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Plant Hunting in DuPage County

by Scott Kobal,
Resource Management & Development

As the botanist with the Forest Preserve District, one of my main duties has been to inventory the plants on DuPage forest preserve lands. In doing so I am always looking out for species that have not been seen or recorded for DuPage County. When I do find plants that have not been recorded previously, I collect a “voucher” specimen that essentially proves that the plant has been in the county and that specimen is deposited in the herbarium at The Morton Arboretum. Herbariums are repositories for plant specimens that have been collected in a certain geographic regions — from very small to large. The one at The Morton Arboretum covers mainly the Chicago Region but does include species from other areas of the country. It is always fascinating to look at older herbarium records and accounts from botanists who worked in DuPage County in the past. While fascinating, it is also discouraging to read about spectacular areas and plant species that are no longer present in the county.

The Chicago Region has always been at the forefront of botany and restoration, and I have had the privilege of meeting and in some cases working with some of the premier botanists in the region such as Floyd Swink, Gerould Wilhelm, Ray Schulenberg, Robert Betz and Richard Young. I feel quite fortunate to have known these people as sadly, many of them are no longer with us. I was also truly blessed to have had the mentorship and friendship of my former supervisor Wayne Lampa over my career. Wayne has always provided patient guidance and knowledge of the District and its history over the years as well as an amazing grasp of the flora (vascular and nonvascular) and ecosystems of the county.

Although it seemed at one time that all of the plant species in the county had been recorded, I continue to find and voucher new species on a yearly basis. Many of them have been weeds that have come into the county as it has changed over the years or escapes from cultivation, but some have been exciting native species that have existed here for some time but never had been found or recorded. One of the most exciting finds was of the state-endangered glade quillwort in 1999. This species still is found only in DuPage and Will counties in the Chicago Region. Just last year finding the state-endangered Wolf’s bluegrass was also exciting as this species has not been vouchered in northeastern Illinois.

Observing and recording the flora of the Forest Preserve District has been one of the most enjoyable parts of my job.

Kobal records the federally threatened eastern prairie fringed orchid, which is found only in a few DuPage forest preserves.
Kobal says one of his most exciting finds is the state-endangered glade quillwort, which he recorded in 1999. Photo courtesy of Alan Cressler, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center 
Kobal inventories the native vegetation he finds in the preserves. Some of the more unusual species serve as specimens for a local herbarium collection.
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