Lichens and getting lost in the Field

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! Instead I came home and did a painting of Lipstick Powderhorn lichens (in Etsy shop), a rather sassy looking cladonia lichen.


  1. Diana:

    Elly and I planted some ferns we found in the Grow Native section of a local nursery a few weeks ago, and I stumbled across Oliver Sack's Oaxaca Journal at the library searching for more info about ferns. He wrote the journal on a trip with other American Fern Society members to study ferns in Mexico. It's a wonderful book. I have never taken a trip devoted to birding or botany or anything like that. It's hard to read Sack's journal and not come away wanting to.


  2. Oh yes, I LOVE that book. Someone gave it me as a gift a number of years ago. Yeah, it's hard not to come away from it not being totally in love with ferns, cycads and birds!

  3. We'll be thinking of you and Jay while John and I are on our trip! We're even bringing binoculars for some decidedly amateur birding (hey, that one sure is purty)! We need to resuscitate our trail-ride/camping sojourns one of these summers.


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