Forgotten Flora of Illinois and the Chicago Region

Compiled by cassi saari and michael swierz

 

The earliest botanists and explorers of the Chicagoland region beheld a landscape that was vastly different from today’s natural environment. Their early accounts of Illinois flora describe plant communities that defy contemporary understanding and offer surprising depictions of bygone ecologies that have since succumbed to pavement and the plow. By compiling a representative selection of botanical texts from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, our hope is to make these forgotten flora available to twenty-first century stewards and restoration enthusiasts in order to foster imaginative and historically faithful visions of the prairies, savannas, woods, and wetlands we seek to restore.


FORGOTTEN FLORA LIBRARY


 


“The country about Chicago, for the distance of twelve miles from the lake, is mostly a low prairie covered with grass and beautiful flowers. Southwest from the town there is not one tree to be seen; the horizon rests upon the prairie. North, on the lake, is sandy hills and barren. Between there and the north branch is a swampy, marshy place, and there is a marshy place on the south branch. The town stands on the highest part of the prairie, and in the wet part of the season the water is so deep that it is necessary to wade from the town for some miles to gain the dry prairie. Notwithstanding the water standing on the prairie and the low, marshy places, and the dead-looking river, it is considered a healthy place. It has almost a continual lake breeze, which will explain in a measure the healthiness of the place. And another reason is the cleansing of the river water by the winds driving the pure lake water into and then running out again.”
Colbee C. Benton, 1833


Other resources of interest, containing early accounts of fauna, geology, lichens, etc., and summaries and/or annotations of the early floras:

Bannister, Henry M. 1868. Geology of Cook County, in Geological Survey of Illinois. Illinois State Geologist.

Jordan, D. S. 1878. Fishes of Illinois, in The Natural History of Illinois. Bulletin No. 2 of the Illinois State Laboratory of Natural History. Pp 37-70.

Muscatine Conchological Club. 1883. The Mollusca of Muscatine County and Vicinity. Muscatine Conchological Club.

Baker, Frank Collins. 1898. The Mollusca of the Chicago Area. Chicago Academy of Science. Bulletin No. III of the Natural History Survey.

Andreas, Alfred Theodore. 1884. Physical and Scientific Description of the County, in History of Cook County, Illinois: from the Earliest Period to the Present Time. A. T. Andreas, Publisher.

Calkins, William Wirt. 1896. The Lichen Flora of Chicago and Vicinity. Bulletin of the Geological and Natural History Survey. No 1. The Chicago Academy of Sciences.

Vestal, Arthur Gibson. 1934. A Bibliography of the Ecology of Illinois, Part 1. A Project of the Academy’s Committee on Ecological Survey. Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Science. Vol 27: Pp. 163-261.

Shelford, V. E. and G. S. Winterringer. 1959. The Disappearance of an Area of Prairie in the Cook County, Illinois, Forest Preserve District. The American Midland Naturalist. Vol 61, No 1: Pp. 89-95.

Myers, R. M. and R. D. Henry. 1976. Some Changes that Have Occurred in the Indigenous Flora of Two Adjoining West-Central Illinois Counties (Hancock and McDonough) During the Last 140 Years. Transactions of the Illinois State Academy of Sciences. Vol 69, No 1: Pp. 19-36.

Hanson, P. 1981. The Presettlement Vegetation of the Plain of Glacial Lake Chicago in Cook County, Illinois. In “Proceedings of the Sixth North American Prairie Conference”, edited by R. Stuckey and K. Reese. Ohio Biological Survey Notes, Columbus.

White, John. 1999. Kankakee River Area Assessment, Volume 5: Early Accounts of the Ecology of the Kankakee River Area. Report to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Ecological Services, Urbana, Illinois.

White, John. 2000. Fox River Area Assessment, Volume 5: Early Accounts of the Ecology of the Fox River Area. Report to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Ecological Services, Urbana, Illinois.

White, John. 2005. Early Accounts of the Ecology of Cook County from Old Farming and Sporting Magazines. Report to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and to the Nature Conservancy. Ecological Services, Urbana, Illinois.

White, John. 2005. Land Cover of the Indiana Coastal Zone about 1830. Report to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Ecological Services, Urbana, Illinois.

A modern link to the past: search the Consortium of Midwest Herbaria.


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