Rice Native Gardens

Category: Exhibitions

Exhibition Summary

Free admission

All ages


Free admission

All ages

This exhibition is alive and changing every day.

Did you know one of our biggest exhibition spaces is outside and free to visit year-round? Stroll down winding paths, pause on a bench to enjoy a conversation, and take a closer look at the life all around you in the Rice Native Gardens.

Framing the museum’s exterior, the gardens are home to a variety of native plants—over 100 species in total. In addition to colorful flowers and tall grasses, you might spot animals like birds, bats, grasshoppers, and butterflies. They all play a role in this ecosystem, from pollinating plants to creating healthy soil.

The exhibition is presented in both English and Spanish. La exhibición está presentada en inglés y español.

A monarch butterfly perched on a cluster of milkweed flowers.

Appreciate nature in all its seasons.

Exhibition highlights: 

  • Birdhouses for Purple Martins, which migrate to Chicago in the spring
  • A 20-foot-tall bat house
  • Bronze “Spirit Totems,” abstract sculptures by Herb Alpert 
  • Educational flip signs that identify different plants throughout the gardens

Land acknowledgment

The Field Museum acknowledges that it was built on the traditional homelands of the Bodéwadmik (Potawatomi), Hoocąk (Winnebago/Ho’Chunk), Jiwere (Otoe), Nutachi (Missouria), and Baxoje (Iowas); Kiash Matchitiwuk (Menominee); Meshkwahkîha (Meskwaki); Asâkîwaki (Sauk); Myaamiaki (Miami), Waayaahtanwaki (Wea), and Peeyankihšiaki (Piankashaw); Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo); Inoka (Illini Confederacy); Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe), and Odawak (Odawa).

The Museum recognizes that the region we now call Chicago was the traditional homelands of many Indigenous nations, and remains home to diverse Native people today. The land we walk was and remains Native land.

Our history as a museum began in 1893, and the Field’s collection, research, and community partners continue to tell a story about nature and culture that is vast and complex. The ways we tell stories are always evolving and are enriched by what we learn from listening to many different voices. We invite you to experience Native Truths: Our Voices, Our Stories to hear from Native American community members who share their own stories, contemporary experiences, and culture.

Staff from the Keller Science Action Center do garden maintenance at a 2020 work day.   

Laura Milkert, © Field Museum

Research scientist Eli Suzukovich speaks at a 2019 seed harvesting event with the Chicago American Indian community.

John Weinstein, © Field Museum

Why native plants? 

Native plants are ones that thrive in a certain region and evolve over time as a key part of the environment. Here in Illinois, many of our native plants are found in prairies: flat, open grasslands that are suited to cold winters and hot summers. 

But there weren’t always native plants in our backyard. When the Field Museum was first built, it was surrounded by hard clay and landfill. After that, it was a grassy lawn for many years. Envisioning a beautiful landscape that reflects the region’s ecological makeup, we set about creating the native gardens you see today. The process included biodiversity surveys to provide baseline data, studies of plants that thrive nearby, and conversations with community partners. 

Today, the gardens are a unique site where research happens alongside educational programs and cultural celebrations. Native plants help keep the soil healthy, provide food and home for native animal species, and retain water—which prevents runoff into nearby Lake Michigan. Field researchers can also study changes over time by analyzing soil samples, documenting the species found in the gardens, and tracing the effects of climate change. 

Learn more about our commitment to sustainability with We Are Still In.

Landscaping work began in 2016. Before the native gardens, grass lawns surrounded the Field.

Carter O'Brien

The gardens were completed in 2018 and continue to mature over time.

Lucy Hewett

Nature in Chicago

Get a bird's-eye view of the gardens on iNaturalist. Use their website or mobile app to see what other people have spotted in the garden and submit your own sightings, too!

Rice Native Gardens on iNaturalist

Field Guides

Plus, you can browse hundreds of Field Guides developed by museum experts. Use these visual guides to identify the plant and animal species you see in local nature. Field Guides are available for downloading and printing. 

Outside, a young girl flips through pages of plant photos.

  • Rice Native Gardens Field Guide

    This guide highlights plants found in the garden's sustainable landscaping and native to Illinois—the same species that grow wild in our prairies and woodlands.

  • Beginner's Field Guide: Spring in Chicagoland

    Use this guide to get to know the plants and animals that you'll see in Chicago in the springtime. Birds migrate north, spring wildflowers emerge, and leaves appear on trees. 

  • Beginner's Field Guide: Summer in Chicagoland

     Get to know the plants and animals that are also spending summer in your Chicago neighborhood. Enjoy the sounds of summer…singing insects and birds, the flap of wings, leaves rustling in the wind.

  • Beginner's Field Guide: Fall in Chicagoland

    With this guide, get to know the plants and animals that share your Chicagoland neighborhood during the fall. Birds migrate south, animals prepare for the cold, and leaves put on a colorful show.

Learning Resources

  • Bird Calls and Songs | PlayLab at Home

    Listen to different songs or calls made by local Illinois birds. 

  • Monarch Guide | Home FIELD Advantage

    Write and draw to observe monarch butterflies.

  • Specimen Spotlight: Purple Coneflower | Science Hub at Home

    Examine the Purple Coneflower to learn why native plants are important to any ecosystem.

Your @FieldMuseum garden 'grams

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