WHAT TO READ: Identifying Plants

Glenn Adelson, PhD, leading an Introduction to Botany class at Ryerson Woods in the spring of 2014.
Glenn Adelson, PhD, leading an Introduction to Botany class at Ryerson Woods in the spring of 2014.

We recently invited our friend and frequent nature seminar instructor Glenn Adelson, chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Lake Forest College, to share his favorite books for identifying plants in our region.  Here are four books he recommends you have on your bookshelf and with you in the field to get familiar with our region’s flora.

 

PCRjacket_blowupFloyd Swink and Gerould Wilhelm, Plants of the Chicago Region, 4 ed.

We are very lucky to have a book like this dedicated to our region. The habitat and plant associates information is essential. It will be frustrating for a beginner to try to key plants out, but it is well worth the effort to learn. Make ample use of the glossary while learning.

 

Sunflower-FamilyThomas Antonio and Susanne Masi, The Sunflower Family in the Upper Midwest

The Compositae (also correctly called the Asteraceae) is the flowering plant family with the most species in flower in our area in the summer and fall. This book provides an easy to use set of symbols, based upon inflorescence color and presence or absence of disc and ray flowers to get you to the species you’re trying to figure out. Excellent photographs and nice natural history essays.

 

wildflowers_of_wisconsin_and_the_great_lakes_region_by_merel_black_emmet_judziewicz_0299230538Merel Black and and Emmet Judziewicz, Wildflowers of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Region

A very good companion to Swink and Wilhelm, as you can often talk yourself into believing you have the right plant when using a key. I often check the pictures and descriptions in Black and Judziewicz immediately after keying out a plant in Swink and Wilhelm, because it’s far more difficult to talk yourself into a mistaken identification when you have a picture in front of you.

 

Carol Gracie - Spring WildflowersCarol Gracie, Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast

An astonishingly beautiful and deeply researched book treating many of our woodland spring wildflowers. Its strength is the amount of depth given to each species it treats, which leads, of course to its weakness, which is how few species are accommodated. The macro photography is the best I’ve ever seen in a botany book.

 

IMG_8376Glenn will be teaching “Flora of the Autumn Prairie” this fall.  Classes will meet three consecutive Tuesday evenings (5:30-7:30pm) starting September 9. Participants will explore the profusion of yellow and purple wildflowers dominating the late summer prairie. We’ll learn plant biology, as we investigate the wide range of aster, goldenrod, mint and sunflower species, as well as the prairie grasses.  We’ll also explore the relationship between plants and their environments. Includes field trips to other preserves.  To register, click here (scroll down to Sept. 9).  Glenn will also be teaching a nature seminar on “Endangered Species & Endangered Languages” in October.

 

 

Glenn Adelson leading a Summer Flora class in summer 2014.
Glenn Adelson leading a Summer Flora class for Brushwood Center in summer 2014.

Glenn Adelson is the chair of the Environmental Studies Program at Lake Forest College, Chicago’s national liberal arts college. He teaches several field botany courses, as well as Evolution, Ecology, and Environment; Endangered Species and Endangered Languages; The Environmental Connections between Chicago and New Orleans; Introduction to Environmental Studies; Troubled World Geography; Botanical Imperialism; and Poetry and Nature. Glenn taught for fifteen years at Harvard University, where he became the only Harvard teacher to twice win the campus-wide Levenson Award for teaching. Glenn has a Ph.D. in organismic and evolutionary biology from Harvard and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School.

Drawn to Nature II

Image
Bull thistle illustration (Cirsium vulgare) by Derek Norman

Drawn to Nature II
by Dr. Gregory M. Mueller

Re-posted with author’s permission from the Chicago Botanic Garden website.

Recently, I helped kick off an exhibition of artwork focusing on wildflowers and other plants found in Midwestern woodlands and prairies. This amazing show, at Ryerson Woods in (Deerfield), Illinois, features works by members of the Reed-Turner Artists’ Circle, some of whom teach in the Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden. This exhibition and activities related to it provide a terrific example of what a “citizen artist” program can accomplish, helping to protect our native plants and the benefits they provide humankind by documenting their beauty and engaging the public.

The Artists’ Circle works to further the interests of botanical art, conservation science, botany, and horticulture at the local level. To highlight the beauty and importance of plants in our lives, the Artists’ Circle promotes and exhibits members’ work in collaboration with local and regional institutions.

In my opening remarks, I spoke briefly about how all life depends on plants, which is one of the basic tenets of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Plants provide us with food, shelter, oxygen, and medicine; they also provide vital services such as climate regulation, air and water quality improvement, and flood control. Yet we are in the midst of a well-documented plant biodiversity crisis, and some experts estimate that up to one-third of the world’s plant species may become extinct within the next 50 years. Unfortunately, far too little is being done to address this crisis. In fact, much of society suffers from “plant blindness,”an inability to see or notice the plants in one’s own environment.

Members of the Artists’ Circle, thankfully, are acutely tuned in to the environment, viewing plants and their role in the world with a unique clarity of vision. Not only are they producing beautiful works of art, they are thinking about developing a “citizen artist” program, and some members have been brainstorming about this idea with me. This program would parallel and enhance the important work that citizen scientists are performing throughout the region and beyond, through Garden involvement in such programs as Project BudBurst and Plants of Concern.

The Drawn to Nature II exhibition, which runs through April 30, highlights the important contributions of botanical artists. It is impossible to be unimpressed by the beauty and complexity of plants when viewing the outstanding drawings and paintings here, created by members of the Artists’ Circle. The subtlety of the art prompts the viewer to see these objects of nature in a new light, eliciting a powerful, emotional response. By provoking such a visceral response, botanical art becomes an effective tool in fighting plant blindness.

Dr. Gregory M. Mueller serves as vice president of Science at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Before joining the Garden, Dr. Mueller worked for 23 years at The Field Museum as curator of mycology in the Department of Botany. He was chair of the Field Museum’s Department of Botany from 1996 to 2005. Dr. Mueller received his B.A. and M.S. from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee. He is also a member of the Friends of Ryerson Woods Advisory Board.