I have always loved a treasure hunt. Finding something new or never seen before is always a thrill.
Searching for wildflowers that I have not seen before or perhaps that are just beginning to make an appearance is one of the greatest pleasures that I have experienced on my daily walks around my home.
I have lived on a parcel of land along the north branch of Henderson Creek in Knox County for the past 10 years. It is a diverse site with rolling hills, timbered bottom land and ravines. The land had been grazed for some years and much of the valuable timber taken years ago. Now with much of it in conservation, its former character is beginning to reveal itself again.
Springtime brings out the woodland wildflowers and not just in the timbered areas but in the lawn and pastures as well. Dogtooth violets, spring beauties and trillium are abundant. Occasionally I will find an isolated Virginia Bluebell. I love the fragrance of the wild blue phlox which blankets some of the ravines. Recently, I discovered a small fern growing on the east facing slope of a hill. It is a small colony hiding under a Red Cedar tree. An exciting find but it still remains unidentified.
I began to notice the pastures had spots of color in them once the cattle were gone. Although largely still covered in orchard grass and brome, there are island of plants that have begun to appear. I was thrilled to see the Blue Vervains and from out of nowhere Monarda also known as Bee Balm. There is a small stand of Gaura along the creek. This plant is also known as Whirling Butterflies. I suspect they were brought here by the cattle which also came from the western states. However, I find it a charming little transplant. There is a large stand of purple New England Aster right in the middle of the thick grass in the north pasture. I noticed some time ago that the cattle would not eat it so they survived. Now, many have been transplanted around the property.
One of the most thrilling discoveries I have had here is the Great Blue Lobelia Hill. In late summer on one of the slopes alongside the creek a vibrant blue erupts from the grasses. I had never seen a wild stand of Great Blue Lobelia before moving here. Years ago, I bought this plant from garden centers for my perennial beds at my previous home. It never did well in captivity but here it thrives! In a reference book that I have used over the years called Kane County Wild Plants and Natural Areas, author Dick Young states about Great Blue Lobelia- "It is a handsome, native, wetland plant that persists through degradation, and is a cheerful indicator of other fine plants that could be retrieved with successive burnings." Happily, it is spreading about the property now and I have found it in other areas.
One of the more unusual finds this year was the Common Rose Pink. I was weed whacking down Queen Anne's Lace one day when right in the middle of a thick stand there was something pink. It turned out to be this uncommon little gem of a plant. A member of the Gentian family with bright pink flowers. There were only a couple of plants located in a weedy area near the backyard. This seed has been saved for future generations.
Now that summer is winding down, the hills and pastures have that beautiful yellow glow of goldenrod along with the bronze cast of Indian Grass flower heads, Big Bluestem and the ghostly white of Boneset. Once in a while I may see a sneeze weed or purple aster adding an extra sparkle to the fall landscape.
As always, it remains a pleasure for me to search out and find these remnants of our native Illinois and continue to learn about ways to manage the land in a way that their survival is insured.
Rose Moore – Master Naturalist Trainee