In the early 1900’s, the peninsula of land that the Museum occupies was engineered by landfilling what was once a part of Lake Michigan with coal ash, clay, dirt and household waste. In 1998, when Lake Shore Drive was rerouted west of the Museum, acres of the museum campus were landscaped with impervious paved walkways, turf grass and a mix of native and non-native trees, annuals and perennials, resulting in landscaping that required excess fertilization and regular watering to maintain. Additionally, the poor soil quality and low plant diversity had discouraged biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem.
Introducing the Rice Native Gardens
In the late summer and early fall of 2016, the Museum’s grounds began a historic transformation, thanks to the generosity of the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Foundation, with new flora planted throughout the southern terraces of the museum. The Rice Native Gardens will showcase the Museum’s commitment to conservation and community, providing the Museum Campus’ 3.5+ million annual visitors the ability to enjoy and learn about the diversity of native plants, and the wildlife they support. The Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium continue to integrate culture and nature all along the Lakefront, as described in the landmark 1909 Plan of Chicago, adding important links to the green corridor developing with Northerly Island, Lurie Gardens, Grant Park, the Burnham Wildlife Corridor and the Millennium Reserve.
The Museum’s history and mission will be at the forefront of this ambitious project. The explosive growth of Chicago after the Great Fire provided landfill that was then used to build the Museum's site in Lake Michigan. New plantings will foster the growth of soil organisms, improving the health of the soil, while soil core analyses will provide research opportunities. The Museum conducted a baseline inventory of its grounds in 2014, those specimens and monitoring records will provide a foundation to measure and communicate biodiversity changes over time.
Last but certainly not least, the Museum has brought neighboring communities into the design process. Their input is helping to determine landscape interpretation and to shape educational programming, ensuring the gardens reflect Chicago’s diverse culture and enhance people’s quality of life.
Benefits of Native Landscaping
Enhances the Museum visitors experience by transforming the campus into a living exhibit where Museum staff can engage the public in discussions on conservation, ecology and climate change. It also extends self-directed learning time, as the grounds are not subject to Museum hours of operation.
The Rice Native Gardens will improve the Museum’s LEED Gold rated operations and maintenance while lessening the Museum’s impact on the environment. After establishment, maintenance requirements will greatly decrease, as the gardens will require watering only during severe drought. The replacement of turf grass with native prairie plants and permeable pavers will increase storm water retention and carbon absorption, improve storm water quality draining into Lake Michigan by reducing fertilizer usage, and reduce urban heat island effect. Additionally, deep-running root systems will help aerate the soil, which can better retain rainwater, again reducing the need for additional watering. To learn more about the relationship between soil and roots, visit Underground Adventure on the ground floor of the Museum.
Provides refuge to migratory birds and animals. By establishing land in a link of corridors, these fauna can find a safe place to rest and forage on their journey. For more reading on preserving landscapes, check out E.O. Wilson’s Half Earth Project.
Visit the The Field Museum’s Keller Science Action Center webpage to learn about ongoing efforts to extend the message of biodiversity and conservation outside the Museum walls along the south Lakefront and through the Calumet region, as well as the Monarch Conservation webpage to learn how the Rice Native Gardens' butterfly seeding garden complements larger regional efforts to protect this vanishing icon.
For a list of the species being introduced to the grounds, please refer to the list below. Where available, links have been added to sites where you can learn more about each plant. The common name will take you to the Chicago Botanic Garden webpage, with specification info and photos. The scientific name, in italics below, will take you to the Field Museum's Emu collections database, which catalogues specimens contained in the museum archives, some collected as far back as the 1800's. We also recommend downloading "Illinois- Shrubs of the Chicago Region," one of the Museum's user-friendly field guides.
White Pine ‘Louie’
Pinus Strobus ‘Louie’
Aronia Melanocarpa ‘Iroquois Beauty’
Cornus Sericea ‘Bud’s Yellow’
Dwarf Eastern White Pine
Pinus Strobus ‘Nana’
Cranberry Bush Viburnum
Viburnum Trilobum ‘Redwing’
Tufted Hair Grass
Deschampsia Caespitosa ‘Goldtau’
Panicum Virgatum ‘Northwind’
Pancium Virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’
Schizachyrium Scoparium ‘Carousel’
Schizachyrium Scoparium ‘Jazz’
Sporobolus Heterolepis ‘Tara’
Agastache x ‘Blue Fortune’
New England Aster
Aster Novae-Angliae ‘Purple Dome’
Echinacea Purpurea ‘Pixie Meadowbright’
Helenium Autumnale ‘Can Can’
Rudbeckia Fulgida var. sullivantii
Butterfly Seeding Garden
Plains Oval Sedge
New England Aster
Rough Blazing Star
Sweet Black-Eyed Susan
Edible Treasures Garden
For an educational institution like The Field Museum, extending museum space to the outdoors is an opportunity to further enhance the Museum visitor’s experience. The Edible Treasures Garden, on the Museum's West Terrace, already provides Museum Campus visitors with an example of how healthy and organic food can be grown anywhere, allowing them to have greater food security and a healthier lifestyle.