Archives For July 2017

Powering Up the Prairie

Undercover Science

Julianne Beck —  July 26, 2017 — Leave a comment

Home gardeners can sympathize: not every seed that is planted grows.

This truth extends to restored prairies that are grown from seed mixes, according to Rebecca Barak, Ph.D., who completed research this year examining the success of individual species within seed mixes, and their combined potential to power up to the diversity level found in remnant prairies. 

A healthy, diverse prairie

A healthy, diverse prairie

Urban and agricultural development has left us with less than one-tenth of one percent of prairieland, which is vital part of our ecosystem. Today, the prairie can be found only in small patches, and scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden study prairie plants and their chance for survival amid changing climates and landscapes. For Dr. Barak, a key question is what restored plant communities will look like. 

Restored prairies can and do grow in all kinds of places, according to Barak, who conducted fieldwork at dozens of sites within an hour or two of Chicago. From a small playfield behind a nature center to the grounds of a temple to a large swath of acreage in the suburbs, she and her team visited each restored prairie site to compare the plant communities to the mix of seeds that were planted there initially. 

“I studied that on the ground—how do prairies differ, how do seed mixes become prairies, and how can we tweak those seed mixes to improve diversity outcomes for restored prairies,” explained Barak, who recently earned her doctoral degree from the Chicago Botanic Garden and Northwestern University and is now a post-doctoral researcher in a joint appointment between the Garden and Michigan State University.

To conduct her fieldwork, she outlined a 50-meter-long transect in each study prairie, and marked off a large circle every 5 meters along the way. Within the circle, she and her collaborators counted all the plant species they could find. They compared those notes to a walk-through of each site months later as bloom cycles changed.

A native of the Chicago suburbs, Barak made unofficial discoveries that warmed her prairie-loving heart.

Dr. Becky Barak

“I’ve lived here almost all my life and there were all these preserves that I didn’t know about,” she said. Small corners of the city were transformed into lush green spaces, such as the Burnham Wildlife Corridor. Suburban sites such as Orland Grassland were larger and more delightful each season than she anticipated.

After summer months spent documenting and counting, she compared the list of existing plants to the list of seeds that were planted from the original seed mix. She found that less than 50 percent of the species diversity survived from seed to plant. “A lot of species are lost along the way,” she noted.

The plant mix within the restored prairies was then compared to historical data from 41 remnant prairies across Illinois—sites that had never been altered for other purposes. In addition to her findings about the success rate of seeds planted in restored prairies, “I found that species in restored prairies are more closely related to one another than species in remnant prairies,” said Barak.

The David H. Smith Conservation Fellow is not only tuned in to the number of species found in each prairie, but also to how well they represent a variety of evolutionary threads. “We think about how spread out plants in the prairie are across the evolutionary tree of life. Maybe, if you are getting more branches on the tree, your community will function better, or differently,” she noted.

“When we look at remnant and restored prairies, we find that there are differences in biodiversity and there are opportunities to increase diversity of restored prairies. In order to do that we have to think about the seed mixes that are being used,” she added.

In doing so, Barak anticipates that a higher level of diversity will support more functions like serving as habitat for pollinators.

Her detailed findings will be published this August in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Spiderwort (Tradescantia)

Spiderwort (Tradescantia)

In addition to the benefits of prairies—such as storing rainwater and carbon dioxide—they also provide opportunities we can all enjoy each time we visit, said the scientist and former teacher. “I think it’s about more than that [the ecological benefits]—it’s about teaching people our natural heritage, thinking about habitats that are unique and special to our area, getting people to notice biodiversity, and recognizing that it can even happen in the city or suburbs.” 


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Don’t trust your eyes—that leaf is actually a butterfly

The orange dead leaf (Kallima inachus)

Patrick Sbordone —  July 20, 2017 — 2 Comments

As the season has been progressing at Butterflies & Blooms at the Chicago Botanic Garden, we have been lucky enough to receive a very special butterfly species and a definite crowd-pleaser: the orange dead leaf (Kallima inachus)

If we didn’t point out this character to guests, no one would ever suspect that they were looking at a butterfly.

