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Alabama Adventures: Longleaf Pine Treasure Forest

After hearing about Pinus palustris from several southern botanist friends, I had to see the trees for myself! I had the great pleasure of ...

21 May 2017

Lincoln Park Conservatory

I meant to finish this up and post it around February, but I've been busy with life!
Finally, here's the post about my visit to LPC!


Near the end of October 2016 on a beautiful day, I visited Lincoln Park Conservatory.

It was a charming place, with plenty of gorgeous plants and dramatic contrast between light and shadows. There were times that I felt like I had stumbled across a secret garden, with how serene the scenes in front of me were. I met quite a few interesting plants for the first time, my favourite being Spathicarpa hastifolia (caterpillar plant), which has the spadix fused to the spathe.

I checked the Orchid House, excited to see the Stanhopea in bloom, but unfortunately I had missed it by a few days. All that was left was a basket with leaves, which I took a moment to check it out, despite the lack of flowers to enjoy. Of course, there were plenty of other beautiful orchids to admire, one of my favourites being Gongora galeata (pictured immediately below).


Click here for more photos!


I actually went with Steve and the kids, but the kids wanted to see other areas and the zoo, so we split up and met again later. The kids loved the conservatory and the zoo! I can't believe we only had to pay for parking, since admission was free to both. If you are in the area or want somewhere nice and inexpensive to take your kids, I highly recommend checking LPC and the zoo out!

Overall, it was an incredible experience, and I hope to go back soon.

18 January 2017

Mitchell Park Conservatory (The Domes): Milwaukee's Horticultural Treasure

The Desert Dome

I was going through my plant nerd bucket list when I realised I never made a post about my visits to The Domes in Milwaukee! My first time at the conservatory was an adventure I made solo in March 2015. I made the hour drive to Milwaukee and used my CBG membership to gain free entry. Parking was also free.

There are three domes: The Show Dome, Tropical Dome, and Desert Dome. I made a beeline for the Tropical Dome to see what neat plants I'd find in there. I was not disappointed! Upon entering the room, it was as if I walked through a portal. I stepped out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, into a tropical paradise. The first plant that really wowed me was an Amorphophallus sp. (voodoo lily)! It looks similar to its relative A. titanum, the titan arum.

I made my way down the path, surrounded by lush foliage and stunning flowers. There were many gorgeous orchids, and a lovely waterfall with a pond. I spent some time staring out at the water, contemplating the diversity of tropical plants in that dome, before returning to the hall.

 I took a moment to adjust to reality; I was back in Milwaukee. I continued on to the Desert Dome, and again I was transported to a different world: an arid landscape with an oasis, and succulents all around me.

In contrast to the Tropical Dome with its canopy providing shaded areas, this dome had the sun shining bright overhead, mostly unobstructed. As I wandered down the path, I recognised a few familiar species, but so many more that I never saw before. There were interesting cacti, agave with variegation so beautiful it was like a painting, and showy aloe flowers rising above the rocky terrain.

I returned back to the cold halls of Wisconsin, and made a quick run through the Show Dome. There was a spring theme, with cyclamen and hydrangea beautifully arranged. (Unfortunately my camera died after only a few photos so I don't have much to post about that dome. I don't remember as much from that one, especially without any photos to jog my memory.)


I loved The Domes so much that I brought Steve and the kids along on another visit a week later. It was during a free admission day, so it was quite crowded.

It was great to see so many people excited to see plants, so I didn't mind. We went through the domes in the same order that I did during my first trip. The kids were impressed by the massive banana trees, dangling sausage tree fruit, and a cute little palm seedling.

To my slight disappointment (and Steve's relief), the voodoo lily was finished blooming, and nobody got to smell the stench. Still, it reminded me how lucky I was to see it the week before!


The thing I love most about visiting a garden more than once is the fact that I will always find something new to see, even if my visit is only one week apart. I had the great pleasure of noticing Ceiba pentandra, called kapok in English and bulak in Tagalog. Like the hibiscus throughout the Tropical Dome, kapok is in the Malvaceae. I swooned at the sight of buttressed roots and large thorns scattered about the trunk.


At the Desert Dome, Ari and Sandy loved the burning orange-yellow flowers of Bulbine frutescens.

We all got a giggle out of a silly sign:

After another peek into the Show Dome (with another dead camera battery), we checked out the gift shop. Steve said no to more plants, but I did get to add a nifty patch to my public garden souvenir collection (I have several patches and pins from various places).

We had a great family visit to The Domes.


Unfortunately due to some safety issues The Domes had to close for some time, but recently opened up again. It has been such a long time since I've visited, so I will make sure to make my way up to Milwaukee and wander the conservatory soon!

If you're in the Milwaukee area you definitely should check this conservatory out for yourself!



04 January 2017

Happy New Year! Reflections on the Past Year & Hopes for 2017

I'm finally getting around to this post! Typing this up four days into the new year wasn't what I planned, but we don't have internet currently for another week. So, I'm at the library!

