Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) is a showy plant that makes you stop and ask questions about it whenever it is stumbled upon - whether in your garden or along a hike. From its impressive height, sometimes up to 10 feet tall, to its distinctive reddish-purple stems - you stop and ask yourself: “what is it?” To me, this is the least interesting question you could ask. By observing this showy species, you can ask more interesting questions that tell you so much more about this plant’s ecology and history.
As we transition to fall here in Illinois, you may see smoke in the air or see the grasslands or forests burning. These could be signs of a prescribed fire being conducted intentionally to manage our natural ecosystems. The use of prescribed fire is increasing throughout Illinois. To understand why fire is being used as a management tool, let’s take a look at the role fire has played in the development of ecosystems in Illinois.
My family and I recently t
I am sure that most of us are familiar with the concept of invasive species - non-native organisms that are introduced into a new environment and take advantage of the lack of natural checks and balances to run amok and impact our native species and natural ecosystems. My first introduction to invasive species was when I was a kid, growing up in the southern United States, seeing the invasive vine kudzu swallow entire trees.
“Forty-two pounds of Edible Fungus
In the Wilderness a-growin’
Saved the Settlers from Starvation,
Helped the founding of this Nation.”
- Robert McCloskey, 1943
Garlic mustard, just two little words can bring a groan from naturalists across the Eastern United States. But garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, also known as Poor Man’s Mustard, Hedge Garlic, Garlic Root and Jack-by-the-Hedge didn’t start out in this country as a menace.
By the time February rolls around, many of us are longing for springtime. Spring brings a renewal of plant life in our forests, the arrival of the first batch of neotropical birds migrating back from their southern winter homes, and the awakening of reptiles and amphibians that have been long dormant during the frigid temperatures of winter. Skunk cabbage’s emergence out of the soil, the first calls of spring peepers, red maple buds bursting into bloom, and woodcock displaying in the meadows at dusk are all proof that spring is on its way. But for me, the most
Late fall and early winter provide an opportunity for a rare glimpse at a fascinating phenomenon, if you are willing to get up early! Frost flowers, also called ice flowers, are thin, often undulating ribbons of ice that form at the base of certain plants. This happens when the air temperature drops below freezing, but the soil temperature remains relatively warm. Frost flowers usually appear in late fall as the temperatures drop below freezing at night but can also form in spring sometimes or in warmer stretches of winter.
The mighty white oak tree, Quercus alba, has long been the subject of folklore and legend. Sometimes called the “King of Trees,” the oak is often associated with titans in the pagan pantheon, Zeus and Thor to name just two.
In Illinois, we recognize its importance and have named the white oak our state tree. We celebrate the month of October as Oak Awareness Month or Oaktober fest.