they had torn things up right in the middle of the Garden. I said, “What the Sam Hill are they doing here?” That’s how I found out there was going to be a model railroad out there. Then one of the secretaries, who worked for a vice president, found out that I had been into model railroads all my life. So one day, the vice president of visitor operations at the time called me into her office and asked if I would be interested in managing the railroad. I didn’t get a chance to ask her how much I’d have to pay.

 Visitors of all ages enjoy the Model Railroad Garden.

Visitors of all ages enjoy the Model Railroad Garden.

Q. But that was back in 2000—and the railroad exhibition was going to be a five-month exhibition.

A. We had more than 100,000 people come through in five months. The little path out there was constantly packed with people. One thing led to another. In our first year, the trains didn’t make any sounds—no choo-choos or whistles or anything, so we added sound cars. Gradually, the railroad became so darn popular that it became a permanent exhibition.

Q. So you became interested in trains as a kid?

A. When I was 6 or 7, my dad bought me a Lionel train. That train would go around the Christmas tree and in the bedroom. Now I have a model railroad layout of Solothurn, Switzerland, where my daughter got married; it’s in my basement. It has Swiss trains and a ski lift.

Q. It sounds like you were a busy kid.

A. My family had 2.5 acres that we farmed in World War II for vegetables. I sold vegetables in the neighborhood in my little wagon. Then I was in the Boy Scouts and became an Eagle Scout in 1948….I grew up in Evanston and still live in Evanston, and I have lunch with some sixth-grade classmates once a month.

Q. And you’ve had some other interesting jobs before you started running the railroad.

A. I received a bachelor’s degree in animal science at the University of Illinois. I wanted to raise cattle. In college, I was an intern at a purebred cattle farm. The most fascinating thing I did was to help birth calves. You get to see the little rascals trying to get up and stumble around….Eventually, I was drafted into the U.S. Army engineer corps. Two years later, I was discharged and became a manager at a livestock feed manufacturing company. Then my dad bought a photography studio in 1961, and I became a photographer.

Q. What keeps you motivated after all these years?

A. My passion for the railroad is what drives me—I absolutely love this railroad. The same passion goes for everyone. We have 18 engineers and 75 to 80 volunteers. They get along so darn well that I can’t believe it. You cannot keep these people away; they are just so dedicated. They whole thing has kept me young. I get up and down on my hands and knees all the time. I should write to the AARP—if you want to hear about a good job to have, we at the Garden have it.

 Model Railroad Garden volunteers.

Left to right: Model Railroad Garden volunteer engineers Ken Press and Mark Rosenblum with George Knuth, staff engineer

Q. What do you do in your spare time?

A. I do some gardening, and some fishing and boating. My wife and I have three daughters and three grandkids. My wife is spectacular, one of the greatest people I’ve ever met.

©2015 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

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