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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Saturday Cancelled - but we're off to a fine start.

The event planned for this Saturday at Short Cemetery Prairie is cancelled - in respect for the need of slowing the spread of that bad virus.

But this post shows great success as recent as March 7.

Nature Preserve field rep Kim Roman realized, as we - The Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves - finished that day's work at Goose Lake - that perhaps we were looking at an opportunity to burn the Cemetery. We had enough trained leaders and equipment. She seized the time, and we did it!

As you look at the photos below, realize that this was prairie! The natural ecosystem here has no trees, or perhaps a few widely spaced and fire-pruned oaks. Do we still have some work to do?

Here are the photos:

We raked firebreaks around the edge, donned fire-resistant clothes, and lit the burn with a drip torch. There's little prairie vegetation surviving along the edge, as this area was dark from the shade of dense shrubs, which the intrepid volunteers cut during our previous "work party" here. 
Along the west edge, the crew had to crash through as-yet-uncut brush. At least there's some surviving grassland vegetation in this photo.

The fire was patchy at best. Shade had reduced the natural vegetation drastically, but there are indications that most species survive here and there. The brush cutting and fire are a renewed lease on life. 2020 will be a great recovery year for Short Cemetery Prairie. 
After the burn, back in civilian clothes, everyone felt great! (And we believe the prairie was starting to feel great too!)
All this work at Short is credit to great leadership from volunteers Michael Campbell, Claire Snyder, Matt Evans, Katie Kucera, DNR biologist Dan Kirk - and, of course, the person who seized the fire moment, Kim Roman of the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission.

We look forward to the next time we'll be able to work here and at Goose Lake. For up-to-date info, and new events when we can schedule them, check out the website of Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves

One last graphic ... what we're looking forward to more of ... previous years' photos from this Nature Preserve by Mark Kluge:

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Kick-Off This Saturday

Goose Lake Prairie is enormous, and its wildness is electrifying.
Katie, Kim, Dan and I hiked around to prepare for this Saturday.
Great flocks of American White-Fronted Geese wheeled overhead - making their glorious goose music. These flocks of "Speckle-Bellies" are headed for the high arctic.

A Bald Eagle flew over. Freshly back Sandhill Cranes trumpeted. A Chicago garter snake was out sunning itself. But this treasure never had the Stewards Community that it needed.

White-fronted Geese. By the thousands, at Goose Lake now.
(Photo from the Crosley ID Guide.)
And the plants were our focus. True prairie is begging to rebound here, and it needs our help. We'll be working to rescue the gem of the site - the two precious acres that were found to be High Quality.

Can you believe that those two acres have much grim brush. After Saturday, it will be gone. Weather prediction: high of 50. Sunny (thanks, weather, for your cooperation).

Decades ago botanist Dr. Roger Anderson installed two deer-exclusion fences in those two acres.
Inside both fenced squares, insidious brush degrades. It will be gone.
Help us find people who might appreciate this new community! Do you know anyone who lives in easy driving distance? Joliet? Morris? Anywhere in Grundy County? Or close? Please invite them!

Please come. Goose Lake Prairie: Saturday March 7th.

Park in the little picnic parking lot on Jugtown Road
It runs north from Lorenzo Road (if you're coming west from I 55).
Or from the same road, called Pine Bluff Road (if you're coming east from Morris).

9:00 AM. To help organize.
10:00 AM. For the main kick-off.
1:00 PM. For the afternoon shift.

You can help. Add momentum to something truly needed.

This post finishes up with three more photos:

Here, inside the fence, brush has killed some of the diversity that should be the heart of the recovering prairie. This pitiful giant of a natural area needs lots of people to care and help! 

Do you know how to recognize prairie species while they're dormant? If not, might you want to learn? Come on down, we'll teach you. Here, the richer color is little bluestem. Also easy to see here: prairie dropseed, white false indigo, and wild quinine. 

The above photo by Dan Kirk shows an American Bittern coursing over Goose Lake Prairie. This Endangered Bittern breeds in these sprawling marshes and prairies, along with Blanding's Turtles, Bell's Vireos, Regal Fritilaries, Sandhill Cranes, Rattlesnake Master Moths, Yellow-breasted Chats, Hill's Thistles, Bobolinks, Grass Pink Orchids, and so - so - so long a list of endangered to rare species.

Dan Kirk is staff. Why can't he do all this himself? Because beyond these thousands of acres he has other thousands, spread over seven counties. He does a lot.

But such preserves each "need a village" - a community of stewards. (And all communities of good people who care need to grow and expand and join together as an effective power upon the Earth.)

We can each do only so much, as individuals. Might you help us launch this new community on Saturday? 

Friday, February 14, 2020

Secret Prairie, Famous People, and Magic – March 7, 2020

Photos by Dan Kirk

 “Kick-off” details on Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves first event!
Save the date. 

Maybe you can come?
Help us to plan for tools etc.? For RSVP and info: Click here.

It started with a secret cemetery prairie (shhhh!) – got written up on this blog – had been degrading for years. We can’t say its name aloud, as it's too small and sensitive. BUT WE CAN SAY that Michael Campbell read about it here, and volunteered to bring a gang of brush-slayers, and that was just the beginning. (To read about the middle, go to Endnote 1.)

Then comes the next miracle: that secret cemetery initiative got people talking and WE ARE NOW HEREBY ANNOUNCING the first big brush bash sponsored by the Friends.

Goose Lake Prairie is not a secret. We can shout about it! 
It won't look like this on March 7. But now is the best time for this kind of work. 
Endangered orchids and Blanding’s turtles and Franklin’s ground squirrels and grassland birds and a great deal more desperately, urgently need some ambitious stewards. And even if you’re not highly available for the long term, it would be great if you could come and help give this kick-off some momentum. Also – invite people! (Especially if they live in the area, like Morris or Braidwood or Joliet!)

The highest quality areas of Goose Lake Prairie have suffered. Well, it’s all suffered. This treasure needs volunteer support – and constituency – and media – and the funding that then comes. 
Many of its endangered species are protected by the prairie's size.
In its thousands of acres, most people can't find them.
We’ll work in one of the highest quality areas, to relieve some of the most pathetic and desperate suffering. Good-bye brush – the very brush that kills grassland orchids, turtles, squirrels, and birds. 

We kick off this work on March 7 at three times, for your convenience. Early birds will start the brush-burning bonfires and will need cut brush to feed them at 9:00 AM. The regular start and kick-off orientation will start at 10:00 AM, and then some of us will have lunch on site and greet the afternoon crew, who will launch a second kick-off at 1:00 PM. You could help us plan for tools etc. To RSVP:  Click here. (If you have special skills or equipment you might contribute – see Endnote 2 – and please let us know.)

We'll meet at the Picnic Grove Parking Area on Jugtown Road, north of Pine Bluff/Lorenzo Road. If you come on I 55, take the Lorenzo Road exit west. 
Goose Lake's prairies are mixed with ponds. Endangered moorhens (above) and bitterns use both. 
In sandy upland, you might run into this rare character. 

Our long-term goal is a community of stewards who might want to work strategically at Goose Lake (and the little secret prairie) and other nearby treasures. 

Endnote 1

A little cemetery contained some of the richest sand prairie vegetation in the region. After dedication as an Illinois Nature Preserve it was burned a few times, but it never got adopted by stewards. Over the years, shrubs and trees grew up in and around this gem, and bit by bit species began to drop out. 

Nature Preserves rep Kim Roman, with vastly more preserves than one person can handle, was so very happy when she heard from Michael Campbell and, with support from the Friends, quickly set a date for a brush bash. But she didn’t want to advertise it. The place is small and fragile. But she did set wheels in motion.

One of the most important things she did was to contact the adjacent landowner. The brush is spreading from that adjacent land. Trees from that land are shading the prairie. To her great pleasure, the owners appreciated her goals and offered to help – and include some of that land in the restored area. Go, Kim!

Precious cemetery prairies cannot withstand heavy visitation. Especially when stressed and losing species (will they come back?) – so if you’re interested in this one as a potential member of the Team of Stewards – send us a note at

Or just show up at Goose Lake and say hi. Go, Friends! 

Both the cemetery and Goose Lake have rare sand species.
This endangered, carnivorous sun dew grows in wet sand at Goose Lake.
Don't point it out to goofy people who might want to dig it up.

