This non-native, kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa ‘Klipka’) was bred for variegated leaves which may greatly affect insect leaf feeding.
January 02, 2020

There is a growing body of research supporting the use of native plants in landscaping to preserve local biodiversity and sustain native wildlife populations.  Currently, much of our urban plant composition is not comprised of native species, based on the general public’s historical preference for non-native, exotic plant materials.  Numerous studies have found that these non-native plants outnumber native species in US landscape settings from urban to suburban

The yellow lady’s slipper orchid is an Illinois native that can be grown in cultivation. Photo credit: Chris Benda.
February 28, 2020

Over the past 200 years or so, orchids have went from a mysterious and challenging plant, barely sustained in cultivation, to a fixture in many homes and businesses. Today, easy-care varieties of these beautiful flowering houseplants can be purchased just about anywhere, including the supermarket checkout lane.

Chinese witch hazel blooms during the late winter to early spring with a flowering display that often lasts over a month.
March 03, 2020

The late winter is often a time of anticipation for spring flowering, when many gardeners watch for the first signs of early blooming bulbs.  However, one unique woody plant is currently in full bloom putting on the first flower display of spring in the Illinois landscape. 

Butterfly milkweed is the only Illinois milkweed with orange flowers, which provide a showy display each summer, often blooming a second time around early
March 03, 2020

In recent years, milkweeds have gained attention from the public due to their exclusive relationship with the imperiled monarch butterfly.

I think many of us are familiar with common milkweed (Asclepius syriaca), which reminds me of childhood leaf picking experiments to see the characteristic sap of milkweeds. Before I knew the exact species name, I knew this plant was a milkweed and it had milky sap. However, there are more than 20 native milkweeds in Illinois, and I am always amazed that many people are unaware of the majority of this interesting and diverse plant family.

Photo Credit: Teresa Dewitt
March 17, 2020

Warming spring weather is often enough motivation to get many of us out looking for the first blooms of the growing season.  In my home garden, snow crocus (Crocus sieberi) is about the only plant that has started to show life over recent days, reaching full bloom sometime earlier this week.  If your garden is still as bare as mine, our local natural areas are a wonderful place to observe native spring wildflowers and some early performers are already beginning the show for 2020.

Ash trees have a distinctive, opposite branch arrangement observable by twigs that occur directly across from each other on each stem.
March 24, 2020

Trees represent some of the most long-lived vegetation in the landscape.  As such, these perennial, woody plants are also some of the highest valued plant material in our yards, parks, and urban areas.  Tree identification is an important first step in understanding the care of these invaluable plants that often take an entire human lifetime to develop into the mature, cathedral-like shade trees that line our city streets and shade our homes.

Bluebells are a beautiful native wildflower that adds a splash of blueish-purple to both woodlands and landscape gardens in spring.
May 02, 2020

We all have our favorite spring wildflowers for one reason or another. Maybe they are part of a native plant community we visit often, such as a close-by natural area or favorite park trail?  Perhaps our preference comes from the plants we are able to cultivate at home, in our own gardens?  For me, it’s certainly hard to pick one favorite, I probably have a list a mile long of my “favorites”.

Garlic mustard is in full bloom right now with clusters of tiny white flowers and distinctive leaves that have a garlic-like aroma when crushed.
May 09, 2020

Invasive species can be characterized as any non-native species that is introduced to a new location, has the ability to spread and causes some kind of harm.   Across Illinois and around the globe, invasive species cause significant ecological and economic damage each year.  In the ever globalizing society we live in, these exotic invaders are a result of either accidental or intention mixing of biota around the planet.  Humans have a long history in this mixing process and as we have become better and better at moving around the planet, the rate of invasive species introductions has parall

Native hawthorn trees are in full bloom this week with a canopy filled with tiny white flowers.
May 23, 2020

A properly planted and well located tree can last longer than a human lifetime, so tree selection is an important decision.

