Chicagoland is home to numerous species of native wildflowers, flowering shrubs and small trees. Each spring, these plants put on a bright, colorful show, signaling to people that warmer days are on the way.
Early-blooming plants serve a crucial role in the ecosystem, providing unique and important habitat for native pollinators and other insects. These insects then become important sources of nourishment for migratory birds.
Here are some native wildflowers, shrubs and trees to watch for while enjoying a walk in your neighborhood:
If you’re shopping for your own garden, consider these beautiful native plants. Native plants have many benefits, including growing easily and spreading well.
Read on for tips from the Forest Preserves’ deputy director of Resource Management, Chip O’Leary for viewing wildflowers and other spring bloomers, whether in your community or in the preserves:
- Don’t pick them! What you see this season will result in the next generation of wildflowers. “Even picking a flower and throwing it back on the ground means that plant won’t produce seeds that make next year’s plants,” explains O’Leary.
- Stay on the trail. This is especially important since some wildflowers might not look like typical wildflowers—and they may be really delicate. According to O’Leary, “woodland wildflowers are not adapted to being stepped on, like prairie wildflowers growing where bison once roamed. Once a wildflower gets trampled, it may not produce seed.”
- Take a close look. You’ll start to expand your view of what lives in our area once you notice plants from big to small. “The more you look at wildflowers, the more detail in color or patterns and different species you’ll notice among the landscape,” he says.
- Pay attention to the different types of pollinators that use the wildflowers. Different species of insects rely on different species of wildflower, shrubs and small trees. “There are over 200 species of bees alone, many of them very small and with beautiful colors and patterns,” O’Leary says.