Endnote 2
We want to make this event pleasant and educational for new people - and also do powerful and efficient work. We may divide up between a mechanized area and a nature-sounds area.

Probably our biggest unmet need is for herbiciders. If you are Illinois-authorized and can help, please tell us in the RSVP: Click here. If you have and can run a mechanized brush-cutter, let us know that too. We may also need an additional chain saw or two.

Check out our website at Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves.
If you haven't already, you might want to read about the Birth of the Friends.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The birth of Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves

This post announces the launch of a community … and an institution … that may be historic.

As of today, 596 precious and irreplaceable Illinois Nature Preserves are, in theory, “legally protected forever” by a powerful law. But neglect has caused widespread degradation. In the main office in Springfield, the three top positions are vacant. The "Director" position has been vacant for four years. See Endnote 1a (The Staff).

The system needs support, volunteers, funds, contractors, and more. Many agencies, starting with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, need to hire nature preserve and natural heritage staff and bump up their budgets. But it starts with support from “we the people.”

The Illinois Nature Preserves System is globally famous – the best, precious remnants of some of the temperate world’s most productive and diverse biodiversity. But the system is failing, or barely holding its own, in many cases.

In a world of biodiversity extinction and climate change, these preserves are lifelines to the future.

Courageous and hard-working staff and volunteers have been trying to hold the fort. But Blagojevich and Rauner, the bureaucracy, and, frankly, good people not rising to the occasion have taken a toll. Some preserves have lost a large part of what they were “preserved’ for. This blog has posted on PalatineLangham, and Weston Nature Preserves, but there are so many other desperately needy sites. Are there any near you?

Illinois Nature Preserves System

One of the first goals of Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves will be to compile a record of what’s most urgently needed for the survival and recovery of these preserves. One by one. Do you know any of them? Also, do you know people in any part of the state who might be able to help? Or learn to help? If so, please share this post with them.

Endnote 1b (The Preserves) contains a very preliminary list of preserves and needs. Can you add to it? 

A scant few of us (this mission needs thousands) have incorporated the Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves and are applying for tax-exempt status. Would you like to be a member – for free? See Endnote 2. In the meantime, Illinois Audubon has agreed to accept tax-exempt donations for support of the Friends work. Do you want to help launch this? Go to the Audubon donations page.  In “Check Out” – mark your donation “In support of Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves.”

How’d this finally come about? 

Young Matt Evans (in photo below, third from left, beaming with youth and optimism) travelled around the state interviewing staff and volunteers about nature preserves. He got an earful. Many people said a Friends group was desperately needed.

Old Steve Packard called old contacts, asked for leads, emailed others, and discovered that many great minds and spirits were willing to be Friends’ Advisors and Consultants. See list in Endnote 3.

Prime of life Fran Harty organized a meeting in Springfield that included all living former Nature Preserve directors and an impressive list of heavy hitters in the science and politics of Illinois conservation. See photo below and more detail in Endnote 4.
On October 24, 2019, these people met in Springfield. For who they were and what they said, check out Endnote 4. Great group! But don't expect us to do what's needed. We're mostly old. And spread too thin - like you. We'll all do what we can.
Matt and I drove down together to that Springfield meeting. On the way, we peeked in at the 1.3 acres of Short Pioneer Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve in Grundy County, owned by the Oak Ridge Cemetery Association. To our eyes, this jewel desperately needed fire – and especially reduction of shade and brush around its east, south, and west edges. A volunteer “workday” (like many lesser sites have every week) could make a world of difference. We wondered how easy it would be to get approval for such. We suspected that a great many people would show up to help, and learn, and perhaps become stewards in time. 

We were inspired by a complex of oak woodland with prairie-like openings called Ridgetop Hill Prairie Nature Preserve owned by the highly respected ParkLands Foundation. Evidence of good stewardship was everywhere. We found a patch of bird’s-foot trefoil, starting to spread. This species is an appalling menace. We kept notes, reminding us to inform preserve owners and Nature Preserve staff. 
Last, on the way home, we visited an impressive savanna remnant called “Tomlinson Pioneer Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve” – owned by Champaign County and managed by its Forest Preserve District. Amazing place. But, as we noticed at Short Cemetery, some of the leadplants looked like little trees, suggesting that they hadn’t been burned in many years. Prairies and savannas that go for more than a couple of years without burns gradually lose quality. Parts of Tomlinson were rich, botanically. Others had domes of hazel that seemed so shady as to have eliminated the richness beneath. Oh oh. 
Ornate box turtle and bird's-foot violet at (unnamed) nature preserve. Many details of many nature preserves need to be secret for their own protection. Just we site volunteers and a few others know.
Photo by Michael Jeffords and Susan Post
Our initial plan for Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves has three focuses. (Do you agree with them? Could you help improve the plan?)

1. Policy and Advocacy: help educate the public and decision-makers about the importance and needs of nature preserves.         

2. Funding: It’s relatively easy to fund land acquisition. We need to focus on the harder (and these days more important?) job of funding good stewardship. Our nature preserves need many times more public and private funding – to support staff and volunteers – and contract funding for those sites where neither staff nor volunteers can do it all. 

3.  Volunteers: Stewardship is inspiring to many of us. But most of the 500 plus preserves don’t get it. Recruiting, training, certification, and facilitation could unleash vast productive energy. 

In the process, more leaders and contributors need to step forward, around the state, to expand our board, build our resources, and show what we the people can do. Might you be interested in helping with any part of this? If so, write us at


Endnote 1a. The Staff

Many of us have long been Nature Preserves volunteers. But a system of 596 vulnerable preserves cannot be maintained without a strong staff. The current organizational chart shows three of the five main office positions as "Vacant." Much of the funding, creativity, and organization of the system depended on those demanding jobs. The nine field staff have responsibility for an average of 66 preserves apiece. That leaves not much time for fending off threats, collaborating with owners, finding and training volunteers, writing and improving management plans, and evaluating proposals at each preserve. The field staff is stretched recklessly thin, especially with diminished support from Springfield.  

Endnote 1b. The Preserves

Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves


Site Reports on Nature Preserve Conditions

These reports and comments came from a wide variety of staff and volunteer conservationists. They are unverified. They are assembled here as a first draft toward a list of needs.


Many of these sites have seen good efforts in recent years, but then most work was put on pause, due to funding or other constraints.”
Name withheld.

I'll forever be a fighter for nature preserves in our state.”
Jill Allread, former Commission chair

"All it takes is a few passionate people supporting each site … This is a time to be optimistic but also a time for action.”
Trevor Edmonson in the Kankakee Daily Journal (Jan. 16, 2020)


Boon County: Flora Prairie Nature Preserve: “Gets care from Conservation District staff, but still suffers from a lot of sumac and other shrubs and invasives.”

Caroll County: Brookville Lutheran Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve. “Overrun with sumac.” “Majorly impacted by spray drift from adjacent agriculture.” “There are some quality spring flowers (Oxalis violacea comes to mind) but by late summer it is almost completely covered by sumac. If you go in the spring you might see that there is some hope, but by summer it looks like a complete loss.”

Champaign County: Tomlinson Pioneer Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve: Seems not to have been burned sufficiently often. Domes of dense hazel have shaded out the previously diverse vegetation over substantial areas.

Cook County: Morton Grove Prairie Nature Preserve: Two large cottonwoods that shaded the prairie were cut back by the Park District in 1983. Since then, more cottonwoods have grown to shade the prairie and should be cut.

Cook County: Wolf Road Prairie Nature Preserve: “Lost a lot of ground with the FPD moratorium and the difficulties of burning, etc, etc. Dr. Darrel Murray has documented the loss of Grade A prairie down to a small area. Not sure if it can be brought back but we should try.”

DuPage County: Belmont Prairie Nature Preserve: Invasive Convallaria is blotting out some areas. Needs to be herbicided.

Fayette County: Ramsey Railroad Prairie Nature Preserve: Conservative plants seem to be declining. “Needs stewardship.”

Ford County: Sibley Grove Nature Preserve: Degraded mesic savanna “in desperate need of management.” A very rare community type.

Grundy County: Goose Lake Prairie Nature Preserve: Rare breeding grassland birds along with endangered and threatened orchids, turtles, invertebrates and more - all threatened by prairie-shading brush. "Could use a small army of stewards."

