Sustainable Landscaping

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.

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New plantings in the Rice Native Gardens on the museum's terrace.
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.

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    A bee, perhaps visiting from the Shedd Aquarium's apiary, gathers nectar from a Butterfly Weed plant.

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. 

Terrace Gardens

Ornamental Trees

Allegheny Serviceberry
Amelanchier Laevis

Eastern Rosebud
Cercis Canadensis

White Pine ‘Louie’
Pinus Strobus ‘Louie’

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Staghorn Sumac specimen collected in Illinois in 1893 by H.W. Gates

Shrubs

Black Chokeberry
Aronia Melanocarpa ‘Iroquois Beauty’

Red-osier Dogwood
Cornus Sericea ‘Alleman’s’

Yellow Dogwood
Cornus Sericea ‘Bud’s Yellow’

Grey Owl Red Cedar
Juniperus Virginiana ‘Grey Owl’

Dwarf Eastern White Pine
Pinus Strobus ‘Nana’

Staghorn Sumac
Rhus Typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’

Cranberry Bush Viburnum
Viburnum Trilobum ‘Redwing’

Ornamental Grasses

Bicknelli Sedge
Carex Bicknellii

Pennsylvania Sedge
Carex Pensylvanica

Tufted Hair Grass
Deschampsia Caespitosa ‘Goldtau’

Purple Love Grass
Eragrostis Spectabilis

June Grass
Koeleria Cristata

Switch Grass
Panicum Virgatum ‘Northwind’

Switch Grass
Pancium Virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’

Little Bluestem
Schizachyrium Scoparium ‘Carousel’

Little Bluestem
Schizachyrium Scoparium ‘Jazz’

Prairie Dropseed
Sporobolus Heterolepis

Prairie Dropseed
Sporobolus Heterolepis ‘Tara’

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Wild Ginger specimen collected in Illinois in 1916 by C.F. Millspaugh and O.E. Lansing Jr.

Perennials

Anise Hyssop
Agastache Foeniculum

Anise Hyssop
Agastache x ‘Blue Fortune’

Nodding Wild Onion
Allium Cernuum

Wild Ginger
Asarum Canadense

Swamp Milkweed
Asclepias Incarnata

Butterfly Weed
Asclepias Tuberosa

Smooth Aster
Aster Laevis

New England Aster
Aster Novae-Angliae ‘Purple Dome’

White Wild Indigo
Baptisia Alba

Sand Coreopsis
Coreopsis Lanceolata

Purple Prairie Clover
Dalea Purpurea

Shooting Star
Dodecatheon Meadia

Pale Purple Coneflower
Echinacea Pallida

Purple Coneflower
Echinacea Purpurea

Purple Coneflower
Echinacea Purpurea ‘Pixie Meadowbright’

Rattlesnake Master
Eryngium Yuccifolium

Joe-Pye Weed
Eupatorium Purpureum

Queen of the Prairie
Filipendula Rubra

Prairie Smoke
Geum Triflorum

Sneezeweed
Helenium Autumnale ‘Can Can’

Ox Eye Sunflower
Heliopsis Helianthoides

Marsh Blazing Star
Liatris Spicata ‘Kobold’

Horse Mint
Monarda Punctata

Hairy Beardtongue
Penstemon Hirsutus

Black-Eyed Susan
Rudbeckia Fulgida var. sullivantii

Stiff Goldenrod
Solidago Rigida

Hoary Vervain
Verbena Stricta

Butterfly Seeding Garden

Grasses

Side-Oats Grama
Bouteloua Curtipendula

Copper Sedge
Carex Bicknellii

Plains Oval Sedge
Carex Brevior

Switch Grass
Panicum Virgatum

Little Bluestem
Schizachyrium Scoparium

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Swamp Milkweed specimen collected in Illinois in 1907 by W.W. Calkins

Perennials

Swamp Milkweed
Asclepias Incarnata

Butterfly Weed
Asclepias Tuberosa

Big-Leaved Aster
Aster Macrophyllus

New England Aster
Aster Novae-Angliae

White Wild Indigo
Baptisia Alba

Purple Prairie Clover
Dalea Purpurea

Pale Purple Coneflower
Echinacea Pallida

Rattlesnake Master
Eryngium Yuccifolium

Joe-Pye Weed
Eupatorium Purpureum

Queen of the Prairie
Filipendula Rubra

Woodland Sunflower
Helianthus Divaricatus

Rough Blazing Star
Liatris Aspera

Sweet Black-Eyed Susan
Rudbeckia Subtomentosa

Stiff Goldenrod
Solidago Rigida

Hoary Vervain
Verbena Stricta

Heart-Leaved Meadow Parsnip
Zizia Aptera

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Days after planting, a monarch caterpillar is spotted on an asclepias tuberosa plant.  Photo by Jennifer Draper, Site Design Group

 

Edible Treasures Garden

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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.