Sycamores across central Illinois are late to leaf out this year due to a commonly occurring fungal infection.
June 06, 2020

It has been another difficult spring for sycamore trees across central Illinois as near bare canopies of this tree stick out among the fully developed leaves of neighboring trees.  However, this doesn’t necessarily spell doom for your sickly looking sycamore.  It’s all caused by naturally occurring fungi that tends to ebb and flow with our spring weather over the years. 

Poison ivy can be tricky to identify in the field, but the “mitten-like” appearance of leaflets that develop a rounded tooth, as pictured here, is a distinguishing feature.
June 06, 2020

Among the plants that grow in the Illinois landscape, poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) is perhaps the most notorious.  This plant is certainly well known by name among most gardeners, nature goers and outdoor folks, but many are unable to identify it correctly in the field.  The result of misidentification and subsequent exposure to the resinous oil, called urushiol, produced by this plant can cause anything from an itchy rash to a severe allergic reaction. 

These young prairie dropseed plants will mature into a nice sidewalk border of thin, feathery vegetation.
June 13, 2020

Nothing beats the light and airy look of tall, distinctive grasses in a landscape arrangement.  The fluffy seedheads and slender, attractive stems practically dance in the wind on breezy days, adding texture as well as a structural element to any landscape bed.   

For many years, there was a trend toward more ornamental and non-native grasses.  Recently, there is a growing interest in incorporating our native prairie grasses, given their inherent adaptability to our climate and their exceptional ecological value. 

This two-spotted bumble bee forages pollen on the flower of a spirea shrub
June 26, 2020

This past week was National Pollinator Week, a time set aside to celebrate the amazing and monumental task that pollinators perform each and every growing season.  Worldwide, animals pollinate about seventy-five percent of all plant species, and about ninety percent of all flowering plants.  And we all know that it takes a pollinated flower to produce so many of the fruits we depend on in our human diets, with animal pollination being responsible for about one of every three bites we take each day. 

Bald cypress is an Illinois native plant only know to occur in extreme southern Illinois. While it does wonderfully when planted here is central Illinois, should it be considered native?
September 05, 2020

The term native often means different things to different people.  Most definitions draw a line between geography and time scale which typically is demarcated by the point of human intervention or influence on the landscape. I really like this definition from the Forest Service in 2012, “A native plant is an endemic species that occurs naturally in a plant community, ecosystem, ecoregion, or biome habitat without direct or indirect human involvement.”

Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ is a cultivar of our native wrinkle-leaved goldenrod that provides a spectacular display of fireworks-like flowers for up to 2 months in late summer and fall.
September 12, 2020

For many gardeners, an entire season of continuously blooming plants is a primary goal.  Not only do these fantastic flowers deliver ornate beauty throughout the year, but they are also greatly beneficial to pollinators by providing a continuous food source of pollen and nectar.  Since many plants have a limited flower display, sometimes only spanning a few weeks, it is often difficult to find the right arrangement of plants for an entire growing season of continuous blooms. 

September 17, 2020

Native plants are typically defined as vegetation growing wild in an undisturbed area at the time that scientific records began.  Specific climate, soils and other environmental factors, define a plants native range.  Our area is fortunate enough to have a large diversity of both prairie and forest plants that call central Illinois home. 

September 18, 2020

Visitors to the downtown Champaign area last month may have noticed an odd addition to the One Main Development landscaping.  Over the course of May, an increasing number of mysterious white trees appeared out of nowhere.  Who placed these ghost trees?  Where did they come from?

September 21, 2020

This week marks the half way point for the 2018 Illinois Ginseng Harvesting Season, which runs from the first Saturday in September through Nov 1.  Did you even know that ginseng grows in Illinois, let alone the fact that there is a regulated harvest of this valuable native plant? 

September 21, 2020

Most of us think of tree leaves when we think about beautiful fall foliage, but many ornamental grasses provide wonderful fall color that often extends well into the winter season.  Right now is an excellent time to observe these grasses in the landscape and consider how we might integrate them into our own gardens. 