Grundy County: Short Pioneer Cemetery Prairie Nature Preserve: It appears not to have been burned recently. Also needs cutting to remove shade from invading woody plants that are degrading some areas.

Henry County: Mineral Marsh Nature Preserve, while burning into the encroaching thickets is helpful (and ongoing), the brush comes back. This site would really benefit from herbicide and seeding.

Kane County: Ferson Creek Fen Nature Preserve is being worked on by the St. Charles Park District staff and volunteers. It needs a lot of work, but they are working on it.

Kankakee County: Grant Creek Nature Preserve: It has had some management in the last year or so, but it is still teetering. The main problems here are birdsfoot trefoil and autumn olive. They are coming in from the interstate (I-55) and from the Midewin side. Contract help is under way, but more is needed. Without it, one of our best nature preserves will quickly deteriorate.

Kankakee County: Iroquois Woods Nature Preserve: It hasn't been burned in maybe 5 years. It is a beautiful sandy floodplain forest full of small mouth salamanders and buckeye trees. Because of the lack of burning and other management, honeysuckle is creeping in and the canopy is closing. Probably the best spring wildflower spot in the Kankakee area.

Kankakee County: Langham Island Nature Preserve: This site deteriorated badly from eight or ten years without of burning and other management. A volunteer crew is hard at work to restore it. Langham Island is one of three parts of Kankakee River State Park Nature Preserve.

Kankakee County: Kankakee River State Park: Langham Island is one of 3 parts of this park that have been dedicated as a Nature Preserve. The other 2 parts are not being receiving much management but deserve it. The southern portion has been burned a couple times in recent years and has a rich spring flora and steep slope down to the river. The northern portion is a black/white oak sand savanna with dunes not much different than Braidwood just to the west. A number of rare plants have been seen here in the past and may still be here. There is a small cluster of lupines and small openings where prickly pear is hanging on. All the ingredients exist here for something really special. The actual nature preserve portion of the woods has not been burned in recent years. Honeysuckle and general canopy closure are major problems.

Lake County: Illinois Beach Nature Preserve: parts of the Nature Preserve and nearby undedicated natural areas are being lost to erosion, caused by blocking littoral sand flow. State and federal action is needed. Very high quality being lost. “Like seeing a dear friend in the last stage of hospice” says one steward.

Lake County: Middlefork Savanna Nature Preserve: Invasives including reed canary grass, teasel, and white sweet clover are on the increase within and near the highest quality area. North of that remnant, restored grassland and wetland are massively infested by saltmarsh goldenrod. Is salt draining into the preserve from somewhere?

Lee County: Bartlet Woods Nature Preserve had problems with dumping by large equipment (in 2018?).

Logan County Sandra Bellrose Nature Preserve: heavy invasions of bush honeysuckle in oak woodland; very infrequent fire regime; heavy deer population.

Mercer County: Brownlee Pioneer Cemetery Nature Preserve: This place needs fire. The sumac component is quickly expanding.

Mason County: Revis Spring Hill Prairie Nature Preserve: large loss of prairie area; woody encroachment by native and exotic species; fire regime too infrequent; heavy deer population.

Mason County: Barton Sommers Woodland Nature Preserve: mortality in bur oaks; lack of oak regeneration; encroachment of hackberry and other flood plain trees; no fire; very heavy deer population.

Mason County: Tomlin Timber Nature Preserve: general decline; invasive species; no fire.

Rock Island County: Josua Lindahl Hill Prairie saw brush clearing and fire for a few to several years. The work stopped all together before the conservative plants could successfully re-establish and as a result oriental bittersweet has taken hold with a major population on the hill prairie and spreading into the adjacent woodland. Privately owned.

Rock Island County: At Black Hawk Forest Nature Preserve, winds damaged and knocked down large oaks. It is unclear if sufficient recovery efforts are under way to prevent the expansion of the already dense clusters of winged-stem burning bush.

Stephenson County: Freeport Prairie Nature Preserve: Half (of the best part) seems to get burned each year. The dry hillside prairie is in fine shape. There are some invasive shrubs, mostly in disturbed areas, and the buffer is very weedy.”

Whiteside County: Lyndon Prairie Nature Preserve needs help with woody invasives toward the middle. Was very well managed by Tim Keller for many years.

Will County: Pilcher Park Nature Preserve is one of the best quality forests in NE IL, just recently dedicated, owned by Joliet Park District. IL Audubon (and ICECF) helped in its protection. It’s in a heavily populated area. Lots of hand-cutting and pulling to do. The park district has all the equipment needed to support a volunteer group, but help would be great in finding leadership stewards. NAAF has just funded $20k for contractor work, and NP staff plans to start burning where needed, but they can’t do it all. This site needs local stewards and volunteer organizer.

Shooting star and white oak (and too much shade?) in Middle Fork Woods Nature Preserve. 
Photo by Michael Jeffords and Susan Post.
Endnote 2

Would you like to be part of this? We don't want to make it too difficult. No dues, at least at this point. Just tell us we can list you as a member, and you're in. Volunteer at any site, and you're on the team. Help us spread the word to potentially interested people, and you belong. Want to know of progress or possible meetings or volunteer opportunities in your part of the state, send us your email address and county. To contribute, see Endnote 5. Able to help with the website? legal? funding? assess and plan for site management? contribute photos of individual nature preserves? improve the web site? pull weeds? We need it all. By "we" - we mean you and me and many of us. We: Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves

Endnote 3
Advisors and Consultants
Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves
December 2019 

Organization names listed are for identification only 
and do not imply organizational endorsement. 

Jerry Adelmann – president, Openlands
Jill Allread – former chair, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission 
Brian Anderson – former Illinois Nature Preserves staff director
Chris Benda – consultant on botany 
Bernie Buchholz – Middle Rock Conservation Partners
Colleen Callahan – Director, Illinois Department of Natural Resources
Floyd Catchpool – Forest Preserve District of Will County
George Covington – Chair, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission 
Benjamin Cox – president, Friends of the Forest Preserves
Donnie Dann – former Chair, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission
Pen DauBach – Commissioner, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission
Abigail Derby Lewis – Commissioner, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission
Harry Drucker – former Commissioner, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission 
Trevor Edmonson – Friends of Langham Island
Henry Eilers – steward, Scholl Creek Barrens
Ben Haberthur, Director of Natural Resources, Forest Preserve District of Kane County
Ted Hafner – conservationist
Fran Harty – The Nature Conservancy 
Randy Heidorn – former Illinois Nature Preserves staff director
Jim Herkert – director, Illinois Audubon Society
Michael Jeffords – Illinois Natural History Survey
Bill Kleiman – Nachusa Grasslands – The Nature Conservancy 
John McCabe – Cook County Forest Preserves
Bill McClain – former staff biologist and current Commissioner
Stephen Packard – former staff, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission
Wendy Paulson – conservationist
Arthur Melville PearsonGeorge Fell biographer
Susan Post – Illinois Natural History Survey
Lauren Rosenthal – former Chair, Illinois Nature Preserves Commission
John Schwegman – consultant on botany for southern Illinois
Greg Spyreas – Illinois Natural History Survey
John Taft – Illinois Natural History Survey 
Karen Witter – former Illinois Nature Preserves staff director

Endnote 4
Here's the promised info about the people in this photo and what they said:

From left to right: Jim Herkert (director, Illinois Audubon), Fran Harty (conservation director, Illinois Nature Conservancy, Matt Evans (Chicago Botanic Garden and volunteer steward), Steve Packard (volunteer steward) Karen Witter (former director, Illinois Nature Preserves), Virginia Scott (former IEC director), Randy Heidorn (former director, Illinois Nature Preserves), Brian Anderson (former director, Illinois Nature Preserves), Pen DauBach (Nature Preserves commissioner), Bill McClain (Nature Preserves commissioner).

Summary of meeting to discuss a proposed Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves 
October 24, 2019 

Illinois Audubon Office, Springfield 

Steve, Matt, and Fran summarized the potential and the need:

“We have been reaching out to a sampling of INPC staff, DNR staff, Commissioners, and other volunteer and staff participants in the Illinois Nature Preserve System (INPS or ‘the System’). There emerged a strong consensus that a Friends group could provide valuable support to the System in both the short and long term.”