If you've been following me on Instagram (or if you check on the sidebar for the Instagram widget), you saw me post many photos from January 2016 to August 2016. I skipped September onward since it was only a few months ago, and I didn't want people to feel spammed with too many photos.

I honestly didn't mean to post so many, but I couldn't just pick a few from each month. Each photo contains beautiful memories and I wanted to share the best of them with everyone. I generally don't post too many pictures from each adventure as it is, so I went a little crazy for the year-end journey down memory lane.

Anyways, in 2016 I noticed that I went to public gardens quite a bit less than the previous year. Part of this is because I didn't get a membership that year (it expired around January). I also didn't volunteer as much in ecological restoration, and another reason for both of these things is because we're down to one vehicle and I don't like to drive as much (thanks, anxiety).

I concentrated mostly on hiking and botanising in natural areas, with occasional visits to public gardens. When I did volunteer, it was mainly at the local library and at Illinois Beach State Park. So, for this year, I'd like to get a CBG membership again and visit gardens again. I'd also like to swing by Cook County volunteer workdays again and see my Chicago volunteer buddies. I'd like to get back into helping LCFPD because, aside from IBSP and the library, I didn't volunteer as much in the local area. I guess to most people I volunteer quite a bit, but I feel I could do more. It is good for me and the local communities to dedicate my time doing volunteer work as much as I am able to.

Hiking at Sun Lake Forest Preserve in Lake County, IL

I want the kids to interact more with nature when we go for walks and hikes. Sometimes they're excited, other times they roll their eyes and can't wait until we go home. I get so preoccupied with my own experiences with plants and critters that I forget how important it is to talk about what I'm thinking with the kids, in kid-friendly terms of course. They will only roll their eyes harder if I try to teach them Latin names.

Ari & Sandy looking out at Lake Carina in Lake County, IL

Another task I need to work on is improving my mental health. I've talked about that a little bit on this blog and on Instagram. I try not to talk about it *all the time* (especially since this blog is centred around nature) but I still feel like its good to share my story and my experiences, in case it helps others out, whether they're going through something similar or are a "regular" person trying to empathise with people like me. Also I don't want generally talking about mental illness to be something taboo; if I speak out about it, that helps even if a little bit. Nature and volunteering is really helpful in managing my mental health, but it is going to take so much more to make enough meaningful progress this year. I'm looking more into self-help books, specifically those that focus on PTSD, anxiety, depression, and childhood physical/mental abuse. I hope to get into a therapy within the next couple of years, and I'm working on getting into a mental health specialist instead of going to a gp, so I can look into better options as far as medicine goes. I also want to make sure my diagnoses are super accurate since my mental health is crazy complicated. Sometimes many different things can layer over each other and look like something else entirely. Diagnosing mental health isn't an exact science, for as much progress as we've made thus far. Things change, symptoms can mimic others, and sometimes people are wrong. It happens.

So, back to thinking about the past year... What are the most exciting experiences I had? What did I learn?

I had an incredibly fun time volunteering at the Peggy Notebaert Museum for WeDigBio. I was blowing through plant label transcriptions, visually eating up the herbarium specimens. Through that program, I learned about Notes from Nature, where I've been transcribing from my laptop. How cool is that?! I've actually done many transcriptions where I forgot to log in to record my progress, but as far as what was recorded on my account, I've done 100 transcriptions. There are even cool badges you earn for transcribing a certain amount of records and such.

Rudbeckia hirta herbarium specimen with label at Peggy Notebaert Museum in Chicago

I met two awesome friends from Instagram in person, and we went on a fun hike in Somme Woods. I can't express in words how awesome it was to connect with them like that. I really enjoy interacting with people on Instagram, but this was on a whole new level, and I'm grateful for that experience.

Michelle and Theresa checking out Arisaema spp.

Another neat adventure from 2016 was FINALLY visiting Lincoln Park Conservatory! My next post will be about that. What a charming place.

Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Formal Garden

There were many plants I met for the first time and plants that I visited for the millionth time. Both are equally fantastic. There were so many small, wonderful moments in nature that comprised my year. From the accomplished feeling of successfully identifying wild plants, to humbly learning from mistakes in id, I'm very grateful to be so aware of the beauty of nature. 

I met Gentianopsis crinita (greater fringed gentian) for the first time in 2016!
...and then I greeted Opuntia humifusa again...with my hand. It said hi back with several glochids.

I've been moving along on my quest to teach myself more about nature, especially when it comes to botany. I've learned that for as much as I know, I don't know so much more! And that's okay. I feel that I can only teach myself so much, and have to observe others and ask for help sometimes. Also okay. I learn Latin names by reading, then find out that I'm horribly mangling the pronunciation when a more seasoned plant nerd says it aloud. Reading about how to identify plants with various technical definitions of plant parts is great, but it is the hands-on learning during hikes that this information sticks.

Look at the petiole and glands of Viburnum opulus! Wow, such botany! Very plant! Much science!