September 21, 2020

Autumn is not only a time of brilliant fall colors, but also a time to observe the annual bird migration that spans our continent.  Many of our feathered friends travel amazingly great distances to reach warmer climates with abundant food for winter.  This lengthy journey spans thousands of miles, requiring birds to expend a ton of energy in the effort.  As our avian counterparts make their annual retreat to warmer climates, it is critical that they build up fat stores prior to embarking on their trip and maintain this energy reserve by finding more food along the way.

September 23, 2020

The Fourth National Climate Assessment was released last fall in two volumes, containing information about how climate change is affecting the physical earth system across the US and a detailed assessment of how those changes now, and in the future, will impact our country.  The report documents aspects of climate change already measured across the US and paints a dismal outlook, with climate change occurring faster than projected by past assessments. 

September 23, 2020

A startling report on global biodiversity was release by the United Nations this week noting an alarming trend in worldwide species extinction.  We, humans were pegged as the primary cause of an increase in extinction rates to the highest levels in human history.  Specifically, around 25% of the species assessed are threatened, suggesting that one million of the eight million known species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction.

September 23, 2020

The eastern prairie fringed orchid (Platanthera leucophaea) is perhaps one of the most beautiful native prairie flowers in Illinois.  Its delicately fringed, white flowers gently unfurl from the bottom to the top of its inflorescence over a 7-10 day period during late June and early July in Illinois prairies, but only if conditions are right.  This plant is quite sensitive to annual fluctuations in weather which greatly influences flowering each year.  In good years, up to forty beautiful blooms may adorn flower spikes that reach high into the tip-tops of the prairie to lure in pol

September 23, 2020

I always love it when a particular plant that I know from the natural world doubles as a landscape plant.  Not everything that is beautiful in nature can handle what we throw at it in human landscapes, some native plants are just too sensitive.  However, one old favorite of mine from wetland habitats across Illinois is quickly becoming a new favorite in landscape situations as well, not only it for its beauty or its great benefits to pollinators, but also for its overall adaptability in the landscape. 

September 23, 2020

In the last few years, my wife has added sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) to various locations in our landscaping and vegetable garden as an impromptu filler where we had unused space or an empty spot from something that didn’t make it through the winter.  The towering plants adorned with bright yellow, often dinner plate sized, flowers have been a showy and interesting addition.  At maturity, the flower heads are filled with seeds that are a favorite among songbirds and other wildlife on our property.   From an ornamental standpoint, the interesting addition of extreme height is an

September 23, 2020

On a beautiful, fall-like morning last week, a group of East Central Illinois Master Naturalists met around the tailgate of a truck at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana.  Everyone was handed a pair of hand pruners and a few paper bags before heading out into the Meadowbrook prairies. Urbana Park District Natural Areas Coordinator, Matt Balk, began the day with a description of the objectives he hoped to accomplish and then lead the group off toward the first area of prairie.

September 23, 2020

This past week, the vivid red leaves of our native maples have really stolen the show, reaching near peak fall color for the year.  I have always loved the brilliant red colors of autumn leaves, making burning bush (Euyonomous alata) an old favorite of mine.   However, in recent decades this plant has emerged on invasive species lists from the East Coast to the Midwest, which has forced me to take it off my personal list of recommended landscape plants.

Honey locust can have large and terrifying thorns making it one of our spookiest native trees.
October 30, 2020

Images of witches, skeletons, and other specter abound this time of year.  But we really don’t need to look much beyond the natural world for a dose of spooky entertainment? This week, I’ve compiled my list of the top four spookiest native trees that all offer some great Halloween-related attributes everyone can enjoy on All Hallows’ Eve.

 Metal hardware cloth is a great material to protect young trees and shrubs from winter browsing wildlife.
November 21, 2020

Fall is an excellent time to add new trees or shrubs to the landscape and many of us have already taken advantage of mild weather and sunny days to get new plants in the ground.  With the lion’s share of work complete after digging, planting and mulching are finished, we often overlook some of the final steps to prepare new woody plants for winter.