Take Our Fruit & Veggie Quiz!

“What is that?”

Sure, you’ll see tomatoes and corn and apples at the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden—but, during the course of the growing season, we have more than 400 of the earth’s 30,000+ edible plants to see, consider, and think about cooking.

How many of the ten summer fruits and vegetables below do you recognize? Come see them in person soon—harvest is just around the corner!

PHOTO: Cardoon
Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus

1. It’s a cardoon. Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus is, at heart, a thistle. While cardoon’s cousin, the artichoke, is a more familiar food, the thick leaves of cardoon itself are edible—though preparation is…lengthy. Find cardoon in the cold frames.

PHOTO: Eggplant
Solanum lelongena ‘Hansel’

2. It’s an eggplant. Solanum melongela is showing up in markets and on menus in more shapes and colors these days, and we’re growing several varieties of them this year: white ‘Casper’, pink ‘Rosa Bianca’, bicolor ‘Udumalapet’, and this more traditional variety, ‘Hansel’.

PHOTO: Medlar
Mespilus germanica

3. It’s a medlar. Mespilus germanica or common medlar bears a little pome fruit that must be softened, or bletted, to be edible. This is the second year of excellent fruit set on our medlar tree, located just across the Fruit & Vegetable Garden bridge.

Colocasia esculenta

4. It’s taro. Colocasia esculenta is commonly seen in flower beds and containers—you might know it as “elephant ears.” The tuber or corm is toxic when raw—but when cooked, it’s a staple in cuisines around the world. Taro is in the pool under the wisteria arbor.

PHOTO: Mexican miniature watermelon
Melothria scabra

5. It’s a Mexican miniature watermelon, or gherkin. Melothria scabra grows as a vine, with dozens of cute and cucumbery fruits. Eat them fresh or pickled. You’ll find them in containers under the wisteria arbor.

PHOTO: Indigo Rose tomato
Lycopersicon esculentum ‘Indigo Rose’

6. It’s a tomato. Lycopersicon esculentum has a new member in the family and…it’s blue. ‘Indigo Rose’ was bred (at Oregon State) for high anthocyanin levels, which suppressed green color while raising purple. It’s full of antioxidants and is not a GMO (it’s open-pollinated). It’s a sensation. Find it in our Backyard Garden beds and the Small Space Garden.

PHOTO: Pepper
Capsicum annuum var. lycopersiciforme ‘Alma Paprika’

7. It’s a pepper. Capsicum annuum var. lycopersiciforme ‘Alma Paprika’ looks rather like a tomato as it turns from white to yellow to red. As its name suggests, this is the variety from which paprika is made—let it dry, then grind it to make your own.

PHOTO: Quince
Cydonia oblonga

8. It’s a quince. Cydonia oblonga is the fruit-bearing quince (different than flowering quince). In this country, many people are unfamiliar with both the look of the fruit (like a bumpy pear) and its taste (often sour and astringent, it requires cooking). Currently loaded with fruit, the quince tree is near the grape arbor.

PHOTO: Corn smut, or Huitlacoche
Ustilago maydis

9. It’s a fungus. Ustilago maydis is known as Huitlacoche in Mexico, where the fungus—called corn smut here—is considered a delicacy. It occurs naturally on ears of corn—we’ve found one ear with it in our Backyard Garden so far.

PHOTO: Borage
Borago officinalis ‘Alba’

10. It’s borage. Borago officinalis is a multitasker: the gorgeous blue flowers are edible and can be steeped as tea, the leaves add cucumber freshness to a salad, and the plant itself attracts tomato hornworms away from your tomatoes. Turn right after the bridge to see borage in the beds there. Ours, however, are the cultivar ‘Alba’—which, as you may guess, has a white flower.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Trees for 2050

A living museum presents special challenges to its curators.

At the Chicago Botanic Garden, we not only acquire and display our collections, but we must also keep them alive and healthy. As curator of the Garden’s collection of woody plants, I’m responsible for the welfare of more than 13,000 trees. Disease, infestations, and extreme weather events are the kinds of things that keep me awake at night.

If you have recently lost a tree to emerald ash borer, you may wish to view our short list of ash replacement selections. Our full list of suggested trees for adaptive planting is linked below.

As you may know, the Garden is undertaking a ten-year plan to remove about 400 trees due to the emerald ash borer. It’s up to me to suggest suitable replacements to continue our tree legacy. To do so, I first needed to know which of the trees now growing in the Garden would continue to thrive in a warming urban environment. Thanks to a $120,000 research grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, we’ve been able to undertake an adaptive planting study to identify which trees will continue to thrive in Chicago’s urban forests under worst-case carbon-emissions scenarios.

