Botanical Bill’s Big Adventure

“Rise and shine, campers, and don’t forget your booties, ‘cuz it’s coooold out there today!”

If you love Groundhog Day the movie, or just the idea that there’s a Groundhog Day at all, then visit the Garden on Saturday as our own groundhog mascot, Botanical Bill, goes on an adventure. Download a PDF of the scavenger hunt here.

Bring your smartphone and hunt around the Regenstein Center for the answers to the questions below — get five of the ten correct and you’ve earned a cup of hot cocoa at the Garden Café, plus a d.i.y. photo op with Botanical Bill at the Visitor Center Information Desk where he’s hanging out all week! 

PHOTO: Botanical Bill at the entrance of the Woodcut exhibit.
1. An exhibition called Woodcut would sound good to a woodchuck — which, along with “whistle pig,” is another common name for a groundhog. Botanical Bill brought his name tag along on his adventure, which starts at the Woodcut exhibition. What material makes up the exhibit’s title?


PHOTO: Botanical Bill checks out the rings on a tree slice.
2. Groundhogs have good eyesight — their eyes are placed high up on their heads, the better to peek out of their burrows while staying mostly hidden. Nonetheless, Botanical Bill used the magnifying glass to get a good look at this tree’s cross section in Woodcut. What kind of tree was it?


PHOTO: Botanical Bill visits Paradise.
3. Groundhogs like to stay close to home—they rarely travel more than ½ mile from their burrow in their entire lives. Botanical Bill sure liked the look of this garden, though, from the In Search of Paradise exhibition in Krehbiel Gallery. Where would he have to travel to visit the real thing?


PHOTO: Botanical Bill catches up on his reading in the library.
4. Groundhogs are rarely seen at the Garden. Much like British royalty and nobility. What collection of books is Botanical Bill admiring in the Lenhardt Library? (Hint: the collection was put together for fans of a popular television show.)


5. Groundhogs eat plants — lots of plants — including up to 1½ pounds per day in the summer. Botanical Bill isn’t so sure about these plants in the case in the Arid Greenhouse — they look like rocks! What kind of plants are they?


PHOTO: Botanical Bill hangs out with an armadillo in the greenhouse.
6. Groundhogs dig burrows that are 2 to 5 feet deep and extend up to 30 feet long! Foxes, snakes, raccoons, and rabbits often reuse old groundhog burrows. Botanical Bill met this fellow burrow maker in the Arid Greenhouse. What kind of topiary animal is it?


PHOTO: Botanical Bill gets a banana snack.
7. Groundhogs graze on grasses and clovers — but what they really love are vegetables and fruit growing in gardens! Botanical Bill gazes longingly at the just-out-of-reach bananas ripening in the Tropical Greenhouse. Walk down to the base of the banana plant — what name is on its plant label?


PHOTO: Botanical Bill enjoys some pitcher plants.
8. Groundhogs are “edge” creatures that like to live in brushy areas on the edges of forests, in farm fields, or even in landscaped neighborhoods. Botanical Bill is admiring the “meat-eating” plants like Venus fly-traps and sundews in the Semitropical Greenhouse. What plant is hanging in the basket above him?


PHOTO: Botanical Bill poses with The Sower.
9. Groundhogs like to sun themselves on rocks, along branches, or on stone walls. Botanical Bill found a sweet spot to catch some sun at The Sower. What year was it installed here? (Hint: Look down for the memorial plaque.)


PHOTO: Botanical Bill grabing a drink at the cafe.
10. Groundhogs aren’t big water drinkers — they get their water from rain and dew on the plants and fruit they eat, instead. While Botanical Bill’s relaxing with a mug of water in the Garden Café, answer this question: What was the name of Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day?


Now scamper over to the Visitor Center Information Desk with your answers. It’s Groundhog Day! Don’t forget to take your picture with Botanical Bill and post it on our Facebook Page!

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and

The One That Got Away

PHOTO: Common Redpoll ©Carol Freeman
The common redpoll is a cute finch that visits the Garden in winter. ©Carol Freeman

For several months now I’ve heard about a hoary redpoll that has been visiting the Garden. This is an uncommon, very pale, “frosty” version of the common redpoll that often visits the Chicago area in winter. Some say it’s a color variation, and some say it’s a separate species altogether. Either way, I want to see it for myself. This would be a “lifer” bird for me, one I have never seen in my life.

All I had to do was find and photograph the bird. Easy, right? I had done this before with other birds, and I knew that this one likes to hang out near the Regenstein Center and on Evening Island. It also likes to eat the seeds of birch trees, and I know that this is a very pale bird compared to the common redpoll. Piece of cake. Well, that was two months ago…

Many other birders have seen this bird, and some of their comments to me have been…

“Oh, you just missed it. It was feeding here and it just flew off a few minutes ago.”

“There are 100 common redpolls flying around. You just have to check each one to see if it’s the hoary.”

“Take a look at the great shots I got of the hoary. It practically flew right in front of me.”

ARRRRGGGGH! Lately, I am lucky to find any birds at all, maybe a few ducks, geese, or juncos. The Garden seems to have gone quiet. A few times, during my many visits, I spotted some small flocks of the common redpolls, which the hoary redpoll likes to hang out with — each time I hoped to find the “silvery” bird in the flock, and each time I walked away empty handed. Every time I read about a sighting at the Garden, I rushed over in the hopes of seeing this bird for myself. “No luck. Well, maybe next time,” I told myself. And the weeks went by without a sighting. Sigh…what am I going to write about now?