I like to describe the orange dead leaf butterfly as being able to mimic a dead leaf better than an actual dead leaf can. When it closes its wings, the butterfly has a perfectly ovate silhouette, complete with both a pointed leaf apex at the front tip and a petiole, or the stalk that attaches leaf to stem, on the hindside. The wing is a drab brown, with leaf vein arrangement very similar to that of a flowering dogwood. The orange dead leaf butterfly is at home in broadleaf forests of India, where it blends in with dead foliage during the dry season, going unnoticed by all but the sharpest predators. Here at Butterflies & Blooms, this butterfly seems to seek out dead, brown leaves in the tree canopies and uses them as a place to blend in. I always get a kick out of showing people that one of those dead leaves is not what it seems.

Kallima inachus at rest on a branch

Kallima inachus at rest on a branch

Kallima inachus with its wings open

Kallima inachus with its wings open

The butterfly has another surprise for visitors: It has incredibly vivid coloration on the dorsal side of its wings. When the orange dead leaf opens its wings to sun itself or take flight, it shows off its navy blue iridescent wings, with a bright orange stripe on each of the forewings.

We have several other butterfly species that also use one side of their wings to resemble dead foliage, including the autumn leaf (Doleschallia bisaltide) and the great orange tip (Hebomoia glaucippe). However, these species have not mastered the art of camouflage quite like Kallima inachus. Come over to Butterflies & Blooms to check out this fascinating butterfly.


Atlas moth (Attacus atlas)

Atlas moth (Attacus atlas)

While you are here, take a look at the serviceberry tree just to the left of the pupae chamber. We have an unprecedented seven giant atlas moths perched on the tree branches like Christmas tree ornaments. Also, don’t miss all of the blooms: The recent rainy weather has undoubtedly helped the Butterflies & Blooms garden become more floriferous.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

This summer, the Chicago Botanic Garden is transforming—with tall coconut palm trees and other iconic plants of Brazil, inspired by the designs of renowned Brazilian landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx.

The making of Brazil in the Garden started with an unlikely source, a family’s brick townhouse in Philadelphia.

Two members of the Garden’s design team visited the townhouse last summer, not sure what to expect. What they found was a treasure trove of original work by Burle Marx (1909–94), including stacks of rare, numbered lithographs, rolled tapestries too large to hang, and framed paintings. Some of the pieces, which had never been on public display, are now part of an exclusive Burle Marx exhibition at the Garden.

The collection had been in private hands, owned by landscape architect Conrad Hamerman and kept on the third story of his townhouse. When Hamerman died in 2014, his family inherited the pieces. Hamerman was a close friend of Burle Marx, and represented his work in the United States; Burle Marx gave him the pieces as gifts and as payment for his services.

Conrad Hamerman and Roberto Burle Marx Photo ©Rick Darke

Conrad Hamerman and Roberto Burle Marx
Photo ©Rick Darke

Through a contact, the Garden’s exhibition manager Gabriel Hutchison and senior designer Nancy Snyder met with Hamerman’s wife and daughter in Philadelphia to discuss Burle Marx’s artistic legacy and his friendship with Conrad Hamerman. The Garden’s Burle Marx exhibition reveals a rare glimpse of Burle Marx as an artist known for his bold colors, abstract shapes, and modernist style.

Hutchison and Snyder spent two days reviewing and evaluating the material for possible exhibition. “The collection was so much more diverse than I had imagined—sketches, oil paintings, landscape plans, and painted canvas wall hangings,” Snyder said. “This was really an honor to work on, and all along it felt like exhibiting the work was a suitable tribute to the rich friendship between the Hamermans and Roberto Burle Marx.”

Hamerman and Burle Marx met as young men in Brazil. Hamerman was a landscape designer who wanted to become an artist, and Burle Marx was an artist who wanted to become a landscape designer. Above all, they were both avid plant people. Their mutual love of plants, art, and design formed the basis of a lasting friendship that inspired them to travel on many expeditions to collect plants together.

“Conrad was a professional colleague of Roberto’s and collaborated with him a lot,” said Hutchison. “Over the years they became close friends, and although Conrad enjoyed doing his own work, I think he was most passionate about working with Roberto.”