The INPS has been a world model, with many strengths. But it’s in trouble, at many levels. Many of us know that it has had no director for four years; its crucial independence has been diminished; and staff has been cut severely. But there needs to be more awareness that many preserves have deteriorated seriously and even irreversibly. Some prioritized sites are doing better than others, but many sites get little help. Why? Partly because staff is overextended. Also, there is little capacity for supplementary fundraising, recruiting and training volunteers, maintaining needed constituency, and working the system to solve problems and reverse losses.

Many preserves have deteriorated beyond full recovery. In many cases, the deterioration has been going on for ten or twenty years or more. Revis and Fults Hill Prairie monitoring by Bill McClain shows continuing losses for sites that deserve major restoration (Revis: more than 60% gone since the 1930s). The Old Plank Road Prairies, once called by some the “best in State” have lost all their Grade A areas to invasives. Another major preserve, Langham Island, is now a dramatic story of abandonment, then rescue – see .

The Illinois Nature Preserves System was designed to thrive as a partnership among INPC and DNR staff, other preserve owner agency staffs, and volunteerism of many types (commissioners, scientists, advocates, outside funders, volunteer stewards, citizen scientists, and more). To restore this collaborative System, there needs to be a reinvigoration of many components including advocacy (to promote funding and staff), outside funding, and volunteer stewards and monitors.

Fran cited the recent “big mess” where some within IDNR tried to further reduce the Commission’s independence by incorporating INPC staff into INDR – without even consulting the Commission. Thanks to advocacy from Commissioners and others, this move was halted. From time to time the System has benefitted from helpful “defensive players” that have stepped in to support the Ccommission, but we need a team on the offense – that would be supporting the Commission and the preserves.

Karen Witter pointed out that IL legislator Tim Butler has been assembling a legislative conservation working group that could help. Karen will find out more about this effort.

Jim Herkert reminded us that the staff-reduction issue goes way back in time. Regions are too large for one person to handle.

Steve warned against arguments about whether the System needs more staff or more volunteers. Many agencies have demonstrated that more volunteers and more constituency promote more staff and more funding. Friends can help organize this. Every part of the state has potential volunteerism. The Chicago area forest preserves added staff largely in proportion to how many volunteer stewards and advocates there were. Nachusa and Langham have vigorous volunteer communities despite being in agricultural areas well distant from cities. Both rural and urban people volunteer.

Fran: In every town in Illinois with 5,000 people there is a millionaire. They may dislike government, but they love where they live. Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves will need to adapt to regional differences, but it can be effective everywhere.

Karen discussed the value of having a good connection between Friends and IDNR, reaching out right away to the new administration. One important job for us is to clearly demonstrate to the current leadership that the independence/collaborative model of the INPS is helpful for them.

Most participants today advocated that the INPC director needs to report to the new Director of IDNR (Colleen Callahan). Some advocated for a report to John Rogner (assistant director, IDNR), for now.

People change, but organizations need to have continuity and consistency. The Commission having a strong relationship with IDNR leadership is a paramount concern.

There are sometimes needed actions that IDNR, as a government agency, cannot take; so it is good to have the Commission at arms-length to be able to do that thing. Yes, sometimes there will be conflicts, but the partnership has to be strong enough to work through it.

Someone needs to push hard on IDNR right now about director position, everyone agrees. Make our opinion known. There are important conversations going on at IDRN right now. It will not work for the Director to be a union position. It’s not at that level.

Brian: Private NP owners want to work with a Director who does not come across as a State bureaucrat. There are all kinds of ways to make this work, but the director needs to be an at-will employee of the commission.

The complexity of INPS will never be able to be represented on a simplified organization chart.

There is something that is different about this organization. If we have a good network, we will have people on the ground all around the state who are dedicated to the Illinois Nature Preserves System. And all those people have state reps. It used to be that the Commission had people who could talk to the Governor. We need that again. One job of the Friends would be to find and empower them.

Karen reminded us that former Governor Thomson supported the INPS impressively because there was a strong constituency that supported it.

Bill McClain said that this is an opportune time. People are interested charismatic issues such as pollinators, and we could work with these charismatic environmental issues.

Bill compared the nature preserves with Nachusa. There are three people on the payroll at Nachusa for 4,000 acres. The rest are seasonal interns and volunteers, and the place is beautiful. Volunteers manage land, donate money, and are bring the conservation message to their friends and neighbors. We could have examples like that all over the state

Virginia Scott: Is there any reason to believe that the Governor knows there is a nature preserve commission? How can we get on his radar?

We discussed a variety of people who seem to have the Governor’s ear: We should give them a clear package to present: “We just need to make the governor aware of A, B, and C. Here is the vision; this is why it would work.” We need the governor to hear it.

Fran: This group meeting today is important because among us we have the history. This group includes important influencers and advocates.

Virginia: Most people in the room at this meeting are veterans. We need to reach out to the missing generations.

Many people described “next generation” leaders “cued up for leadership” in the land trusts and among many volunteer groups. Many leaders are dedicated to sites but know little or nothing about the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission or the Illinois Nature Preserves System.

Fran on next steps: We would like to show we can raise some funds, then move to incorporate so we can have a well-funded organization, right off the bat. Pledges, people who put money into this idea. Then the day we incorporate, we hire someone to do the first steps, that makes it effective, and newsworthy. And, like Jim said, keep IDNR in the loop, tell them the plan of what we are going to do, that we have support, that we are going forward, that we want to have them as a partner, but we are going to be asking for things that we are working for.

Karen: We may need an “Ambassadors” group committed to this Friends vision, to act on questions that need immediate attention.

Bill: There is a sense of urgency with this for me. Many natural communities are on the brink of loss.

Karen: The draft Friends Proposal should convey that better. We’re talking about the survival of the state’s biodiversity. It should be more visionary.

Steve: We drafted it more that way originally, but many people worried that it would be perceived as negative and as criticizing the staff. But Karen’s right. We need to clearly convey the stakes and the urgency.

We may want a fiscal agent. Friends of the Forest Preserves in Chicago has offered to help with that. Jim will explore the possibility that Illinois Audubon could be a fiscal agent statewide.

Karen: It’s not our local fault that threats are growing in the age of climate change. We need to make the point that we need the people and the resources to deal with the future.

Fran: At this point we can count on a a sympathetic administration. We have a four-year window to become strong enough to deal with possible future Blagojeviches and Rauners. Do we here all agree that we need to get to work on this? All agreed.

Pen DauBach summarized administrative steps:

§ Finalize a name

§ Write a more complete mission statement and proposal

§ File for incorporation

§ Make memorandum agreement for umbrella C-3 status pending full independent C-3 status.

§ Bylaws

§ Set and start to meet goals.

Organizationally and politically, many of us can get to work spreading the word, reaching out to decision-makers and other organizations, and drafting more detailed goals and plans.

This edit completed on January 15, 2020

Endnote 5
For more info ...
Or to contact us ...
Please go to the Friends website.

To donate to the Friends now ...
before we have our tax status ...
please donate through Illinois Audubon Society
(who have generously agreed to be our fiscal agent) ...

By mail? Or on-line?

For convenience, you may donate at the Audubon website. At "Check Out" please write "In support of Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves." It will help this work get started. Thank you. 

Or ... to help us avoid the 3% on-line processing fee - AND ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING A LARGE DONATION - please send a check to 
Illinois Audubon Society 
PO Box 2547 
Springfield, Illinois 62708. 
Also note: "In support of Friends of Illinois Nature Preserves."

Monday, October 7, 2019

Degradation and Redemption at Langham Island

This precious nature preserve is not “out of the woods” yet. But the successes are worth a bit of jubilance.
Volunteer leader Trevor Edmonson among the resurrected mallows. They were extinct, except for some dormant seeds, waiting for brush control, and a hot burn. 
As a unique nature preserve, this one, to paraphrase George Orwell, is "more unique than others." Its showiest and rarest plant has never been found growing naturally anywhere else on the planet. A host of other rarities were found here in the 1800s, and many are still here. Or were until recently. 

One of the earliest and most important Illinois Nature Preserves, Langham Island got needed burns and invasives control for years. But then the good care stopped. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and Nature Preserves Commission (INPC) both lost staff and funding. When the island failed to receive needed controlled burns, it gradually grew so dense with brush that the rare plants died in the dark. 

