Friday, May 24, 2024

Learning Something New

Pasque Flower

Exploring woodlands and prairies has always been a favorite pastime of mine. Not only does the act of a peaceful walk through a natural area relax me, but I also enjoy photographing native plants and landscapes. And, if the occasional pollinator wants to cooperate for a photo, even better!

Squirrel Corn
There’s something to be said about connecting with my favorite plants in my favorite places. However, in recent years, I’ve started to branch out my explorations to cover new territory. With that new territory comes new plants. Sometimes I go to try to “capture” a specific plant I know should be blooming in a particular area at a particular time. When that happens, it’s very exciting! But oftentimes I have no idea I’m going to stumble upon a “new to me” species, and that feeling is even better. If I’m really fortunate, I might find multiple new species, which has happened quite a bit in recent years.
Fringed Puccoon

Needless to say, my photograph collection has increased quite a bit, and so has my knowledge of these plants. In fact, I’ve made so many new discoveries I can’t remember all the names of the newer ones—especially since many of them contain unusual words, like Forbe’s Saxifrage. Luckily, the photos I take end up in my junior field guides, and by researching every new plant I add, I better absorb the information and hopefully remember the names. But if I don’t remember, all I have to do is thumb through the most recent editions of my field guides. If there is one thing I have learned in recent years, it’s that there is so much I don’t know, which gives me a good excuse to keep exploring.

Downy Painted Cup
I’m not complaining about learning something new—at least when it comes to nature. It’s a wonderful experience, even if my brain has an annoying habit of not always remembering peoples’ names or what I need at the grocery store. It seems to have better luck with native plants. In fact, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of finally getting to see a plant I’ve wanted to see for decades, like the beautiful Pasque Flower I got to see at Nachusa Grasslands in March. When I find a new plant, I do a quick happy dance, then drop to the ground to shoot dozens of photos from all angles of my new discoveries. When I get home, I get to view the photos, tweak the cropping and lighting, then share my favorites online in a few Illinois nature groups. I also learn about nature and native plants online from the photos others post.
Nodding White Trillium

You may wonder where I go to see all these plants. I’ve started visiting local nature preserves. Some are postage size remnant prairies in pioneer cemeteries, while others are hundreds of acres of multiple undisturbed high quality habitats. I don’t always make special trips to these places; oftentimes I schedule visits on the way to or from work or other destinations. It sure helps that my daughters enjoy going with me on some trips as well. We have roamed local natural areas in Bureau, Henry, Knox, LaSalle, Lee, Ogle, and Putnam Counties.

Rose Vervain
You never know where you’ll see or learn something new. Just a few hundred feet from our office I got to catch my first glimpse of Dwarf Larkspurs. Thanks to my co-worker for spotting them on a lunchtime walk and showing them to me. I’ve already seen over twenty new to me species this year, and there’s still plenty more to see. I’m excited about the discoveries I hope to make this summer. Even though I’m exploring areas that are relatively close to home, a whole new world has been opened. Sometimes all we need to do is pause for a few minutes and open our eyes to the natural world around us.

Eastern Bee Balm

Large-Flowered Penstemon