Recording the Plants of DuPage
by Scott Kobal, Natural Resources
When you’re a botanist for the Forest Preserve District as I am, one of your most important jobs is knowing which plants grow in the county’s forest preserves. But how exactly do we keep tabs on which plants grow where? It’s a mix of reading what people have seen in the past with recording for posterity what we’re finding in the present.
Botanists have been contributing to our overall knowledge of the flora of DuPage for over 150 years. One of the first was Henry Homes Babcock, who started collecting specimens in the 1860s and whose “Flora of Chicago and Vicinity” from 1872 and 1873 noted the locations and abundance of several species.
Levi M. Umbach, a professor of physical and biological sciences at North-Western College in Naperville (today’s North Central College), collected plants from 1884 until his death in 1918, including over 1,000 specimens from DuPage between 1895 and 1912.
William S. Moffatt collected hundreds of plants between 1884 and 1898, including a delightful little flower called harbinger-of-spring. Moffatt noted the plant was “in a tract of woodland, north of Naperville” where the timber had been cut, adding, however, that it “will probably disappear from our DuPage County flora,” a prediction that unfortunately proved true. (Harbinger-of-spring hasn’t been seen in DuPage for over 100 years.) Accounts like Moffatt’s can be discouraging, but they provide valuable information on habitats that might prove suitable for possible reintroductions.
In 1969 Floyd Swink published his revolutionary Plants of the Chicago Region, which included a list of all plants recorded in the area. Later editions were co-authored by Gerould Wilhelm, who was often accompanied by former Forest Preserve District ecologist Wayne Lampa, the first to document the flora of DuPage forest preserves.
Today, the book’s follow-up, the 1,392-page Flora of the Chicago Region: A Floristic and Ecological Synthesis by Gerould Wilhelm and Laura Rericha, not only lists each species but also includes distribution maps showing where each grows in the 22-county Chicago area.