In fall 2014, an Illinois Native Plant Society field trip discovered the grim fate of the rare plants and ecosystem. A Friends of Langham Island formed, and scores of volunteers began weekend volunteer work sessions - making great progress. Impressive news coverage and and popular support paved the way for INPC staffer Kim Roman and IDNR staffer Dan Kirk to find resources and resume burns.
Where we had cut and burned, about 500 mallow plants matured and bloomed. Those numbers have been “holding steady” for the last few years, according to Trevor.

Step one was the victory over gross brush. But what about all the little brush seedlings and re-sprouts? Last year, some generous folks, inspired by the progress on the big stuff, donated $50,000 for detailed contract restoration. These funds are being administered by Friends of the Kankakee to assure focus on the more technically challenging (and tedious) needs, such as sorting out the good seedlings from the invasives. Langham Island is increasingly becoming a model of the dedication and partnership needed for the care that Illinois Nature Preserves deserve.
Here Trevor spreads the word to Field Museum videographers Robb Telfer and Emily Graslie. 
But there’s still a long way to go. And there are hurdles to overcome. We ferry volunteers to and from the island in a rowboat. It’s fun and easy, if the weather cooperates. But if the river is in flood, it can be too dangerous. If the river consists of floating ice-flows, it’s impossible. 

Trevor’s goals for this autumn: 
  • cut small brush off the steep bank on the southwest side of the island (where many of the rare plants live).
  • cut more large brush from former mallow areas and do more of the “rolling bonfires” that inspired the germination of the mallows and other fire-dependent plants.
  • rely on the contractors to focus on the more-demanding control of small brush. 
And how about you? Some of us find it fun and inspiring to contribute to this historic recovery. 
In her fun video on the project, Emily admits to feeling a bit emotional about the recovery drama and its implications. 
If you might want to come and help, check the Langham Facebook page for last minute details. Spread the word. 

We work from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM (bring lunch or a snack, if you can stay that long). 

The dates are: 
Saturday, October 19, 
Saturday, November 9, and 
Sunday, December 15. 

If you’d like to know more about Langham Island, check out this first post on its re-discovery by the conservation community and a second post about about progress through 2014.

This fall, be a Redeemer of Langham Island – or some other nature preserve. These surpassingly-important biodiversity remnants need our help. 

If you wear waterproof boots, you can help less-prepared people get in and out of our little rowboat ferry without getting their feet wet.

If you want a real challenge, help us with our rolling bonfires - which were crucial to the resurrection of the mallows.
We roll these fires with the wind, to replicate the out-of-control, hotter fires that some plants need. 
But the main need on these workdays is hearts and hands to cut the brush and throw it on the burning pile.

For a wacky and fun report on this drama, check out the the Field Museum video - from which the above photos came (except the rolling bonfire photo - both Trevor and I are in it - who took that one?). 

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Thumbnail Reviews of 25 Stimulating Species

“Ecosystems are more complicated than we think – 
and more complicated than we can think!”
Frank Egler

And yet, if we want to save them, we have to think and focus as best we can. This post is an attempt at something like pointillism or montage – a series of images and thumbnail studies that seek to convey insights into recovering prairie, savanna, and woods.

Of the more than 546 plant species in the Somme preserves, these 25 are random-ish samples of the complexity that stewards strive to work with. They run the gamut from conservatives to thugs. Like most Somme plants, most of these are rare – and associated with thousands of species of rare animals. But some are pests. The conservative (high-quality) plants fight the thugs, and with each other, toward ecosystem complexity and health – and we try to facilitate.  
New Jersey tea had been common in prairie, savanna, and woodland.
1. New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus)
Said to be what the American revolutionaries drank after they threw the British tea into Boston Harbor, this shrub was one of the commonest savanna plants in what we now call Illinois but then was home to the Potawatomi, Illiniwek, and others. 

In our early explorations of Somme Woods, we noticed a few of these plants under old white oaks, but restoration didn’t get back to that area for decades, and when we finally did, the woods was too shady and this species was gone. 

In the meantime, we had been working hard on Somme Prairie Grove, across the street, where we found just two or three New Jersey tea plants in semi-shade of a bur oak. We gathered handfulls of seeds, here and from two larger patches in Miami Woods, and we broadcast them widely. The broadcast seeds produced nothing. We also grew little plants in a garden to transplant (you pour boiling water over the seeds to get them to sprout). Then we installed those little tea plants into the Somme recovering ecosystem. They grew for a while and then faded and died. Something was wrong. 

The plants under that original bur oak also died out, but that population didn’t die. It moved north, bit by bit. The closest New Jersey tea is now 54 feet (16.5 meters) from that original oak, in an opener, sunnier, regularly-burned area. And the farthest plant from the original oak is 194 feet north. The patch, formerly two or three plants, is now closer to two to three hundred plants. The patch is impressive in bloom – 140 feet from north to south and 74 feet east to west. Part of the explanation may be that this species has a necessary partner – its own specialized bacterium. Perhaps it has spread as fast at that Frankia bacterium could spread. (We’re now digging up a little soil from around tea roots and installing it in other parts of the preserve, where little New Jersey tea plants are trying to get started.) This plant can spread gradually, over time, in this case four decades; we’ve burned its habitat about twenty times over those years. The tea is happy, at least in that spreading patch.  
Canada milk vetch is related to "loco-weed."
2. Canada milk vetch (Astragalus canadensis)
In the early North Branch days, we found this handsome plant only at Miami Woods. Perhaps because of over-populated deer, it seems to be gone from there. But it now thrives over large parts of Somme, sometimes mixed with tall grasses, sometimes in partial shade. In 2019 we gathered a grocery bag full of its seed pods, only to find the pods were empty. Perhaps the seeds had been eaten by insects (as weevils often eat the false indigo seeds)? Or did this species just not make seeds this year because conditions weren’t right? (Some plants are fussy that way.) Later we found some plants that did have seed, so this year’s planting mixes will have at least some. We plant what seeds we find in good years, and for many species, that’s enough. 
Oval milkweed - the only plant of its kind known to bloom in Illinois this year.
3. Oval milkweed (Asclepias ovalifolia)
We found one plant of this species. Indeed, it had been the only one found in Illinois in recent decades. Marlin Bowles of the Morton Arboretum hand-pollinated the Somme plant with pollen from the closest surviving plant in this latitude (Iowa). It made one pod full of half-Somme/half-Iowa seeds, and died. The Arb propagated plants from those seeds, and we “restored” them to Somme Prairie and Somme Prairie Grove. In Somme Prairie, they seemed not to make it. At Somme Prairie Grove, we counted five plants in 2014, down to three in 2016, and only one in 2019. Is it doomed? Plants of this species do sometimes appear after many years. And the Chicago Botanic Garden has been developing strategies to save this needy orphan. Stay tuned. 
One lonely prairie cinquefoil (blurry yellow) in a sea of purple prairie clover.
4. Prairie cinquefoil (Drymocallis arguta)
We found a couple of these plants at Wayside Prairie during the early years of North Branch restoration. Their numbers seemed to be on the gradual upswing until the deer populations skyrocketed in the early nineties. Now they’re one of the rarest species at Somme. We continue to find an occasional plant, propagate its seeds in gardens, and broadcast it widely once again. 

Some species have gone through hard times, received a lot of remedial “special care” – and then started to do well on their own. We’ll continue working for recovery of this one. 

5. Perplexed tick-trefoil (Desmodium perplexum)
For years we had a difficult time getting any of the woodland tick-trefoils established at Somme. We had gotten small amounts of seed from Deer Grove and Harms Woods (of the species called paniculatum, cuspidatum, perplexum, and glutinosum). We’d see a plant or two from time to time, but then they’d be gone. They just didn’t like the site? Or the deer ate them? For species that seemed to need the extra help, we planted “propagation beds” with our regular mixes and weeded out the species we didn’t need. Over time perplexum started to thrive in one of those seed propagation beds in my yard. We started to be able to move more seed over to the preserve. But as the bed population increased, the clingy seeds would get all over me as I worked in the garden, taking forever to remove from my clothes. Then a brainstorm: I took to walking through the perplexum beds just before going to the preserve to work. I’d leave home covered with seeds, but by the time I was ready to return, they’d all be brushed off into the ecosystem, wherever – an appropriate technology innovation? Soon perplexum was visibly expanding in many areas at Somme.