Climate-change modeling indicates that some trees—those currently growing at the northern edge of their hardiness—will actually do a little bit better in slightly warmer conditions around 2020, but by 2050, ten of the 50 trees under study—20 percent—will no longer find the metropolitan area a welcoming habitat. The real concern sets in when we look at the data for 2080, which projects that only 11 of the initial trees would continue to do well in Chicago and the upper Midwest.

The trees growing along our city streets, parks, residences, and public gardens enhance the quality of metropolitan living and also play an important role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The cooling summer leaf canopy reduces our energy needs, and the trees themselves store significant amounts of carbon.

Our adaptive planting study suggests two key calls to action: drastically reducing carbon emission to slow climate change and help protect existing trees, and carefully selecting the trees we plant for future generations. To help both public officials and private property owners in their tree selections, the Garden has created an Adaptive Planting page on our website. There you’ll find information on a selection of 60 suitable trees for 2050.

 IMLS logo

This project is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IC-01-11-0145-11)
©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

Painting with Numbers

Emily Yates has covered a lot of territory.

Once a summer intern who collected plant seeds in North Dakota, she now manages an innovative mapping laboratory at the Chicago Botanic Garden. A scientist and artist, Yates translates massive amounts of data into accurate, colorful depictions to help researchers communicate their findings. Scientists, land managers, volunteers, and others use this information to help advance collective conservation goals.

Her newest project was freshly completed when we met in her office at the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Plant Conservation Science Center. It’s a project that has set the pace for modeling the immense database of the Plants of Concern (POC) program, and is likely to garner much attention at upcoming scientific conferences.

PHOTO: Hill's thistle and wooly milkweed in the field.
Hill’s thistle (Cirsium hillii) and wooly milkweed (Asclepias lanuginosa) are two of the rare plants monitored by the Plants of Concern program. (Milkweed photo ©Carol Freeman)

POC volunteers are citizen scientists who use GPS, global positioning systems, to gather geospatial data marking the location of rare plants in the Chicago area. “Part of what Plants of Concern wants to do is monitor, over time, changes in all the populations that are known of these rare plants,” said Yates, Seed Bank coordinator and conservation GIS Laboratory manager at the Garden.

Why rare plants? They have such specific environmental requirements and occur so infrequently, that they could be entirely lost if conditions change.

In late August, Yates wrapped up several months of work with a team including an intern with the Garden’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. Together, they mapped the potential presence of Hill’s thistle (Cirsium hillii) and wooly milkweed (Ascelpias lanuginosa) across six northeastern Illinois counties monitored by POC. The two species are only known to grow in habitats characteristic of gravel hill prairies. The map was created using ten years of data on these two species.

MAP: Rare gravel hill species site suitability map.
Yates created this map to show areas where Hill’s thistle and wooly milkweed could occur.

“Sometimes with ecological data it’s easier to see things visually and spatially rather than in table format, and maps help to do that,” said Yates.

PHOTO: Trimble handheld device.
A Trimble is used to collect and plot geographical data of plant populations.

Looking at factors such as required soil type and land cover, they plotted locations where the plants have already been documented and used models to predict where the plants may exist due to favorable conditions. “Because these plants are rare, sometimes it’s very likely there are populations we haven’t found yet, so these maps can be very helpful in determining where to look,” said Yates. “GIS helps narrow [data] down and concentrate resources—enabling better land management decisions.”

What next? The paper the team generated will serve as a model for mapping the hundreds of other species monitored by POC, and it could be shared broadly through conferences and other means. Already, it was presented at the conclusion of the REU program.

Also, the project served as a valuable learning opportunity for the REU intern, who worked on the project in the GIS Lab with Yates, and in the field where he confirmed data records alongside scientists. Yates mentored an intern last summer as well, and is already thinking of the possibilities for next year.

According to Yates, “a lot of students express an interest in doing GIS projects because it is a skill that can be applied to a lot of different fields. Its focus on spatial thinking couples well with ecology and plant science, and it is a great, practical job skill to have.”

After completing her graduate studies, Yates expanded her own work to include a specialty in GIS. “My first love is nature and plants,” she said. “I became interested in how to look at plants and the natural world in a spatial context. I like the idea of cartography used for visualizing ecological patterns because it helps you see the connections.”

Learn more about Yates’s work and watch a video.

PHOTO: Emily Yates in the field.
Emily Yates in the field, gathering herbarium specimens.

Yates, who also teaches GIS and spatial analysis to students in the Northwestern University and Chicago Botanic Garden graduate program in plant biology and conservation, is already hard at work on her next project. She is creating the spatial component for a database of the Garden’s Dixon National Prairie Seed Bank, part of the National Seeds of Success program. “When you put the spatial component into [data], it kind of makes it come alive,” she said.

Summer isn’t all about work for Yates, who is also a gardener. It is the time of year when she most loves to visit the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden to find inspiration. When we talked in late August, she was already brimming with ideas for her garden next year. Surely, it won’t be long before she has it all mapped out.

©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org