502 South Spring Springfield, IL
Well before Illinois became a state, Native American tribes (the Sac and Fox) living in the area mined galena ore (lead sulfide), the source of lead. Pioneer settlers also exploited the area’s lead resources, eventually displacing the Native Americans who first mined here. In the 1820s, galena ore became the focus of the first major “mineral rush” in the United States. By the end of the 1820s, the city of Galena rivaled Chicago in size.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
While the American Bald Eagle was getting all the attention for its comeback in the lower 48 states, another bird of prey was quietly making a comeback of its own. The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), a fish-eating hawk, has also benefitted from some of the same legal protections and conservation measures that have assisted the Bald Eagle. The Osprey has a white head with a dark eye stripe. It hunts by folding its wings and making a steep dive into the water feet first to catch fish.
European Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) are ubiquitous across North America, where they compete with native cavity-nesting birds for space. They reportedly were brought to the Americas by a fan of William Shakespeare who set out to introduce every bird mentioned in the Bard’s work to the New World. In 1890, Eugene Schieffelin released 60 starlings in Central Park in New York City, and the rest was “to be.” Immigrants brought many plants and animals from home when they resettled in the New World, and most of them behaved well enough. However, a few became invasive, meaning they cause ecological or economic harm.
The Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido) once numbered in the millions in Illinois. At first, as the Illinois prairie was converted to farmland, prairie chickens grew in numbers. But as the ratio of farmland to prairie grew more lopsided, prairie chickens declined in number, leaving a small, remnant population on two preserves in southern Illinois.
This specimen of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (Campephilus principalis) (here compared with the common Pileated Woodpecker on the left) is not from Illinois. The only Illinois records we have are observations from naturalists, mostly in the 1800s. John James Audubon, the famous bird artist, encountered calling Ivory-billed Woodpeckers in the 1820s on both sides of the Ohio River where it meets the Mississippi River at Cairo. Southern Illinois was the far northern extent of the species at that time.
The unmistakable ridges of the carapace (or shell) tell us right away that this prehistoric-looking creature is the Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii). It is our largest freshwater turtle, weighing up to 200 pounds. They lie in wait for prey submerged underwater and try to lure a meal into range by means of a wormlike appendage on the floor of their mouths. When a fish or other aquatic animal moves in to investigate, the turtle snaps its jaws shut.