PHOTO: Common Redpoll enjoying the birch tree seeds outside Regenstein Center. ©Carol Freeman
Enjoying the birch tree seeds near the Regenstein Center. ©Carol Freeman

O.K., I thought, I’ll try one more time, maybe I’ll get lucky. Surely today I will see the bird. After a little searching, I do find a small flock of common redpolls. I carefully check each one to see if the hoary is mixed in. No luck. But hey, these guys are really cute: hanging from the trees, swinging in the breeze, feeding on the seeds. As I admire their beauty, they slowly make their way toward me. They seem to know that I pose no threat, and I feel accepted by these tiny birds. What a gift to be able to stand so close to them and to have them behave naturally. They show no signs of stress, and I feel totally connected to nature in this moment. I forget all about the hoary, and instead remember why I do what I do. It is for this feeling — this feeling of connectedness and appreciation of all of nature. Thank you, common redpolls, for this reminder. I am forever grateful for your beauty and for your trust.

All of nature is there for our enjoyment and appreciation, from the commonplace to the exotic. We just need to get out there to see it.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and

A Rare Plant Portrait: The Dwarf Bear-Poppy (Arctomecon humilis)

Project Overview:
Shannon Still and Nick Jensen work on a project studying the impact of climate change on the distribution of rare plants in the western United States. The grant, funded through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), examines the changes in projected species distributions between now and 2080. The goal of the research is to help BLM to make informed management decisions regarding rare plants. The research takes them to many exciting destinations searching for rare plants in the west.


The dwarf bear-poppy

The genus Arctomecon (also known as bear-poppy), contains three beautiful species restricted to southwestern North America. In this exceptional genus, dwarf bear-poppy (Arctomecon humilis) is the rarest — and perhaps most remarkable — species, due to its profusion of delicate white flowers and unique habitat.

In many ways, the dwarf bear-poppy is a poster child for rare plant conservation. It is restricted to a small area in southwestern Utah close to the Arizona border, near the city of St. George. A stunning plant, it grows in a notably hostile habitat — it is not uncommon to find this species growing completely alone on gypsum soils on steep, exposed hillsides and ridges.

PHOTO: The three 'claws' at the end of each leaf of the bear-poppy.
The “claws” at the end of each leaf

Dwarf bear-poppy is topped by a mass of white flowers in late April and early May that often cover the entire plant. Each flower consists of four delicate, white petals surrounding myriad yellow stamens, all of which sit atop a plump green, round ovary. Unopened, graceful, green flower buds droop, waiting to open. When looking out over this landscape, backlit plants in full bloom seem to glow in the early morning or late afternoon light.

A close inspection of dwarf bear-poppy’s hairy leaves with their three “claw-tipped” teeth at their apex sheds light on the origin of bear-poppy as a common name for these plants. Everything about dwarf bear-poppy exudes beauty.

Delicate flowers of the Dwarf bear-poppy.
Delicate flowers of the dwarf bear-poppy

It is found in approximately ten locations in Washington County, Utah, and is listed as an endangered species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Dwarf bear-poppy is threatened by development, mining, and off-highway vehicle (OHV) damage to its habitat. The dwarf bear-poppy grows in soil that forms a thick, crunchy, structurally-complex biological soil crust that is rich in gypsum. The habitat is easily damaged by hiking, grazing, and OHV use and is slow to recover.

PHOTO: OHV damage to the habitat.
OHV damage to the habitat

The habitat for the dwarf bear-poppy in the photo shown below has not had OHV activity for at least seven years (and likely longer) and still shows signs of heavy damage. In fact, full recovery of a soil crust can take up to 250 years, so a little damage can have long-lasting impacts. Therefore, conservation efforts have included fencing as well as the establishment of nature preserves, managed by The Nature Conservancy, to prevent further OHV damage.

Dwarf bear-poppy is a strikingly-beautiful, rare, and threatened species. Conservation and restoration efforts should ensure that it continues to be a botanical treasure for future generations to cherish.

Habitat range for Arctomecon humilis, the Dwarf bear-poppy.
Habitat range for Arctomecon humilis, the Dwarf bear-poppy.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and

Green Youth Farm Success Story… Jesus Cuezzi

Jesus Cuezzi first joined the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Green Youth Farm Program in 2009. He began as a high school Crew Member at the North Chicago/ Waukegan Green Youth Farm, before moving up into the Crew Leader role in 2010 and then into the Market and Growing Apprentice role from 2011–12.


Throughout his employment at Green Youth Farm, Jesus has proven to be a hardworking, trustworthy, very capable and outgoing person, with an adventurous soul.


He was considered a leader among his peers at the farm.

NC GYF 2011_RJC0302

“Jesus has always taken customer service to the next level—when one regular customer hurt her leg and couldn’t make the trip to the market, Jesus offered to do some personal shopping for her and hand deliver farm fresh produce to her at home.”

— Laura Erickson, Green Youth Farm Sales Coordinator

For the last three months Jesus Cuezzi has been volunteering on an organic olive farm in Italy…

“I stayed with a wonderful family that owns an agritourismo in Riparbella, Tuscany. Ah, what a beautiful place! People are friendly. Food is made from heaven! The scenery is breathtaking. It’s simply a great country. I was able to learn a bit more Italian there. We harvest olives for about a month. I was in charge of taking care of the livestock. I fed and cared for donkeys, pigs, goats, horses, geese and chickens. The rest of the woofers didn’t care much for the animals, so I took that opportunity.”

 — Jesus Cuezzi


Jesus singing with fellow Green Youth Farm participants for a Talent show.
Jesus singing with fellow Green Youth Farm participants for a talent show.

Now back in the United States, Jesus is currently interviewing for a farming position with Tempel Farms in Old Mill Creek, IL, while helping to support his mother and brother. Jesus hopes to travel again in the fall to work on an organic farm in Central or South America. He has been a true success for our programs and we are proud to acknowledge his work, presence and persistence in the urban agriculture field.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and