Wild in the City: Chicagoland's Urban Ecology

A Day in the Park - Introduction

As a family strolls through Lincoln Park Zoo on a warm fall day in 2019, they may (like so many of us) pause for a moment next to the gibbon yard, enjoying some shade along with the primates’ acrobatics. Perhaps they will glance around and notice the source of this shade, a mammoth and gnarled tree with wide branches stretching far out from the trunk. Bur oaks like this one are native to the Midwestern savanna. These stately trees reach over 100 feet in height when mature, and their branches often stretch out even wider, as they are well suited to the open plains and grassy shores of the Great Lakes region. The family at the foot of this tree will probably be unaware that they are in the presence of one of the city’s oldest residents: one that has been generously shading tens of millions of visitors over the zoo’s 150-year existence, and one that has witnessed almost 200 years of the changing urban landscape and the evolving human relationship with it.

This digital exhibit traces these environmental and cultural changes to the Chicago area through the varied archives of several local institutions: North Central College, the Chicago Botanic Gardens, The Chicago Academy of Sciences and Lincoln Park Zoo. 

Essay continues with "Humble Beginnings Lead to Rapid Expansion">>

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