Botany

Mazon Creek Deposits

Image of Mazon Creek plant fossils.
This unique assemblage of fossil flora and fauna gets its name from the Mazon (pronounced Muh-zon) Creek (River) that serves as a tributary to the Illinois River in northeast Illinois. A portion of the fossil beds are now within the Braidwood State Fish and Wildlife Area, and fossil collecting is allowed by permit. Not only do the fossils help scientists reconstruct past climates and species composition in Illinois (at that time the state was located much closer to the equator), but they are also starkly beautiful.

Dwarf Chinkapin Oak

Image of Dwarf Chinkapin Oak
Dwarf Chinkapin Oak (Quercus prinoides) is a shrubby, clone-forming oak native to eastern and central North America. In Illinois, Chinkapin Oak has been sometimes misidentified as Dwarf Chinkapin Oak, and a true Dwarf Chinkapin Oak plant has not been observed in the wild until recently.

Blue Violet and White Oak

Image of Blue violet and White Oak
In 1907, Mrs. James C. Fessler of Rochelle suggested to state officials that Illinois schoolchildren vote for a state tree and flower. Senator Andrew J. Jackson of Rockford introduced a bill making it official, and in 1908 the blue violet became the state flower, and the oak became the state tree.

White Snakeroot

Image of White Snakeroot
Two years after Abraham Lincoln’s father, Thomas Lincoln, moved his family to the Little Pigeon Creek settlement in Southern Indiana, the family faced tragedy. Abraham was just nine years old when his mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, became gravely ill. Just two weeks later, on October 5, 1818, he lost his mother to “Milk Sickness.”

Big Bluestem

Image of Big Bluestem
The land that was to become the State of Illinois was once two-thirds covered by prairie. Big Bluestem (Adropogon gerardii) may have been the most widespread and abundant grass on the prairie. Big Bluestem grows in such tall and dense stands that it often outcompetes other grasses.

Cultivated Plants

Image of several plants cultivated by native people.
Given how crucial they were in the development of North American agriculture, it's ironic that today these plants are considered to be unexceptional. Two of the specimens were collected along roadsides, and one was collected along a railroad right of way. Another is referred to, without ceremony, as a weed. But these plants sowed the seeds of what would be the domestication of plants, a change that laid the foundation for agricultural societies to develop.
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