The Illinois Greenbrier (Smilax illinoensis) is a native perennial found throughout the Midwest/Great Lakes Region. In Illinois, it may be found in woodland areas. It reportedly has a faint carrion odor and attracts many types of insects, including moths and flies.
Field trips, like the one pictured here, were among the many ways the Chicago Academy of Sciences actively included the Chicago community in its scientific work and promoted the appreciation of nature.
Herman Silas Pepoon (1860-1941) was a local naturalist with a particular focus on the plants of Illinois and the Midwest. He spent a considerable amount of time exploring Apple River Canyon, where he identified and collected over 500 species of plants. One of his most noteworthy discoveries in the canyon was Bird’s Eye Primrose (Primula mistassinica), a plant previously found only in more northerly locations.
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, animal specimens were traditionally preserved as study skins or as crudely stuffed mounts. Then, in the early 1910s, a man named Carl Akeley pioneered new specimen preparation techniques that enabled him to create more realistic displays. The Chicago Academy of Sciences also began to experiment with these ideas and devised large, meticulously-detailed dioramas as a new way to represent local species and natural areas.
A native herbaceous plant, the Barrelhead Blazing Star grows tall, with purple tubular blossoms that attract long-tongued bees and butterflies as well as rabbits and deer. Once much more abundant, this plant may still be found in northern Illinois.
The Nodding Onion is a perennial in the lily family (Liliaceae) that sports white to pale pink blooms that attract butterflies. This specimen was collected by Anna Pedersen Kummer in 1943 from Stony Island in Chicago, a site that no longer exists. Now this plant is only found in northeastern Illinois.
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 (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.”