But then it started doing insanely well in the propagation garden, crowding out most other species. It spreads underground, comes up thick in the lawn if I fail to mow soon enough. What kind of demon plant is this? We started weeding it mercilessly. Every last one. The preserve doesn’t need any more, and neither does the yard. Yet in the preserve it seems to be doing just fine and playing well with others. 

Also that name: perplexum? I have a hard enough time remembering the common and scientific names of 546 species of plants without the botanists changing them so often. This one was “smooth tick-trefoil” (Desmodium glabellum) in Swink and Wilhelm but is treated as “take-another-look tick-trefoil” (Desmodium perplexum) in Wilhelm and Rericha. Help! Yet “perplexum” does fit; I find it easy to remember; I’m sticking with it.

6. Stiff aster (Oligoneuron album)
This plant is frequent in the very high quality “two acres” of original prairie at Somme – but in very few other mesic prairies, at least in this region. We moved seeds here and there, into degraded areas under restoration. For many years they appeared nowhere new, but then a few plants turned up on Coyote Knob (the closest thing to a “hill” in Somme Prairie Grove). This year there were about twenty. The main (“Inner Loop”) trail goes right through them. Welcome.

Speaking of name changes, Oligoneuron album was Aster ptarmacoides until recently. An “earth-shaking” change, this aster was put into a goldenrod genus. Botanists had puzzled over it for years, because this aster hybridized at times with Riddell’s goldenrod. Only closely related plants normally have morals so loose that they hybridize with each other. So, in the world of scientific names, this plant is now a goldenrod, but in the world of common names, it’s still an aster. Go figure. 

7. Sanicle, or black snakeroot (Sanicula marilandica)
John and Jane Balaban first noticed that the snakeroot out in the savanna grassland was different from the common, weedy one in the woods. The grassland plant turned out to be “sanicle” or “Maryland snakeroot.” It has much bigger flower and seed heads, though both just kind of blend into the “green blur” for the casual visitor. We don’t ever seem to see this species, except in a few of the better quality openings in Somme Prairie Grove. There it survived 100 years of shifting farming and pasture patches and now seems to us a special, obscure pet, that hardly anyone notices. In recent years, Eriko Kojima has been gathering its seeds for the mixes, so perhaps we’ll see it elsewhere? 
Wild hyacinth (pale blue, front and center)
The pink ones are shooting stars.
The green-and-gold leaves are New Jersey tea shrubs, re-sprouting after a burn. 
8. Wild hyacinth (Camassia scilloides)
We noticed two lone plants of this classic savanna species in two disparate parts of Somme Prairie Grove when we started work. We hoped perhaps more would appear, but none did until we broadcast a lot of seed that we got from at least three different places. The fact that a few plants survived here suggests that soil biota (fungi, nematodes, bacteria, etc.) associated with this species may have survived as well. However, with that very small number of plants, survival was unlikely for insects requiring this plant for pollen, nectar, or other food. 

At first we thought our restoration efforts had failed, as no plants appeared. But, like quite a few species, this one takes many years to flower and can be hard to notice until it does. The populations from which the seeds came have not fared well, but the Somme hyacinth populations thrive by the thousands.  
American slough grass
The flower fly is there to remind us that the average rare plant in a high quality natural ecosystem has ten species of mostly-rare animals associated with it. Biodiversity is beyond our ability to comprehend or control. But as stewards, we can maintain it, or at least a great deal of it. 
9. American sloughgrass (Beckmannia syzigachne)
Saving specialized genes of rare grasses is a surpassingly important aim of practical conservation for agriculture. Most people on the planet eat mostly grass – in the form of wheat, corn, rice, oats, rye and other grains – and in the form of beef, chicken, farm-raised fish, and other animals that mostly eat grass, in one form or another. When some plant disease threatens to wipe out some major crop, as happens from time to time, agronomists go back to wild relatives to “save civilization.” 

The American sloughgrass that lives in “the corn belt” is a very rare plant. It was found in Somme Prairie Grove (before it had that name, or stewards) by amateur botanist Marion Cole. It was also found in one other North Branch site (Sauganash Prairie Grove). At Sauganash it seems to have been lost. At Somme Prairie Grove these days there are three to five plants in most years. When we started looking for it, following up on Marion's discovery, we could not find any. It’s an annual, and conditions may not be right for it every year. But after many years of waiting, we threw around some seed from Sauganash. A couple of years later, we found one plant, but not where we’d thrown the seed. One big plant seemed to reappear in the same spot, year after year. Then, finally, one year, many little ones. In those years we were driving back a monoculture of cattails; there was a lot of bare ground where pure cattails had stood, and soon we had hundreds of plants of sloughgrass, seemingly a roaring success. But as quality species began to elbow each other into a rich community, this annual mostly dropped out. These days it’s in a very different, much deeper water area. We’ll continue to watch and study – and add some diversity to the gene pool from a site along the Des Plaines when we can. 

10. Rock chestnut oak (Quercus prinus or montana?)
Not in local botany books, this curious oak seems to have been planted by Forest Preserve staff long ago, when “just get some trees growing” seemed to be the goal. With our restoration mission, we cut or burned out a great many such mostly “ill-fitting” and sickly trees including pines, birches, locusts, and more. Among oaks then planted and still present are chinkapin, post, white, pin, and this one. For some reason, this oak, if we’ve identified it right and which is found mostly south and east of the Ohio River, has prospered and spread. 

We’ve cut some, when it threatened to shade out quality vegetation, but we’ve mostly left them alone, uneasily. Our rule has been that we restore from within 25 miles, to save local gene pools. But this species for now seems to be an experiment. At least these trees promote rehabilitative burns by providing valuable oak leaf fuel along the north edge of the site where it’s thin. Perhaps someday it may make sense to cut most or all of them. Or, perhaps, down the road, as climate change progresses, we’ll be glad they’re there. 

11. White oak (Quercus alba)
To the confusion of some, we stewards see this fine tree largely as an unwanted invader in Somme Prairie Grove. It was planted here in large numbers (with pines and birches) by early staff foresters. Most of those apparently random trees failed to thrive. This species is the most numerous large tree at Somme Prairie Grove.  

Unfortunately, it doesn’t fit the ecosystem. Old records show no trees in Somme Prairie, bur and Hill’s oaks in Somme Prairie Grove, and a richer mix of tree species including white, swamp white, and red oak in Somme Woods. The reason that bur and Hill’s were the savanna oaks is that they are most able to deal with fire. Many white oaks have died from the fires in areas where restored tallgrass vegetation burns with characteristic intensity. We have maintained most of the white oaks in Somme Prairie Grove for reasons similar to the rock chestnut oak. (And we go to great lengths to facilitate their reproduction in Somme Woods, where they are stars of the show.) But we’ve cut some white oaks back where their increasing shade is killing off high-quality prairie and savanna vegetation. 

12. Meadow parsnip (Thaspium trifoliatum)      
A true savanna species at Somme. I’d never seen or heard of it when I first saw its little heart-shaped basal leaves in two of the original higher-quality remnant savannaareas. After I’d puzzled out this species’ name, we gathered its seeds and spread them widely around the site. At first we mixed its seeds with those of its less delicate look-alike, golden Alexanders. But this “parsnip” behaved so differently. Golden Alexanders now is common from our sunniest openings to our dappled-shadiest oak woodlands. The meadow parsnip seems to restrict itself to a narrow range: it’s only “in between” – restricted to spots about half way between full sun and dappled shade.    

13. Awnless graceful sedge (Carex formosa)
Midwestern populations of this endangered sedge live mostly north of us, in a few counties of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan. But it is “moderately abundant” in Ontario and Vermont. It was unknown in Illinois until stewards John and Jane Balaban found it in Harms Woods. We never expected to see it at Somme, but as with all our species, the North Branch Restoration Project “hunter-gatherers” of seed collected and put a bit of it in our mixes. It is now widely spread in Somme Prairie Grove and Somme Woods. 

