Put on your racing shoes and fill up your tires--Sycamore Park District’s Great Western Trail bridge is in! The steel pedestrian bridge is part of a 0.8-mile extension of the trail to bring walkers, runners, and cyclists to the eastern end of downtown Sycamore. ERA has been the onsite construction engineer over the last 7 months, and the project is on target to open later this Spring.
Leaves of three, leave it be.
By popular demand, this week’s plant of the week is Poison Ivy, also known as Toxicodendron radicans. As we progress into the growing season it is important to know which plants are friend and which are…less friendly. Because all native plants have their purpose, none are foes.
Poison Ivy is an annual woody vine in the cashew family Anacardiacae (related to cashews, pistachios, and mangos) found commonly throughout Illinois and most of the Midwest, where it establishes in moist forests, savannas, and forest edge habitats, often in the areas surrounding wetlands and streams. The plant is a woody vine that grows up to 60’ vertically up trees, posts, or buildings when supported, or in a low loose mounding shrub when grown in the open. Emerging in spring, the young leaflets appear in groups of 3 and can range from yellow to bright green to red as they emerge early in the season. Mature leaves adopt a waxy finish and continue to be a range of greens and reds, and are even highly variable in final leaf shape, with some having smooth or lobed margins. As such, this plant can be difficult to identify without the proper knowledge and terminology. Other species in this genus include Toxicodendron diversilobum (Poison Oak), another vine native to the western US, and Toxicodendron vernix (Poison Sumac), a shrub that is native to Illinois but occurs only in higher quality wetland habitats and is much less common than its relatives.
The irritating oil Urushiol is found throughout the plant, including the woody vine, and is released when the foliage is bruised or the stem damaged. Not all people are susceptible to a reaction; however, as people age, the oil can cause reactions in people who were previously immune. Reactions can range from simple contact dermatitis in the form of a red itching rash, more severe cases can result in blisters and hospitalization. If poison ivy is burned in a brush pile, the aerosolized oils can result in anaphylaxis and death if not treated. Dried urushiol can remain potent on cut vines, pet hair, and even contaminated tools for an extended period so it is best to wash everything with soap targeted toward oil/grease if you suspect contamination or have been working with the plant on your property (Dawn kitchen soap or any other grease-centric soap works well for this purpose). If you think you have been exposed to urushiol, it is best to wash the area as soon as possible and monitor the area to watch for worsening symptoms. Exposure is best prevented by wearing long pants, closed-toe shoes or boots, and long sleeve shirts to prevent direct skin contact.
Fortunately, nature works to balance itself out and the best-known remedy for urushiol-based dermatitis is the Illinois native Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), which is the primary active ingredient in many anti-itch ointments and can be found in the same moist woods where Poison Ivy is prevalent. More severe exposure resulting in hospitalization requires treatment by prescription strength steroid creams.
ERA spent Wednesday evening picking up trash along the DuPage River in Naperville as part of The Conservation Foundation's Adopt-A-Stream program. We collected 10 bags' worth of trash and debris from the area - a very successful cleanup! To learn more about the Adopt-A-Stream program and river cleanup events in your area, visit: https://bit.ly/3ffrDBP
This week’s plant of the week is Pedicularis canadensis, also known as Wood Betony or Lousewort.
Pedicularis canadensis is an uncommon plant found throughout Illinois that is more frequently found in the northern half of the state. Growing low to the ground in clumping rosettes, the plant grows no taller than a foot in height. Wood Betony can be found in varied habitats from open prairie to woodland clearings where sun shines through and can tolerate sandy soil in addition to rich black soil of the prairie. The flowers being quite unique, this plant attracts native pollinators such as mason bees and bumblebees and is one of the more unique displays of inflorescence on the prairie.
One of the serious issues faced by a short plant in a tallgrass prairie is competition from the surrounding tallgrass keystone species, such as Big Bluestem or Indian Grass. Wood Betony has found an unusual solution in that it is hemiparasitic; attaching its roots to adjacent grasses to steal nutrients for its own use (despite producing its own chlorophyll for photosynthesis anyway), the surrounding vegetation is frequently shorter in stature than its neighbors as a result.
Pedicularis canadensis has seen many uses over the years, from medicinal infusions, ingredients in cooking and animal feed, and was once even believed to keep pests away from livestock (hence the common name “Lousewort”).
