Archives For August 2018

At Butterflies & Blooms on Monday, I saw something I had never seen before in my five years as a butterfly wrangler at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I noticed that a leopard lacewing’s right wings were bright orange, just like any other male of the species, but the left wings were beige—only females have beige wings. This lacewing was half male and half female, or a gynandromorphic butterfly.

Underside of the gynandromorphic leopard lacewing

Underside of the gynandromorphic leopard lacewing

Topside of the gynandromorphic leopard lacewing

Topside of the gynandromorphic leopard lacewing

That morning, when I had discovered the male-female lacewing, butterfly visitors had been waiting for me to release butterflies from the pupae chamber. So I packed up the lacewing, with all of the other newborns. I then released each of the two dozen butterflies that had hatched that morning, saving our special discovery for last. I got everyone’s attention and announced, “This is extremely rare! As a butterfly wrangler, I have released many thousands of butterflies, but this is the one and only butterfly that is literally half male and half female!” The visitors were fascinated by the lacewing, which sat on the tip of my finger. Then it took flight and was free in the blink of an eye. Luckily, one of our volunteers snapped some beautiful photos.

Later, it occurred to me that this specimen could actually be a valuable contribution to science, and if nothing else, something that everyone should get a chance to see. I tried to find and capture it so an expert could take a closer look. A full day went by without anyone seeing it. I was afraid we had missed an opportunity to contribute something special to the scientific community, but our luck was about to change. 

On Wednesday morning, I was chatting with a young butterfly enthusiast about the gynandromorphic lacewing. I asked him if he could keep an eye out and possibly help me find it. He said, “Oh, you mean like this one?” He turned and pointed to the rare creature, which was sunbathing just behind his head. I couldn’t believe it. I offered to name the butterfly after him, but he modestly declined. I’m still trying to reach out to experts. Meanwhile, after that, I brought the special butterfly back into the pupae chamber, where it has been on display to visitors. I have been feeding it by hand, using a piece of foam dipped in fruit juice and Gatorade, which the butterfly seems to love.

Here is a little information about gynandromorphism. Gynandromorphs are very rare, but can be found in birds, fish, crustaceans, and butterflies, among other organisms. Usually, gynandromorphs have an uneven mixture of male and female features, but our special butterfly has an even rarer form of gynandromorphism because the male and female traits are bilateral, meaning they are split perfectly down the center of the body. How rare are we talking? In a 1980s study, only five out of 30,000 butterflies displayed gynandromorphism.

So how does gynandromorphism occur? There are several possibilities having to do with mishaps that occur during early cell division. Butterflies have a W and a Z chromosome for female and male, respectively. Sometimes, the W and Z chromosomes get stuck together during cell division, resulting in a mixture of male and female traits. In another scenario, the embryo is “double fertilized,” resulting in both female and male nuclei throughout the organism. The causes include bacterial or viral infections, ultraviolet radiation, and other environmental factors that can alter an organism’s DNA during division and growth.

In any case, it’s cool to have a butterfly with such a rare deformation that is still fully able to exist as a healthy adult, sipping nectar and basking in the adoration and fascination of its fans. We have not yet named this butterfly, so please leave some suggestions. The typical lifespan of an adult butterfly is about two weeks, so drop by Butterflies & Blooms and say hello to our newest celebrity.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

When Science First student Divine isn’t at the Chicago Botanic Garden, she’s in her backyard, trying to use her iffy, only-works-when-it-wants-to telescope and peering into the future. Someday, she wants to be an astrophysicist and help put people into space.

As part of Science First each summer, about 40 students from Chicago Public Schools travel to the Garden by school bus from designated stops all around the city to spend up to four weeks being immersed in a free, nature-based science enrichment program. Science First inspires students in grades 8 to 10 who come from backgrounds underrepresented in science to pursue careers in STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math.

The Science First 2018 class

The 2018 Science First class

Divine, who is from the Chicago neighborhood of Ashburn, will be a freshman at Lindblom Math and Science Academy next year. Another participant, Alexis, who is from Little Village, begins his freshman year at Northside College Preparatory High School in the fall. Both students have a strong interest in science and were first-time Science First participants this summer.

Divine’s church youth group leader recommended that she apply to the program, which seemed a perfect fit—her interest in science is rooted in the books she read as a child. Divine has always loved reading and would sometimes get in trouble for it. The books she doesn’t want to put down even today are cosmos-related or anything about planets, stars, and galaxies. She wants to learn about how the world works on earth before learning about what’s in space.