The two even taught university courses together, which is where landscape architect Andrew Durham first encountered Burle Marx’s work. A former student and family friend of Hamerman’s, Durham arranged the loan of pieces from the family’s personal collection for the Garden’s exhibition.

Roberto Burle Marx exhibition

The Roberto Burle Marx exhibition runs through September 10, 2017.

“One thing that made Hamerman unique as a professor was his close friendship with Roberto Burle Marx,” said Durham. “Our class traveled for a month to Brazil, where Burle Marx personally showed us his gardens. That trip changed many of us forever, and I’ve embedded in my own work much of what I learned from Burle Marx’s use of texture and color.”

Though known for revolutionizing tropical landscape design, Burle Marx also worked in other artistic mediums. The paintings and textiles at the Garden exhibition showcase his style of vast swaths of bold hues, cubist influences, and contrasting fabrics.

See the Roberto Burle Marx exhibition, open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Regenstein Center, Joutras Gallery, through September 10, 2017.

Brazil in the GardenThroughout the Garden, we’re paying tribute to the vibrant spirit of Brazil. Look for samba on the Esplanade, the Brazilian national cocktail in the Garden View Café, cool plants including striking Bismarck palms, and much more. See Brazil in the Gardenthroughout the Garden—through October 15, 2017.

©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

USO families and veterans were welcomed on June 25 to a special day at the Chicago Botanic Garden. A gift from the Annie and Gregory K. Jones family provided the families and veterans with a day of fun experiences: tram tours, admission to the Model Railroad Garden: Landmarks of America and Butterflies & Blooms exhibits, lunch, exploration at the Kleinman Family Cove, nature play at the Regenstein Learning Campus, and creating a mini terrarium in the Buehler Enabling Garden. 

The Garden’s horticultural therapy department drew on their experiences working with veterans and their families as they planned a plant-based activity that would celebrate the strengths of these folks. Succulent plants were a natural choice. Add colored aquarium gravel and a portable container, and you’ve got a beautiful tribute to the pride of being a member of a military family. So, here is a fun way to consider this event:

How is a plant like a member of a military family?

Succulent plants

Succulent plant: By deftly storing water, succulent plants live just fine under extremely hot and dry conditions.

Military family holding small terrariums made at the Garden.

Military spouse: By using resources wisely, a military spouse stretches money, time, and love to make sure the whole family is taken care of, wherever they may be.

Succulent plant

Succulent plant: Develops a tough exterior to endure harsh conditions.

Military family eating lunch at the Garden's USO Military Appreciation Day.

Military parent: Develops coping skills and the ability to play both mom and dad roles to endure long deployments.

Succulent plants

Succulent plants: So many colors, leaf shapes, growth habits, and unique beauty—yet all have key traits in common.

Military family eating lunch at the Garden's USO Military Appreciation Day.

Military kid: Powerfully diverse in appearance, personality, and beauty—yet all have key traits in common.

Succulent plant

Succulent plants: Belong to many plant families, but all are classified as succulents because of the features they have in common.

Military family holding small terrariums made at the Garden.

Military families: Each family is unique, and many include extended family members for support, yet each family takes pride in—and draws strength from—the traditions, support, and high purpose that being part of the military offers.

One striking thing about the day was the eager participation of everyone who planned and worked on that day. Garden volunteers raced to sign up for shifts. Many cited their own family members in service and their strong desire to honor those who keep us safe and free. The USO of Illinois had an equally eager corps of volunteers who came to the Garden early on a Saturday morning to get the “goodie bags” filled and to register everyone. 

Kay Knight, horticultural therapy coordinator, was the Garden’s point person for planning the day. Kay worked with departments across the Garden and with USO of Illinois to make sure everything ran smoothly. According to the many, many compliments and thanks expressed, Kay succeeded! 

The USO families had fun doing activities together and enjoyed the red-carpet treatment. 

 


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Flora Brasil

Lenhardt Library celebrates Brazil in the Garden with a “Flora Brasil” special collections exhibition

Leora Siegel —  July 7, 2017 — Leave a comment

Brazil’s native flora has amazing diversity with differing biomes, including tropical rainforest, subtropical forest, tropical savanna, mangrove forest, tropical dry forest, wetland, and savanna.