I couldn't talk about plants the way a horticulturist or botanist with years of experience and a 4-year-degree (or more) could, but I guarantee you I talk about plants with just as much passion as that horticulturist or botanist does. I've learned that is probably the most important part because it is that passion that drives my journey to learn more. Another important aspect is not to second guess myself all the time; being confident (within reason) and willing to be wrong will get me further than shying away ever could. Even the most educated professional with several degrees under their belt still doesn't know it all. I also realised these past few years as I learn more and more, that I also shouldn't let my knowledge get the best of me. If I'm not careful I could very well end up being a know-it-all. It's about balance. I don't need to be too hard on myself for what I don't know -- but I also don't need to be too full of myself for what I do know. For now I am a botanist at heart; I am a plant enthusiast. And one day I very well be a botanist as a profession. It's all part of a big adventure!

All that being said, I really hope I'm not being obnoxious with how I talk about plants, or for sharing photos of "basic" plants. I don't mean to sound like I know it all, and I don't mean to act like posting a photo of a dandelion with information about it is some great feat. I am just really fascinated by plants! That includes weedy, common plants. You'll often see me hashtag stuff like #asterids, #rosids, #[insertfamilynamehere], etc on Instagram. That's partially to organise the post into those hashtags if other people are interested in looking at photos of such things, but mainly because it helps me learn. If I use the #Adoxaceae on Viburnum spp. photos or #Bignoniaceae on Catalpa speciosa pics every time, I'll more easily remember which families each belongs to.

Anyways, I could probably ramble more and make up more "resolutions". Alas it is time to go home and wait for Ari to get off the bus, and I don't have internet at home as I've mentioned. I'm sure that, after all this rambling, none of you will mind. :)

I hope everyone had a great holiday season, and a fantastic start to 2017!

30 October 2016

Mushroom Hunting in October: Somme Woods

Somme Woods is a wonderful place to hike. It is quiet, and there are so many plants and critters to see. I first encountered this gem of a place when I decided to randomly volunteer with Habitat 2030 in this location. The group of Somme volunteers are so dedicated, and many of them are involved in other stewardship roles in the area. They're a truly inspiring bunch!

This year, Somme Woods was extra special because I met up with two people I follow on Instagram, Michelle and Theresa. We went on a hike and had a great time! I actually thought of this location for mushroom hunting because, at the end of our hike, we came across interesting mushrooms. We also saw Arisaema dracontium (my first time seeing it!) and A. triphyllum

When I returned to Somme in search of more cool fungi, I was not disappointed! Some mushrooms were small and easy to miss if you weren't paying attention. 

Aside from the occasional person walking their dog and people briskly walking the trails initially, I was alone. I enjoyed the quiet of the woods, and took my time wandering the trails. Being in a shadowy thicket of trees with sunlight illuminating leaves makes for such and incredible contrast, and during much of my hike I enjoyed this sight.

My most favourite fungi that I came across were these intersting cups. I am no mycologist, as I've mentioned before, but I hope to learn more about mushrooms. If anyone knows what these might be, feel free to let me know. I assume they are different species at the very least, but for all I know they could also be different genera. They were stalkless as far as I could tell.


The amount of mushroom diversity at Somme was astounding. Petrifying Springs had some really cool fungus, but some of these were just so bizarre-looking!

After I emerged from Somme Woods into the parking lot, I felt happy and at peace. A simple walk through a forest gives me so much joy, and I am incredibly thankful to have many places to connect to nature.


There were so many pictures that I'll just link to the rest of them:

Click here for more photos.

Some unfortunately came out blurry. That happens a lot, actually, for one reason or another. I usually use an old Olympus 1010 camera, or my phone (and a macro lens at times), so I don't have the best equipment. I also usually have issues with keeping my hands steady. I typically remove anything blurry or otherwise unappealing, but I'll leave these in since I don't have any other pics to share of the neat mushrooms I came across.


I hope in the spring I'll have luck finding more interesting mushrooms!

22 October 2016

Mushroom Hunting in October: ILBSP (ft. non-mushroomy things)

Illinois Beach State Park

I usually volunteer once a month at Illinois Beach State Park (the group meets the second Saturday of each month at the nature centre), though lately I've been a bit busy on those days. I made sure to get out there and help collect seed during the October workday!

We were collecting Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem) seeds. It was easy to spot them because they look feathery!

Along the way I saw quite a few mushrooms. The white one in the pictures below was the largest one. I didn't measure it unfortunately.


I actually don't recall ever seeing that many mushrooms in this area so it was a real treat to see. I happened to spot one hidden among Juniperus horizontalis.

I wasn't paying attention when snapping a photo of a mushroom and barely brushed my hand against Opuntia humifusa (Eastern prickly pear) glochids, but I managed to pick all of them out and after a few minutes the irritation subsided. I got to see many prickly pear fruits, and took great care to step gingerly around them after my cactus incident. Getting the little bristles embedded in my hand was bad enough, and I didn't want to take my chances falling onto spikes that could easily be 4" long!

I got to meet a little butterfly buddy.

And I was so excited to see Gentianopsis crinita (fringed gentian)!

I had a wonderful time volunteering and seeing all the neat mushrooms.


One more post for the Mushroom Hunting in October to get to!