Wild Geranium Spring

Wild Geranium Spring

I’ve read that in the early days you could gallop a horse through the woodlands here in Illinois.  That certainly wasn’t the case for most of the years I’ve lived here.  What people didn’t understand was that the parklike forests early Europeans found were the result of the efforts made by the native tribes living here.  They  selectively planted the trees and shrubs they needed for food and fiber, and used fire and even pruning to keep the woods healthy and producing the materials they needed.  Once they were shoved aside, decades of neglect ensued.  Many people thought it best to let nature take its course, and felt that the choked mess that resulted was the natural state of our woodlands.  In fact, many still feel that way and restorationists get quite a bit of push back on their efforts.  By the time my family lived here, the woods I saw were in a sorry state indeed.  I wish I could show you a picture of how things looked back then, but it was so ugly I never thought to take a photo.  Picture in your mind solid masses of stems, no big happy trees, indeed, no baby oaks or hickories.  They were not reproducing, unable to compete with the thick stands of introduced and run-amok shrubs like Japanese honeysuckle and buckthorn.  They were a study in grey and brown.

I tell you all of that because I want you to see the difference at Grant Woods this spring.  The Forest Preserve District removed TONS of invasive trees and shrubs throughout the winter.  We’d go out to watch them and couldn’t believe our eyes.  It didn’t even look like the same place from one week to the next.  And when the soil warmed and the sun’s rays reached the long-choked soil, look what happened!  Sheets of wild geranium responded, carpeting the floor of the woods.  It was breathtaking.  They were there, waiting for 50 years or more, to spring back.  What a wonderful thing nature is!  The woods get burned again, now, so hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy this scene again and again.  I see a lot more native bees in the area now, and the birds have really responded as well.


  1. The painting is lovely. Just the type of path I’d love to come across while on a forest meander.

    I’m glad the Forest Service took that action the results sound gorgeous and well needed.

    Hope all is well with you and the family and you’re enjoying summer.


  2. I recognized Grant Woods.
    The BONAP maps for Geranium show two species in your area: Geranium carolinianum and Geranium maculatum. From the flower color in your painting, I assume you’ve depicted Geranium maculatum. We have the other one in Austin.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I thought you might. The painting is of the part of Grant that I took you to. If you recall that impenetrable wall of foliage to one side of the trail, that is entirely gone.
      You are correct, Geranium maculatum is the geranium you typically see around here. I’m not yet familiar with the other one you mentioned, although I looked it up. It is a sweet little thing, isn’t it?


  3. The painting reveals the new state of the woods – open, airy, and spacious, with lovely light shining through the trees. Wish we had the funds to remove invasives in areas around me! The buckthorn, bittersweet, and honeysuckle are overwhelming. Looks like the Geranium maculatum that grows in my area.


  4. Yes, it is really amazing. What I didn’t want to say in the post was, I’ve seen other areas get this cleared out, only to have the buckthorn come right back within a few years. How to stay on top of it I don’t know. I think it will require the efforts of a lot of volunteers.


  5. I recently read a description of the Sandyland Sanctuary as “a prairie with trees.” It sounds as though that would do for your Grant Woods, too. It certainly is the feeling I get from the painting, which is so lovely it makes me want to take a walk there this afternoon.

    Some of the same issues that had to be faced in the re-development of this place have come to the fore here as well, particularly the need for sustained and responsible use of fire to maintain and expand the longleaf forests.

    We have Geranium carolinianum as well. Here’s a photo of one I found in a vacant lot. I’m curious about your buckthorn. In east Texas, there’s a native called Carolina buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana ) that’s quite common and considered desirable, although it doesn’t have spines or thorns.

    I have a really funny story about what a nice burn can do for native plants — when I get it posted, the title will be “If You Burn It, They Will Come.”


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