Plant Science & Conservation

Surprise: A Rare Local Plant Returns

Persistence can be a good trait for prairie plants. Take this tale of the return of the Hill’s thistle (Cirsium hillii) to the Dixon Prairie at the Chicago Botanic Garden.I’m the assistant ecologist for the natural areas at the Garden. While managing some tall vegetation on the gravel hill of the Dixon Prairie in summer 2016, I noticed something I have not seen in a while. It was a thistle!

The Surprising Science Behind Hummingbirds and Flowers

Fast and graceful, hummingbirds flit from flower to flower—but which ones and why? A Chicago Botanic Garden scientist and his collaborators recently made some unexpected findings on the subject.It’s a common perception that plants are perfectly matched to their pollinators and that each pollinator has a specific flower type that they are attracted to. For hummingbirds, many gardeners and scientists alike have long assumed their flower type to be one that is strikingly red, tubular, and scentless.

The Secrets of Spring Ephemerals in the Woods

“The wonder of the world, the beauty and the power, the shapes of things, their colours, lights and shades—these I saw. Look ye also while life lasts.” —Anonymous lines found on an old tombstone in Cumberland, England"While life lasts." This can be a very brief moment in time for a spring ephemeral. In that narrow window that exists between thawing ground and the leafing out of the tree canopy, spring ephemerals—those woodland wildflowers that emerge, then quickly go dormant—live their life.