Somme Prairie Grove

Photo Credit: Peter Gorman Creative Commons

I recently decided to spend a few summer days in Chicago. The Windy City is a great place to take a summer vacation. The weather is usually excellent on Lake Michigan, and Chicago has an amazing array of cultural institutions and fine dining. When I mentioned my planned visit to a botanist friend, he insisted that I visit North Branch Restoration Project’s Somme Prairie Grove located half an hour outside downtown Chicago in Cook County. It hadn’t occurred to me that Cook County was an area with a long appreciation of native grasses and habitats. I was curious.

I was privileged to have a guided tour by one of the legends in the native grass field, Stephen Packard. In this video, Stephen talks about this special place.

Thirty years after its inception, the project has continued to expand and is supported by volunteers from the local suburban community. Once accredited, volunteers scour the surroundings of the nature center in search of indigenous native seeds. The goal of the center is to reproduce a grassland with some trees (a savanna is a grassland with trees interspersed) all from local seed stock. Non-native trees have been removed, and natives have either been left to grow or replanted. When the project began some thirty years ago, there were only a few dozen species of plants on the property. Now there are 475 recorded individual species. The plant varieties have in turn brought back birds which had previously deserted the area. Native savannas can survive in urban settings.

The North Branch Restoration Project maintains several sites that are open to the public. The project provides an amazing example of nature and suburban sprawl living side by side. If you find yourself in Chicago, and have the time, I recommend a visit. Learn more at