“I like the world around me and seeing how things grow,” Divine said. “I like space a lot, but I want to know how it works down here before I learn about what’s up there.”

Alexis’s interest in science also started at an early age. He likes the rigors of science—following steps to get the results that show you what may or may not be the problem.

Last year, Alexis’s passion for procedures was ignited in his eighth-grade chemistry class, where he enjoyed doing experiments with different types of elements. These days, though, he is mostly interested in engineering.

“Before chemistry, I was interested in mechanical engineering, mostly robotics,” he said. “I feel like they can probably help us in the future, such as helping us care for our own environment.”

Alexis imagines combining a career in mechanical engineering with his interest in the natural sciences when, hopefully, robotics can someday be used to help remove or control invasive species in certain ecosystems.

This summer at the Garden, Divine and Alexis learned about issues including invasive species and climate change, and considered issues such as overpopulation and lack of food. In the process, they learned about scientific inquiry and research—tools to take away, no matter what path they choose.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

The Chicago Botanic Garden’s Lenhardt Library has a wonderful rare book collection, and soon it will be able to share some of those rare gems with the world.  

Selections from The Language of Flowers collections are being digitized and conserved with a new grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and those selections will be uploaded to the Biodiversity Heritage Library. This work will add to the body of knowledge on the subject of language of flowers, at the intersection of art, botany, and poetry.

One of the smaller volumes of The Language of Flowers

Some of the books in The Language of Flowers were much smaller volumes. These particular flower books filled with botanical drawings and love poems were intentionally and charmingly smaller, as the thinking at the time was it would be better to fit into a woman’s hands.

Poem and illustration from Madame de la Tour's Langage des Fleurs

Return of Happiness from The Language of Flowers, The Sentiment of Flowers; or Language of Flora, published in 1837, derived from Madame de la Tour’s Langage des Fleurs

Also being digitized is Garden Talk, the Chicago Horticultural Society’s membership magazine that was published from 1945, 1953-2007. Chicago’s gardening trends and fads, techniques, and ecological strategies were all fodder for editorial content. Once digitized, the columns will be available at the Illinois Digital Archives with new grant funding from the Illinois State Library.

Telegram to the Garden from Lady Bird Johnson.

Garden Talk captured the Garden’s rich history. Here, we see the “official” press release in 1965 announcing the groundbreaking for the new Chicago Botanic Garden. A congratulatory telegram was sent to the Garden from Lady Bird Johnson, the First Lady at the time.

Garden Talk article from 1953

Garden Talk chronicled the many activities of the Chicago Horticultural Society, including, in 1953, a school garden teaching program that reached 50,000 children.

National Endowment for the Humanities (logo)

Note: Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations on this web page do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Bees in the Big City

Andrea Gruver —  August 15, 2018 — 3 Comments

The plants you see from your train seat on the Metra Union Pacific North line may help conservation scientists learn about how urban areas impact native bees.

Although most people think of honeybees when they think about bees, there are more than 4,000 native bee species in the United States and 500 species in Illinois alone. Like their honeybee counterparts, native bees are undergoing global declines, making them an important conservation concern. With the growth of urban areas, native bees may be faced with new challenges, yet we don’t know the extent that urban areas impact native bees.

My research at the Chicago Botanic Garden is investigating how urban areas may affect native bees in Chicago. Chicago is an ideal city to study the impact of urbanization on native bees because the intensity of urbanization slowly wanes from the urban core of the city out into the surrounding suburbs.

Megachilid (leaf cutter) bee

My research is focused on native bee species in Illinois like these Megachilid(leaf cutter) bees.

Megachilid (leaf cutter) bee

Part of that research is about bringing public awareness to the other native bees we have around Chicago.

To explore native bee communities along this urbanization gradient, I have a series of eight sites along Chicago’s Union Pacific North Metra (UP-N) railway. I chose the sites along the rail line because they followed a perfect gradient from very urban to very suburban. I was also drawn to them because most of the vegetation around the sites is unmanaged and composed of similar species.

All of the sites vary in the levels of green space and impervious surface (concrete/buildings) surrounding the sites. Sites near downtown are surrounded by nearly 70 percent impervious surface, while sites near the Chicago Botanic Garden are surrounded by just 15 percent impervious surface.

[Click here to view video on YouTube.]

Studying bees in this area along the Metra line allows us to ask a variety of questions about native bees. For instance: Are there fewer bees in highly urban areas? Are there different bees in natural areas compared to urban areas? Do the bees in highly urban areas have different traits than those in natural areas?