14. Narrow-leaved wood sedge (Carex digitalis
Pepoon writes “Dry open places in the wooded ridges of the southeast.” Swink and Wilhelm show it only in Indiana, associating with white and black oak. But Jim Steffen of the Chicago Botanic Garden found it in their McDonald Woods. He gave us some propagated plants in pots which we “introduced” or “restored” (See “The Somme Experiment”). Wilhelm and Rericha have it as “very rare” in Cook County. But their lists of associates are similar to what we find in parts of Somme Prairie Grove. We haven’t seen this plant in years, but we aren’t sure we’d recognize it if we did. Perhaps it’s doing fine? Perhaps it died out because it didn’t belong? Perhaps to restore this part of diversity, we’d have needed to do a better job with it. (Often we find that scattered seeds do better than transplanted plugs. Perhaps we’re just not that smart about exactly where to put the plug. Sometimes animals dig up newly planted plugs.) 

15. Bastard toadflax (Comandra umbellata)
This semi-parasitic plant is “a regulator.” It is one of the commonest species in fine prairie and savanna and creates conditions that seem favorable for other species of conservation concern. It was present in Somme Prairie Grove along one swale, where the farmers had never plowed, and where invasive trees hadn’t shaded it out. It grows in patches that spread underground and which, after 40 years, are now extensive. It spreads at the rate of about one foot per year. Thus, it will readily spread 100 feet, but it will take 100 years. We’re impatient. Many of the animals and plants of Somme are vulnerable because their populations are too small. 

We’ve tried propagating it in various ways. Most haven’t worked, or have produced plants that seem feeble, for years. We do now have three apparently new patches, but combined with the spreading originals, they probably cover less than ten percent of the site. Perhaps less than five percent. R&D is needed. 
Marsh speedwell
Delicate, beautiful, and hard to photograph.
16. Marsh speedwell (Veronica scutellata
This delicate beauty was gathered as seed from a forest preserves a couple of miles west, along the Des Plaines. It did spectacularly well in Oak Pond, which had been recently opened to more sun, as we girdled the invading and shady green ash trees, that had left the ground bare mud. Soon marsh speedwell literally covered the western half of the pond. We gathered its seeds and broadcast them in what appeared to be suitable places in other ponds. Inexplicably, after some years, Oak Pond seemed to spring a leek. Marsh speedwell has not been seen in Oak Pond in some years. But it now thrives around the edges of three of the other ponds where the seed was broadcast. It also turned up unexpectedly in a little marsh where it lurks under willows and young cottonwoods. We never would have thought to put the seeds there. Some animal or bird likely carried seeds on its feet. We’ll be interested to see how this population does. Co-steward Eriko Kojima suggests we add this species to wet woods and savanna mixes, in addition to the pond mixes.
Prairie violet has leaves divided into narrow "fingers."
17. Prairie violet (Viola pedatifida)
This rare violet has spread in huge numbers over some of the prairie-like open savanna areas. It was probably there in small numbers, unnoticed, when we started. It’s doing best in areas where we’ve restored scores of other rare species that once were its regular neighbors. Restoring without paying much attention is super great, when it works. 
Sweet black-eyed Susan
Here growing with other tall plants including Culver's root, rattlesnake master, ironweed, and Joe Pye weed. This woodland meadow was all buckthorn, a few years earlier. 
18. Sweet black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa). 
H.S.Pepoon described it as frequent along the North Branch, but for many years we could find none. We wondered if we would have to go beyond our 25-mile limit to get seeds. Then we discovered Middlefork Savanna a few miles to the north, where there were vast stands of it. Soon it was one of the commoner plants of Somme Prairie Grove, especially in Vestal Grove where big blooming plants turned the whole grove yellow in late summer. It replaced the tall goldenrod, which was an early dominant. Then it got largely replaced by woodland sunflower. In the photo above, a large part of it will be replaced in time by species more typical of high-quality prairie. From experience, we expect it to thrive especially near trees.

Swink and Wilhelm (1994) initially list its habitat as “edges of moist open woods or thickets adjacent to prairies.” Wilhelm and Rericha (2017) list only prairie habitats. At Somme it now seems not to occur often in our opener prairie-like habitats but remains a major species of thickets and moist open woods. 
Wild Carrot or Queen Anne's lace
This photo is from decades ago, when Somme Prairie Grove was more weeds than anything else.
19. Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota)
We pulled a few of these in the early days. But soon they seemed less like problem weeds and more of a useful cover crop. These flowers – like ox-eye daisy – were a pretty indicator of places where we should broadcast additional conservative seed. As the community healed, this “biennial indicator” melted away. We still find it here and there, as a reminder that more conservative seed still needs to be broadcast. But it’s mostly gone.  
Seneca snakeroot looks better than this.
It's another plant that's hard to photograph, but worth seeing up close, along the trails.
20. Seneca snakeroot (Polygala senega)
This rare plant turned up in two places in the Somme Prairie site – though not in the prairie itself. One plant was among thin invasive trees. The other plant (or patch?) was along Dundee Road in an occasionally mowed area with hoary puccoon. We never got seed from either, and then they were gone. But we did find seeds in the beautiful Chevy Chase Prairie, and we threw some around Somme Prairie Grove. It did well in two “old field” areas with some prairie or savanna survivors including Kalm’s brome, small sundrops, gray goldenrod, and meadow parsnip. Soon there were dozens of Seneca snakeroots in both places. We began distributing their seeds and seeing them show up widely over the site. Not in great numbers anywhere, but a regular happy presence. Will they be part of the long-term community here? Will they return to Somme Prairie? Will we help them, or start to leave them alone? Each alternative represents a different experiment. We will definitely keep records and try to learn. 

21. Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus
This alien was a common sight in the early years of restoration. But like many “weedy” species, it did not fit into the intense competition of the recovering ecological community. It faded out and is gone, without any effort on our part.  
Cream gentian thrives in savannas.
22. Cream gentian (Gentiana flavida)
Once Dr. Betz told me, in a confidential and almost apologetic tone, that cream gentian wasn’t really a prairie species. That was when so many of us had “prairie fever” and sought “true prairie species” as if they were the Ark of the Covenant. Later he agreed with me that it deserved rehabilitation as a fine savanna species – and that quality savanna was indeed probably rarer than prairie. 

In Somme Prairie Grove (mostly savanna) the cream gentians were original but increased to massive numbers with regular fire. On the other hand, none were in the prairie, across the river, until they first showed up along the footpath heading in from the parking lot. Clearly, they had arrived on someone’s feet. Now they and other savanna species are found in Somme Prairie, in disturbed areas. They will likely all drop out (“go back across the river”) as the diverse prairie vegetation recovers. 
Hazel in glorious flower.
Those long dangly things are the male flowers; they'll make the pollen. The tiny purple flowers hugging the twig are the females; they'll receive the pollen and make the nuts. In fall and winter, you'll see those male dangles, already formed, waiting till spring to open. 
23. Hazelnut (Corylus americana
In the savannas, it was said to be the major shrub. It was in Somme Woods thirty years ago, but shade killed it, and it no longer survives there. In Somme Prairie Grove there were a few patches, perhaps half a dozen, when we started, mostly along old fence lines. Since then, some patches have been shaded out. In the open, it survived, but barely at first. Every burn would kill it above ground. The next spring, deer would eat the new shoots repeatedly so they rarely got more than a few inches tall. We started caging some of the clumps and protecting them from some of the fires. Now some patches are ten feet tall and produce scores of nuts, some of which we beat the squirrels to. We plant the nuts widely, leading to many new patches. One patch is now big and healthy enough that we give it no protection or help of any kind, and so far it thrives.  

