It’s not easy being green!

PHOTO: Prairie bush clover, a threatened species.
Prairie bush clover (Lespedeza leptostachya) in flower on the prairie in summer.

When I mention endangered species, what comes to most people’s minds are pandas, bald eagles, or maybe the gray wolf. It’s probably not Pitcher’s thistle (Cirsium pitcheri), prairie bush clover (Lespedeza leptostachya), or the host of other plants that are on the United States federal endangered and threatened species list. Plants make up nearly 60 percent of the species on the list, but the vast majority of the attention and the funding for species recovery goes to the “charismatic megafauna” — the mammals, birds, and fish.

Part of the reason for this discrepancy may be “plant blindness” — described by James Wandersee, co-author of Seeing Plants: A Theory of Plant Blindness, as “the inability to notice the plants in one’s own environment.” This inevitably leads to “the inability to recognize the importance of plants.” In other words, we tend to conserve what we notice and care about. I would argue that plants are even more worthy of our attention and concern! Not only do they beautify our landscapes and provide habitat for wildlife, they fundamentally support human life by giving us the air we breathe, the food we eat, and many of the medicines that cure our ills.  In fact, virtually all life on earth depends directly or indirectly on plants.

The chart below compares total endangered species spending by the federal and state governments for plants and animals over the last decade. As you can see, spending for plants has consistently remained at less than 5 percent of the total, and in 2011 was just 3.8 percent.


Scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden are actively conducting research, managing lands and banking seeds to conserve our priceless plant diversity. Next time you visit, stop by the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center to view us in action and learn more about our plant conservation activities.

©2012 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Squirrel Drey Query

Most people recognize a squirrel nest, called a drey, when they see one. The eastern gray squirrels in our region build dreys in trees for shelter and protection from the elements. What you see as a messy clump of leaves is actually a structure formed from sticks and then lined with leaves and other materials to make it a dry and cozy home.

This month I was walking around my neighborhood in Chicago, and I noticed that three out of four squirrel dreys on my street were located on branches that reach over the street. I had to ask myself why squirrels would build their homes in such a dangerous place.  If the squirrel or its babies fell out, they would not only land on hard concrete but also risk being hit by a car!  Are my neighborhood squirrels somehow related to the Three Little Pigs?

Since I know that is not the case, I started to speculate:

Perhaps squirrels are attracted to that particular view. Maybe thermal currents rising from the asphalt make that spot warmer than a branch over a lawn. Could it be that this spot also puts their predators at risk and therefore is actually a safer place to live? I don’t know!

So, I started looking around to see if there was a pattern in locations of squirrel dreys. To date, my findings are inconclusive. While searching for squirrel dreys, I did notice two other interesting things I would like to share.

PHOTO: This close up of a squirrel drey has an arrow pointing to the green plastic sticking out of the bottom of the drey.
Look carefully to see the bit of green plasting in this photo of a drey.

First, there are fewer squirrel dreys on the Learning Campus than there are in my neighborhood. I suspect that is because the Garden is home to our friend the red-tailed hawk (from a previous blog post) and other predators that are more scarce around my home.

Second, I found a squirrel drey at the Garden that was built with something unusual. If you look carefully in the picture, you will see a green material, possibly shredded plastic like Easter basket grass, sticking out of the bottom. Now, I wonder where it found that! This drey is located on the Garden’s entrance road, near the entrance to the Barbara Carr Administrative Center, before you reach the Gatehouse. You will only notice it if you are looking at squirrel dreys as carefully as I am.

PHOTO: The same drey seen from another angle shows the green plastic.
The green plastic is circled in this view of the squirrel drey.

Take a look at the squirrel dreys around your home, nearby parks, and at the Garden. Are the the squirrels building over the road in your area? Have you seen a squirrel enter or leave a drey? What is the strangest material they have used to build it? If you notice any patterns, post a comment in this blog.

©2012 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Raise a Glass to Repeal Day!

Say “prohibition” and lots of other interesting words immediately spring to mind. Speakeasy. Bootleg. Moonshine. Now add a new phrase to that list: Repeal Day.

PHOTO: a Post-Repeal Day truck sports a sign with the slogan, "Happy Days are Beer Again!"Repeal Day is December 5. Why that date? Because on December 5, 1933, Utah cast the ratifying vote to repeal Prohibition, bringing to an end more than 13 years of a national ban on the sale, manufacture, transportation — and consumption! — of alcohol.

Although the Eighteenth Amendment was intended to reduce crime and poverty by curbing all things alcohol, Prohibition didn’t quite turn out that way:

  • Speakeasies became more numerous than the saloons they replaced.
  • Average citizens became illegal “bathtub gin” distillers.
  • Violence and crime skyrocketed.
  • Gangsters found a foothold in society by transporting and selling liquor.

By the time the Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth (the only time in history that’s happened), citizens had realized that prohibiting alcohol also prohibited:

  • Toasting your son or daughter on his or her wedding day.
  • Pressing the grapes you tended all summer into the wine you served all winter.
  • The simple enjoyment of a cold beer on a hot day.

With that in mind, the folks at decided to mark “a return to the rich traditions of craft fermentation and distillation, the legitimacy of the American bartender as a contributor to the culinary arts, and the responsible enjoyment of alcohol as a sacred social custom.”

PHOTO: Enjoy Holiday Cheers! on December 5.In the spirit of Repeal Day, we are hosting our first-ever Holiday Cheers! Seasonal Tasting event on December 5, from 6 to 8 p.m.  A who’s who of Chicago distillers, brewers, and winemakers will be there to offer tastings and teachings about the city’s burgeoning spirits scene.

Join us to raise a glass to the grapes and the grains and the hops that make it all possible.


PHOTO: A great book: The Homebrewer's Garden.Fun reading/resources at our Lenhardt Library:

The Encyclopedia of Chicago keeps you flipping from topic to topic, 100 Years of Brewing takes you back pre-Prohibition, and The Home Brewers Garden helps you plan next year’s garden.

©2012 Chicago Botanic Garden and