Pollinator Collection Near the Metra with Andrea

Andrea and an intern collect bees along the Metra line.

This summer, a few interns at the Garden and I have been gathering and sampling bees at each of my eight field sites. To catch the bees, we use two methods. First, we set out fluorescent colored bowls with soapy water that attract and capture the bees. Secondly, we use a butterfly net to capture bees at the site throughout the day. When we are finished sampling, the bees are taken back to the lab at the Garden’s Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center and pinned for future study.

In addition to collecting the bees, we also record all of the flowering plants and count how many flowers are blooming at the sites.

Although our days are currently filled with fieldwork and pinning, in the fall we will spend almost all of our time in the lab identifying the bees down to the genus or species level. When we have all of the bees identified, we can then start analyzing the data for my master’s thesis and answer some of the questions we have put forth. We suspect we will see a higher abundance and diversity of bees in sites located in more natural areas with more flowering plants.

My research will help us understand how urban areas are shaping native bee communities and help us determine what landscape features promote native bee diversity in urban environments, some of which can be implemented in urban restoration projects. We also hope that this work will illuminate the amazing diversity of native bees we have here in Chicago.


©2018 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

I love my plant job

Salina Wunderle —  August 10, 2018 — 3 Comments

I recently was admiring one of the stately agaves at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and I had a genuine “I love my job” moment. This was not the first time and definitely will not be the last. I took a moment to reflect on that and why my job as a horticulturist is so much more than caring for plants.

Salina Wunderle 2I started off as a seasonal employee in the production greenhouses, where we grow and tend for the plants you see throughout the Garden. Now I’m one of five senior horticulturists. My crew—horticulturist Dino de Persio and technician Evan Hydzik—and I oversee the three glorious display Greenhouses, all interiorscapes, two beautiful bonsai courtyards, event plant displays, and beyond. I also work closely with our creative design team to produce our annual Wonderland Express and Orchid Show.

Some people ask me, “What is horticulture?” If you Google “horticulture,” this is what comes up: Horticulture (noun): the art or practice of garden cultivations and management.

In my position, I am blessed to work with plants from all around the world. If you use a little imagination, these plants can transport you to new and exotic places. Many of the plants in our collection can link you to other cultures through their traditional, medicinal, ecological, economical, and ethnobotanical uses. For example, not many people know the showy bougainvillea is a traditional medicinal and culinary plant of Mexico and Central America. We also have bizarre bat-pollinated plants, such as the breathtaking jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) and many Cereus cacti. Some of my favorites are the cardamom spice (Elettaria cardamomum), breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis), cocoa (Theobroma cacao), and coffee (Coffea arabica)—all of which are all edible, of course.

Look at this plant I get to cultivate! This is the century plant (Agave americana).

Look at this plant I get to cultivate! This is the century plant (Agave americana). Our last century plant bloomed in 2010. When will this one grow through the greenhouse roof? You’ll just have to stay tuned to find out. Seriously, I love this job.

I get to share the stories of these plants with guests of all ages and walks of life. Connecting people with plants is certainly one of the great joys of my job. Recently, I became part of the advisory council of an initiative called Seed Your Future (seedyourfuture.org). This movement was founded in 2013 by Longwood Gardens and the American Society for Horticultural Science, and has grown to include more than 150 partners, including the Chicago Botanic Garden. The group’s mission is “to promote horticulture and inspire people to pursue careers working with plants.”

BLOOM! logo

One way to do that is to introduce the world of horticulture to young people and show them the critical role plants have in all of our lives.

Earlier this year, Seed Your Future launched BLOOM, our first campaign to promote horticulture and inspire interest in careers in horticulture.

Green industry jobs game board by BLOOM! and Scholastic.

Download this fun game board and other engaging classroom materials at BLOOM!

Our BLOOM microsite has fun games, videos, and more for young people to enjoy getting to know the world of plants. The amazing thing about Seed Your Future is that the website has an expanding bank of resources for parents, teachers, camp counselors, and mentors to use in their programs. All of this is free. I can say I would have loved a resource such as this along my plant journey, and I am honored to be a part of it now.

Working with Seed Your Future has helped bring my story full circle. It has shown that my job as a horticulturist allows me to do so many fulfilling things: play with plants of the world, share knowledge and stories with others, inspire kids and adults, work with brilliant people, and ultimately get challenged and grow.

Thank you for letting me share my “I love my job!” moments.

Find your plant power at wearebloom.org; visit our Garden, and take part in our mission to cultivate the power of plants to sustain and enrich life.