The native species of Lake County make up some of the rarest natural communities in the world. In an effort to encourage the survival of these communities, Lake Forest College strives to care for and expand the native ecosystems located on its campus.
Currently, there are four main sites where restoration efforts are being focused: Restoration Ridge, Shooting Star Savanna, Revery Prairie, and the brand new Wetland Learning Lab. These ecosystems enhance the value of the campus environment biologically, aesthetically, and educationally. Follow the links below to learn more about each of the unique locations being restored!
Restoration Ridge/Ravine Woodlands
The rich, moist wooded ravines that cradle the Lake Forest College campus contain one of the region’s rarest ecosystems.
These ravines occur only in a 2-mile-wide band along a 20-mile stretch of Lake Michigan’s southwestern lakefront, carved by streams out of the glacial moraine (sediment deposit) over the 12,000 years since the last ice sheet receded.
They represent a floristic treasure trove of rare and endangered native plants, with over 50 plant species found in few, or no other places in the entire State of Illinois. The ravines on our campus are some of the most botanically-intact examples of this ecosystem in existence.
The ravine that divides Lake Forest College’s North and Middle Campuses is named after Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana L.), a native small tree of the forest understory. A beautiful plant found only in relatively undisturbed forests of the region, it grows in great abundance in all of the campus ravines. It is the only local tree that flowers in the early winter, and oil from its bark is thought by many to have medicinal value.
The ravine the forms the southern border of Middle campus is named after Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis L.), a small understory perennial wildflower. The name, “Bloodroot” refers to the bright red color of its sap, which derives from toxic alkaloid compounds that defend the plant from herbivores. Bloodroot produces beautiful white blooms around Easter, and has very distinctive, unusually-shaped large leaves. Bloodroot is one of a fascinating group of plants called “spring ephemerals,” so named because they carry out their entire photosynthetic life cycle (the time when they are green and active) before the trees have leafed out in spring, when lots of sunlight is hitting the forest floor where they live.
Spring ephemerals such as Bloodroot, abundant and diverse in the Lake Forest College ravines, are found only in relatively undisturbed old growth forests, and include some of the rarest and most beautiful wildflowers of the region.
Shooting Star Savannah
In the early 1990s, Associate Professor of Biology Ken Weik brought an idea to then-Associate Professor of Economics Jeff Sundberg to embark on an ambitious ecological restoration project on Lake Forest College middle campus. The idea was to restore a two hectare section of lawn and degraded woodland just north of Johnson Hall and bordering Witchhazel Ravine, to its most likely pre-settlement condition: a deep-soil oak savanna.
The College liked the idea, and agreed to stop mowing the lawn in this area, and to transfer stewardship to a group of faculty, staff, and students who were interested in the restoration project. Inspired by this vision, a small core of volunteers led by Sundberg, Weik, Associate Professor of English Ben Goluboff, and college trustee and alumnus, Dennis Nyren ’72 spent two years cutting buckthorn and removing garbage, including a 1950s-era Pepsi machine. By 1993, the area was ready for the first burn. Cliff Miller, a local landscaper, then hopped on board, bringing his extensive knowledge of native plant landscaping with him.
Over the years, the core group of faculty and staff volunteers expanded, and numerous student groups, Greek organizations, and students in the environmental studies program joined in the effort, volunteering their time to participate in work days to conduct burns, plant and seed more than 50 species of native plants, remove exotic plants, and maintain trails. Student help was particularly vital during the early phase when a great deal of hard labor was required. As interest in the area grew, the College provided tools and a storage closet. As if mother nature, herself, intended to match the efforts of the restoration team, some signature savanna species including the Savanna’s namesake, the Shooting Star, have come back by themselves from small remnants that lived on at the margins of, or even underneath the lawn.
In 2005, to help boost efforts, Ben and Carol Zlateff made a substantial donation in honor of Bennie Zlateff ’40 and his wife, Dorothy, both who had a life-long love for both Lake Forest College and the natural environment around them. Their generous donation paid for a number of improvements to the area including interpretive signage and two benches.
These improvements brought increased attention to the area, resulting in its naming and inclusion on the official campus map. The area’s namesake, the Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia), a member of the primrose family, is one of the rarer and more spectacular of the region’s native wildflowers. Each flower has five petals that sweep back, giving it the appearance of the tail of a shooting star. The flower can range in color from light pink to magenta, and has a fragrance similar to grape juice. It blooms each year in mid-May, right around the time of Lake Forest College’s commencement ceremony, as if to signal the graduation of another cohort of Foresters. Since the beginning of the Savanna restoration project, the Shooting Star patch at the eastern end of the area has exploded from an initial remnant hanging on at the bluff edge and possibly in and under the lawn, into one of the biggest and most spectacular patches of this plant in the region, inspiring the awe of the Chicagoland botanical cognoscenti.
Thanks to the past and continuing efforts of many members of the Lake Forest College community, the Shooting Star Savanna has blossomed into a haven for plants and wildlife. In spring through fall it is ablaze with color, proceeding through an annual flowering succession of native prairie and savanna plants. Its lush vegetation hosts a dazzling array of insects and spiders, and a wide variety of birds passing through during migration. In large measure, it has achieved the characteristic vegetation structure and floristic composition of a deep-soil savanna, one of the rarest and most endangered ecosystem types in the midwestern United States. The Shooting Star Savanna stands as a living testament to the power of human beings to learn about, redefine, and improve their own role in the ecosystems that they call home.
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,—
One clover, and a bee,
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.
Named for the eponymous Emily Dickinson poem, Revery Prairie is a relatively young prairie, established in 2013 by Professors Sundberg, Adelson, and Goluboff, with invaluable assistance from the Campus Sustainability Committee, Facilities Management, and especially landscape architect P. Clifford Miller.
Though bequeathed the title of prairie, Revery Prairie was modeled off the traditional concept of a temperate oak Savanna of the Midwest. Savannas are mixed grasslands with few trees and an abundance of light upon the canopy, whereas prairies remain grassland plains in temperate climates. By the strictest of definitions, both Revery Prairie and Shooting Star Savanna remain hybrid combinations of the similar habitats, with temperate grasslands and sparsely-spaced trees.
Prairies have numerous ecological merits; they are famously fertile in terms of soil composition, require little upkeep following solid establishment, allow natural stormwater drainage, attract pollinating butterflies and bees, and allow the flourishing of endangered flowering herbs and shrubs. Encouragement and maintenance of native species remains careful and slow, as to avoid disturbing the natural seed bank within the soil, including the monitoring of invasive grasses and shrubs such as thistle.
Revery Prairie contains an assembly of various savanna species, including one of Lake Forest College’s last old Burr Oaks, as well as Woodland Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum), Bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix), and Sweet Black–Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa).
Some rarer protected species that can be found within Revery include the Purple–Flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus), a state endangered species, as well as the Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense), and the Northern Cranesbill (Geranium bicknelli).
Wetland Learning Lab
The 2017-2018 expansion of the science center is expected to create new issues of stormwater runoff. To prevent this, the City of Lake Forest required the college to install a new stormwater detention facility on Middle Campus and, after some debate, the college decided against building a conventional detention pond. Instead, they hired local landscape architect Cliff Miller to design a wetland area called the Wetland Learning Lab which will function as both a stormwater detention facility and a place for experimentation and education.
Work began on the Wetland Learning Lab in the summer of 2017 when a half-acre bowl was dug in the lawn between the library and the science center. It was dug in such a way that three separate ponds, instead of one large one, fill up with stormwater runoff from the Lillard Science Center