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Naturalist Notebook

Earth Day

Today, on this Earth Day, I planted a forest. One Hundred and Eighty tree seedlings is a tiny bit of what it is going to take to re-forest these acres, but it's a start.

The land I live on was once a forested along Henderson Creek on rolling terrain with breaks where prairie appeared, and bottom lands were rich in a diversity of plants. This is the western edge of The Grand Prairie Division.

In early settlement days, landowners cut out the most valuable of the timber and cleared the land for crops. The hilltops were cleared for pastures, and at that time foreign species of grass were introduced for maximum benefit to livestock.

By the 1950's the species mix had changed from Oak and Hickory and now was dominated by Honey Locust, Sugar Maple, and Osage Orange. Shrub invaders such as multiflora rose, honeysuckle and autumn olive began to crowd the understory. I have cut multiflora rose that must have been growing for some time here as the stems were like tree trunks! Reed Canary grass has taken over where native grasses are gone. I am disappointed to see that it is still being planted as a conservation grass nearby. It forms such a dense cover nothing else will grow with it.

Curiously, however, a few old red oaks remain and have wildly seeded themselves over a large area. In just ten years there are now groves of seedlings about 10 feet tall over the eastern half of my property. Along with the oaks, some varieties of hickory have begun to re-appear.

Taking my clues from the historical record of this township and from what I observe going on around me, I chose a variety of oaks to re-introduce along with smaller trees and shrubs such as hawthorn, hazelnut, and American plum. Some specimens of these plants still exist in pockets here and there.

Often I feel overwhelmed by the task before me to restore this habitat to the more diverse and valuable "original Illinois". Then I walk out on a spring morning and see the spring beauties and Trillium greeting me from their homes beneath the old trees or I witness a woodcock or large flock of bobwhite quail returning here. Many plants and animals have begun to return, and I am reminded that this is what it is all about.

Rose Moore – Master Naturalist Intern

Journal Entry April 22 Earth Day 2017