New Plants Discovered in
American lotus. Photo
by Rob Curtis, The Early Birder.
In late September, Drew Ullberg, habitat
restoration manager for the Forest Preserve District of
Kane County, was herbiciding weeds and evaluating young
plantings on newly protected land, when he saw some "huge"
plants that were obviously too big to have come from the
The county had recently purchased a
310-acre farm abutting Dick Young Forest Preserve (formerly
Lake Marsh). Farmed for well over 120 years, the parcel
included a drained prairie pothole. To begin restoring the
county's new purchase, Ullberg had seeded some sedge meadow
species on the edge of the property's mud flat the prior
fall. In January of 2002, he broke up the drain tiles to
restore the hydrology. He scattered more seed last spring.
When Ullberg spotted the plants, Dick
Young himself author of Kane
County Wild Plants and Natural Areas and namesake of
the preserve just happened to be clearing brush nearby.
Ullberg asked him if he had time to come and look at some
funny plants. A two-foot-tall arrowhead-like plant was growing
from the mud flat, with tiny white flowers. Out in the water,
a plant like an enormous water lily spread its leaves. Young,
a revered regional conservationist with more than 50 years
of experience, had never seen them before in Kane County.
The plant on the mud flat is Lophotocarpus
calycinus, also called arrowleaf. It was
last reported locally in Grundy County in 1978. Though it
is native farther south, most Chicagoland botanists have
never seen it. The arrowleaf has broad, triangular leaves
about six inches long, with a flower cluster that resembles
The water lily is Nelumbo lutea,
the American lotus. Young had seen this plant once
at Volo Bog, Swink and Wilhelm's Plants
of the Chicago Region lists it in Will and Grundy Counties,
some reports place it in the headwaters of the Fox River
in Lake County, and large colonies do occur downstate in
the Illinois River, but this lotus is not known to occur
anywhere else in Chicago Wilderness. The large leaves standing
on stalks like the spinning-saucers-on-sticks circus trick
cannot be confused with any other plant. Though none appeared
this year, the flowers are very large and pale yellow. They
have a raised center column like a shower head with the
nut-like seeds embedded in it.
Since lotus seeds can live for hundreds
of years, Ullberg speculates that a seed may have persisted
from before the land was farmed. Late spring plowing due
to wet conditions may have allowed the lotus to survive
by growing a little each year before being plowed under.
The arrowleaf is more of a mystery biologists know
very little about the plant's reproduction.
Further explorations revealed a bush
of very uncommon false aster, Boltonia latisquama,
about ten feet in diameter and six to seven feet tall, and
several Eleocharis colonies that none of the
several botanists on hand could identify more specifically
in the field. That makes four new county records for this
one restoration effort.
Young says it makes glad an old botanist's
heart. "We must be doing something right when exciting
plants from the distant past appear in newly restored
wetlands," he says. He believes we should not be
in such a hurry to introduce seed until we give nature
a chance to show us what was there historically.
Ullberg says it is rewarding to see
such astonishing plants appear so soon. This is the first
of many wetland restorations in Kane County. It gives
great hope for the future.
Patricia K. Armstrong