Of the approximate 400,000 known plant species in the world, 55,000 are endemic to Brazil, and most of these are from the Amazon forest.

Brazilian bromeliads in the Crescent Garden

Bromeliads abound this summer throughout the Garden. There are more than 3,000 known species of bromeliads; 650 of these are native to Brazil. Many bromeliads have leaves that are spiraled and called a rosette. At the base of the rosette, the leaves may grow in an overlapping and tight form to become a place for water to collect.

Many of the foods we eat (like acai), industrial products we use (rubber tree and mahogany), medicines—even our houseplants in the Chicago region (orchids), depend on plants from this region. The unique flora of this area continues to be threatened by deforestation and urbanization, and plant species are at risk.

Books on display through October 15, 2017, in the Lenhardt Library’s Flora Brasil exhibition depict a plant exploration map, Brazilian aroid, and Brazilian bromeliads. An untitled original artwork by Brazilian landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx on loan from Longwood Gardens complements our main Joutras Galley exhibition of Marx’s work.

Roberto Burle Marx, Untitled, 1991, Courtesy of Longwood Gardens

Roberto Burle Marx, Untitled, 1991, Courtesy of Longwood Gardens

The library exhibition opens with an eighteenth-century map of South America with “the coast of Brazil being corrected” bound into the third edition in English of Voyage to South America: Describing, at Large, the Spanish Cities, Towns, Provinces on That Extensive Continent by Don Antonio de Ulloa and Don George Juan, 1772. Ulloa and Juan explored the region, observing and describing the flora, fauna, geology, minerals, indigenous population, and politics they encountered.

Map of a voyage to South America by Ulloa and Juan, 1772

18th century map of South America with “the coast of Brazil being corrected” from Voyage to South America: Describing, at Large, the Spanish Cities, Towns, Provinces on That Extensive Continent by Ulloa and Juan, 1772; Click here to view larger image

ILLUSTRATION: Philodendron cannaefolium by Heinrich Schott

Philodendron cannaefolium ‘Burle Marx’, a 24” x 30” detailed chromolithograph that is both scientifically accurate and stunning from Aroideae Maximilianae by Heinrich Schott, 1879.

A Brazilian aroid Philodendron cannaefolium (today known as Philodendron ‘Burle Marx’) is the centerpiece with a 24-inch-by-30-inch detailed chromolithograph that is both scientifically accurate and stunning. This 1879 work, Aroideae Maximilianae by Heinrich Schott, features 42 plates with delicate colors and clean lines. Schott was an Austrian botanist who traveled in Brazil from 1817 to 1821. He specialized in Araceae and throughout his career, he named 587 new-to-science species of aroids; by comparison, Linnaeus named six aroid species. 

Come also learn about Margaret Mee, who was an exceptional botanical artist, plant explorer, and environmentalist. Four reproductions of Mee’s “Brazilian Bromeliads” are on view. These are from a limited edition set published in Brazil in 1992.

Mee traveled to Brazil often, and went on fifteen botanical expeditions, mainly into the Amazon region. On these expeditions, she discovered several new plant species, painted more than 400 gouache pieces, and kept travel diaries detailing her adventures. Her passion for Brazilian flora coincided with the large-scale commercialization of the Amazon rainforest. She became an outspoken environmentalist, calling attention to the dangerous destruction of the biodiverse region. 

ILLUSTRATION: A Brazillian bromeliad by Margaret Mee

Margaret Mee’s Nidularium innocentii from Brazilian Bromeliads, reproduction, limited edition set published in Brazil, 1992.

Noted Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx cultivated plants that Mee brought back from her expeditions and used them in his landscape designs. Known for his bright and bold color choices, Marx was inspired by Mee’s paintings. Like Mee, he was concerned about the environmental impacts of the commercialization of the Brazilian Amazonian region.

Learn more about Mee, Marx, and Brazilian flora at our free Library Talks on July 16, August 22, and September 12 at 2 p.m. in the Lenhardt Library.


©2017 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org