Common among grocery stores and ice cream sundaes, strawberries can be found through Europe, eastern North America, and parts of South America. However, not all are created equal. Fragaria virginiana, the Wild American Strawberry, is much prized for its sweet ripe fruits that the larger fruits of early Europe could not match. In the late 1800s, Thomas Laxton, now known as the father of the modern strawberry, successfully bred this sweet American strawberry with an existing European variety to create the Royal Sovereign Strawberry. This would go on to be served to England’s Royal Family and can still be found today through garden seed suppliers.
The plant itself can be found through much of Illinois and in varying habitats from railroad tracks, woodlands, hill prairies, and anything in between. Relying on early spring growth, the wild strawberry can withstand competition from larger plants that develop later in the year as it goes mostly dormant after setting fruit for the summer. Watering in late spring and early summer helps to encourage growth of fruits. Though smaller in size than traditionally cultivated strawberries, these wild varieties hold a more concentrated flavor. They make a great addition to any garden that receives part shade or full sun, where the plant will be allowed to sprawl along the ground and form a loose ground cover.
ERA is proud to announce the addition of Howard Killian to our Warrenville office as a Municipal Services Director. Howard comes to us with over 30 years of engineering and public works related experience. Howard's team is looking to grow immediately. If you are interested in a design/project engineering position, please email us your resume at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eastern Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)
This Illinois native species is highly unusual in many aspects from the inflorescence, the growing season, the look, and certainly the smell. Eastern Skunk Cabbage is an herbaceous perennial that grows in a rosette clump and features large bright foliage reminiscent of Jurassic Park. The plant is generally found in wet organic soils nearby flowing water. It is associated with fens and hillside seeps where calcareous ground water emerges and begins a stream.
The common name of “Skunk Cabbage” was given for more reason than one. For starters, the unique inflorescence is not dissimilar to the corpse flowers often featured in botanic gardens around the country as the plant draws in flies to its flower by emitting an odor of rotting meat. Even more bizarre is that skunk cabbage is the first spring wildflower to bloom. The plant blooms so early, in fact, that it generates its own heat because of rapid cellular growth to melt surrounding snow, thus attracting more potential pollinators. Not only does the flower smell—bruising the leaves of the plant can also emit an odor much like that of a skunk!
A member of the poppy family, the native Bloodroot is not only a beautiful spring wildflower highly coveted by native plant gardeners, but it is also an important food source for early emerging pollinators in woodland habitat. The common name “Bloodroot” comes from the red juice that is concentrated in the roots and stems. The juice was used by Native American tribes as a dye and is also known to have antibacterial properties.
Emerging as early as the first week of April, the plant takes advantage of the early spring sunshine before surrounding trees have begun to leaf out and shade the ground. The first notable feature is an attractive, white, daisy-like flower before unfurling a large compound-lobed singular leaf that will persist through summer. This early emerging flower is joined by other spring wildflowers—Spring Beauty, Trillium, Mayapple, and Trout Lilies—in serving such animals as the federally endangered Rusty-Patched Bumblebee, who emerge from burrows in the ground before many common plants have begun to show signs of growth for the year.
This plant is native to most of Illinois and can be found in woodland habitats that have not succumbed to overgrowth of Buckthorn and Honeysuckle, which shade the ground and prevent the sun from warming the soil to signal Bloodroot to begin growth for the season. The plant spreads though underground rhizomes and a method of seed dispersal called ‘Myrmecochory’, seed dispersal by ants. Ants are a common method of seed dispersal for woodland flowers as wind speeds are slowed by the canopy. This is achieved through a fleshy appendage on the seed known as an ‘Elaiosome’ which may appear in the form of a small translucent hat on the seed. The seeds are then taken into ant hills where they await germination in the coming years.
Those in the Chicagoland Suburbs may find bloodroot blooming at such locations as John J. Duerr Forest Preserve in St. Charles, Bliss Woods in Sugar Grove, Lyman Woods in Downers Grove, and several other local forest preserves.
Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of storms, but our communities were not built to withstand the amount of rainfall we now get. Flooded streets cause travel delays, safety issues, and costly repairs. In this new video from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, learn how flooding impacts communities — and steps our region can take to address it.
Engineering Resource Associates, Inc. (ERA) is a consulting firm providing civil engineering, structural engineering, environmental science, and surveying.