Illinois field trip

Barry Meyers-Rice (
Fri, 16 Jun 1995 15:58:10 -0700

Chicago-land Field Trip

I spent this last week (June 1995) in Chicago, Illinois, USA. While there
I dedicated a day to exploring wetlands and looking for carnivorous
plants. I thought you might like to hear about it.

A few weeks before I left for Illinois I broadcast a message on the CP
newsgroup for suggestions, and was given some very hot leads. A little
research at my university library (a map repository) finished my

Once in the Chicago area I headed north towards Fox Lake. Just south of
this are two nature preserves: Moraine Hills and Volo Bog. Both were
formed about 15 thousand years ago by glacial activity. It is amazing
to consider that many of the lakes in the area were originally formed
when chunks of ice from this glacier broke off and melted. A fragment
of ice big enough to make a lake---that is big! These bogs support the
usual array of acid-loving plants, and are a treat to explore. But
beware! False lake bottoms can quickly mean the death of explorers, and
I am not joking when I write that.

The first area to explore was the Moraine Hills wildlife preserve, a
rich and beautiful site containing several types of wetland habitat. My
first stop there was Pike Marsh. A floating boardwark takes you out
onto the marsh for excellent views of the plants. Unfortunately the
boardwark is sinking and most of it was closed. However, the small
distance I could travel revealed a rich flora of _Typha_, various
sedges, _Iris versicolor_ (in bloom), _Equisetum_, and other typical
plants. Topping my list, however, was a small _Utricularia_ I nearly
passed by as it was not in flower. Careful examination revealed this
was _U.intermedia_.

As it is dominated by emergents, I would call Pike Marsh an acid marsh
(I measured the pH to be approximately 6) but the pamphlet I obtained at
the preserve entrance called it a fen, in deference to the high nutrient
content ascribed to it. Such subtleties of wetland nomenclature are up
for argument, as some people define wetlands by their pH, others by
their flora. In any event, Pike Marsh is a lovely area.

I have been told that _Sarracenia purpurea_ and various orchids occur in
Pike Marsh, but because of heavy collecting are rare. I didn't even see
_Trillium_ in the surrounding woodlands, a plant usually common in
untravelled areas but which is widely collected. These omissions in the
flora smelled greatly of field collecting.

In the process of enjoying myself on the marsh boardwalk, I had set up
my camera equipment, opened a few notebooks, and played with my pH
paper, maps, compass, field lenses and other equipment. This travelling
laboratory attracted the attention of some tour-groups, so I gave an
impromptu lecture on wetland ecology (and of course _Utricularia_),
followed by a quick question and answer period. I found it very
effective to show people pictures of the orchids (using a Peterson field
guide) that *might* have been seen if they hadn't been field collected,
and was pleased when the crowd assumed a generally angry tone about what
had been robbed from the marsh.

Proceeding to the center of the Morain Hills park, I stopped at the visitor's
center which is on the shores of a lake---an ``enhanced wetland''. Floating
in this lake were many ropy lengths of _U.macrorhiza_. In a smaller,
``unenhanced'' pond across the road I found more _U.macrorhiza_, this time
flowering. A very nice show and I hope I got some nice photos.

Back in the car, I drove a few miles to Volo Bog. Volo Bog is a gem,
and I cannot recommend it highly enough. When this was originally
formed, it was a lake. Then plants began to colonize its edges and over
the thousands of years the accumulating plant material formed new soil
which allowed even more pioneering plants to invade the water. A
boardwalk lets you walk to the center of the bog where open water is
still present. This walk is essentially one back through time; starting
at the shore you pass through a sedge and cattail flat much like Pike
Marsh (and the same pH), then you penetrate a dense thicket of ferns and
(predominantly) Ericaceous shrubs, and then as the the Sphagnum becomes
widespread Tamarack trees (_Larix_) appear, and then this gives way to
the open water of the pond center. The display of plant succession is
so perfect that it exhilarating.

So many things are beautiful about Volo, but a few stick out. Waiting
quietly at the pond for a few minutes, several species of frogs (including
huge bullfrogs) surface and sing---they look completely artificial. I saw
some nice _Sparganium_, I suppose common enough but the first time I've
encountered the strange plant. Very notable is the poison sumac. This plant
(_Toxicodendron vernix_) is extremely common in the bog and is very

As for carnivorous plants, I only saw a pair of _Sarracenia purpurea_ plants.
I skeptically noted these plants were close enough to the boardwalk to be
seen, but a little too far to be collected---I suspect they are token plants
placed there for the viewer---the other plants are either hidden away or long
ago stolen for collections. It was interesting the pH in the pond was
a point lower than the water in the outlying sedge and cattail flat, the
difference presumably due to the _Sphagnum_.

Altogether, a lovely trip which yielded two _Utricularia_, a (probably
planted) _Sarracenia_, and some beautiful wetland views.

Barry Meyers-Rice