24. Prairie alumroot (Heuchera richardsonii)
This high conservative is frequent in the high quality areas of Somme Prairie. It was present in small numbers, here and there, in Somme Prairie Grove. With management by fire and brush control, we had hoped and expected that it, like all conservatives, would increase. But in the early decades it seemed to dwindle. When we took the trouble to check, we found it was being eaten mercilessly by deer in early spring. We started caging a few and then broadcasting the plentiful seed they produced. For years we saw little result. But now we see more and more plants spread widely across prairie and savanna areas. Perhaps there are fewer deer? Perhaps there are now so many alumroots and so many other tasty early species that the deer get their fill earlier … and let them alone sooner?
Veiny pea inside its cage - with two invertebrate associates. 
25. Veiny pea (Lathyrus venosus)
This species was present on our early plant lists for a number of the North Branch sites, but then it disappeared everywhere. A few years ago in late spring, I happened to notice two leaflets on a half-eaten, unfamiliar stem. It stopped me, and I stared with a vague, confused sense of recognition. There seemed to be no other species it could be, other than the long-lost veiny pea. I clapped a little deer-exclusion cage over the half-eaten puzzle. Sure enough, a distinctive whole leaf grew on this stem; this pea was back, baby. By the next year, it needed a much larger cage. I noticed it “happened to occur” along an old fence line. Sometimes plants survive only by fences in the narrow strip where the ground is never plowed and, over the decades, they find sanctuary from grazing on one side or the other, as owners and grazing regimes change. On a hunch, I walked fence lines, and on the next fence line north, there was another veiny pea, and then a third. More strangely, I was caging the oval milkweed on another fence line and, to my serious amazement, veiny pea appeared in the cage with the milkweed. Pretty soon, sprawling pea vines grew in five caged places, all along old fence lines. You can find some of these refugees growing in deer-exclusion cages on both sides of the West Link trail.


Thank you for plant inventories to David Painter, John and Jane Balaban, Jerry Wilhelm, Robbie Sliwinski and many others. Thanks for restoration stewardship to many thousands of generous and fun people.   

Thanks for proofing and edits to Kathy Garness and Eriko Kojima.

Thanks for photos to Lisa Culp Musgrave – well, for most of them anyway. I have to admit I snuck in some of my own, the hyacinth, sweet black-eyed Susan, veiny pea, prairie cinquefoil, and the Spooky and Historic photo of Queen Anne's lace.

Another perspective

How might these results compare with those of other conservationists? 

When I shared the draft of this post with Jim Vanderpoel of Citizens for Conservation, who has had a lot of comparable experience, he generously and unexpectedly sent along his own experiences with these species, as shown below. 

1.           New Jersey tea - CFC never had success with this species.  We may have collected a tiny bit of seed in the early days along the CNWR right of way, but none ever germinated as far as I knew.  We established some in our planting beds and have collected seed from those specimens.  Four years ago I found some foliage that looked like New Jersey tea in one of the best established savannah areas at Flint Creek.  The next year it had some small flowers.  Last year it exploded into bloom and was swarmed with pollinators--I was elated and I thought we finally had it.  Then this year I did not find it.  I have no idea what happened. A couple of specimens were at Baker's Lake and have persisted but not expanded.

2.          Canada milk vetch - We have had two small colonies at Grigsby Prairie for years.  One of the colonies expanded a little over the years.  Then we installed the deer fence and the expanding colony exploded!  We have collected several ounces of raw seed in the last two years.  I have never broken open the seed head to see if it has weevils.  I hope that this huge increase in seed leads to new populations.

3.          Oval milkweed - I have never seen this species.

4.          Prairie cinquefoil - This is one I can't figure out.  We used to collect a decent amount of seed of this plant and it seemed to germinate fairly well.  It does not thrive though.  Tom thought it was due to deer browsing, but it did not explode at Grigsby when we installed the deer fence the way some of the other deer favorites did. I have never noticed the evidence of deer browsing with prairie cinquefoil that I have seen with other plants.  I wonder if there is a problem with our soil.  When Wilhelm and Rericha came out I reviewed in great detail and I noticed that many of the species that have been particularly successful at our restorations are described as "calciphiles" or liking "calcareous soils"--are CFC's gravelly and clay soils too limey for prairie cinquefoil's liking?

5.          Not sure about the perplexed tick trefoil.  I know that paniculatum has done spectacularly well at one of our oak groves in Flint Creek.  It is also abundant at Baker's Lake.  At Baker's Lake cuspidatum is fairly common and glutinosum has formed a few small colonies.  All three are missing from some of the other groves. I did not see any yesterday when I was working at our Flint Creek South preserve.

6.         Stiff aster - This is another mystery plant.  Tom collected from one colony along the CNWR tracks in Palatine and did establish a few specimens at Grigsby Prairie.  They have been declining in recent years and this year I did not find a single specimen in spite of a thorough search.  New specimens always seemed to germinate far from the parent and I now wonder: is this a wind spread species that blew east (and off our property) pushed by the prevailing westerlies?  I have noticed this phenomena with false boneset and rough blazing star.  Restorationists will need to keep moving seed to the west side of our tiny preserves and let the windblown species continually expand to the east.

7.          Sanicle, or black snakeroot - I have never seen this species.

8.          Wild hyacinth - A CFC success story.  It was quite common at Baker's Lake, and has exploded with management.  We have spread this plant to both wet mesic prairie and savannah habitats at Flint Creek and Grigsby.

9.          American sloughgrass - I have never seen this species.  Our new sedge meadow restoration projects would be ideal habitat.

10.        White oak - We have lots of white oak at both Flint Creek and Baker's Lake.  It doesn’t seem to germinate at Flint Creek, but is extremely successful at Baker's Lake.

11.        Meadow parsnip - we had never planted this plant until you gave us some seed last year, which I spread at a likely spot this spring.

12.        Bastard toadflax - Another CFC success story.  We now have scores of round colonies slowly expanding outward at Grigsby.  Some of these came accidently when we rescued hoary puccoon , prairie phlox and shooting star.  However, we found a small patch that surely came from seed at Flint Creek two years ago.    I transplanted three plugs right from the middle of one of our clones, and all three plugs have expanded in their new location, while the original cloned colony was unharmed.
13.        Marsh speedwell - I have never seen this species.

14.        Prairie violet - This has always been one of our great disappointments.  We collect seed but only see an occasional specimen.  Well, two years ago I found our first real population--four blooming right in the middle of Grigsby.  I was cautiously optimistic.  This spring I counted thirty-five in the same spot!  Have we finally established a population?  Were they being eaten by deer and the deer fence has saved them?  I have never seen deer pay any interest to violets before.  If the colony continues to grow I am going to collect seed next year and spread it to nearby areas.  If things continue one of our great frustrations will be alleviated.

15,        Sweet black eyed Susan - this plant has been extremely successful at both Grigsby and Flint Creek.  At our preserves it seems to do best in moist (but not saturated) areas especially near the oak groves.

16.        Queen Anne's lace - Our first nemesis when we used to plow and disk before seeding.  Now, it survives only in disturbed areas like along mowed trails.  I pull it out if one gets on my nerves but we don't systematically eradicate it.  Common mullein is also a nonfactor-it comes up at the edge of burn piles, among the rock pile at Grisgby and at new raw areas where we have herbicided reed canary grass.

17.        Seneca snakeroot - We have one thriving population at Grigsby--it blooms by the score on our Second Knoll feature, which is probably our richest prairie restoration.  I don't know where it came from.  We also have a few that came with some of our early plant rescues.  This year I found another dozen or so scattered at Grigsby, presumably from the tiny amount of seed we collect and include in our seed mixes.  At Flint Creek Savannah we have an even more fascinating colony.  It grows with violet wood sorrel and early buttercup on the steepest gravel slope on our East Bluff.  Did these three interesting species somehow survive grazing because of the steepness of that bluff?  No one remembers putting any special seed mix there.

18.        Hazelnut - I envy your success with this plant.  We have collected miniscule numbers of nuts over the years on our Harvard Workday.  None has ever germinated.  We have grown some from seed in nursery conditions and have transplanted a few into our groves at Flint Creek.  Never has any expanded.  Is this species functionally extinct in our area just like our shadblows?  Who knows? Maybe it only germinates in the wild when it is planted by a fox squirrel under just the right conditions.  Maybe it doesn't like our calcareous soil.

19.        Prairie alumroot - this is one of the few plants that CFC established from seeds that were originally collected in the wild, grown inside under nursery conditions, and then transplanted.  We now collect a lot of this seed from our planting beds, which are protected by a deer fence.  I have seen some in scattered locations at Grigsby, so I am beginning to be optimistic on this one too.

20.        Veiny pea - We have long had one small colony each at Flint Creek and Grigsby both of which came by accident with a plant rescue.  The Grigsby colony bloomed and actually set seed for the first time in the first year after the deer fence was installed.  At least five times more flowers were produced this year and dozens of little vines spread like wildfire.  It took just two years of protection!  We need to get hundreds established so the deer can't zero in on it.

Jim Vanderpoel