Lichens and getting lost in the Field
June 17, 2008
After my lunch break last week, I decided to wander a bit. For all the time that I put in as a volunteer at the Field, I have done surprisingly little wandering about the exhibits, which was, um, kind of the point of going in the first place. I decided to take a stroll through the botanical wing. All of the displays were framed in dark stained wood, and the lighting was low. In some ways it was like walking through a dense forest. I love all of the old, odd, beautifully crafted models of plants, especially the diorama for this weirdo: the welwitshia. There were also models of ancient, giant horsetail that used to grow in Illinois, based on fossils found at Mazon Creek. Horsetail, on a much smaller scale is still very abundant in Illinois. I remember Jay and I taking a bike ride along the old tow path for the I&M Canal, along the Illinois River, and the trail was lined with horsetail (and water snakes!). I also visited with the cycad models. Cycads are some of my favorite plants. Fossil records date them appearing roughly around 300 -325 million years ago. They look like they are related to ferns or palm trees, but in fact are more closely related to evergreens. I was first introduced to them through Oliver Sack's wonderful book The Island of Colorblind. Chicago 's Garfield Park Conservatory, has at least a couple of specimens in the fern room that are rumored to be around two hundred years old.
I finished up with my wandering and took a stairwell off of the botanical wing up to the third floor (where the bird prep lab is), and got completely lost. It was the botanical department, but I couldn't figure out how to wind my way through the maze of offices and labs, and back to the Bird Division. I did, however, find where they keep the lichenologists! Heh. I glanced at a couple with eyes pressed up to microscopes, as I walked past back to the stairwell to "reset" my museum compass. I had the thought that I could start volunteering in there too! Yeah...no. Instead I came home and did a painting of Lipstick Powderhorn lichens (in Etsy shop), a rather sassy looking cladonia lichen.