Article for WES, Wisconsin Entomological Society Oct 2015 by Linda W. Curtis

One of my friends is an emergency room nurse at the local hospital. I asked her if she knew of any insect-cause problems and she answer, “Oh yes! Why, just this week…” and related an incident of someone sitting on a caterpillar with stinging hairs. Not life threatening, but certainly uncomfortable and embarrassing to explain why he preferred standing to sitting for a few days.

Turns out, I discover the culprit, a saddleback caterpillar, Acharia stimuli on a twig and carried it home to image under the digital microscope. Than an information search revealed that the stiff hairs were natural hypodermic needles with venom glands at the base. Stinging hairs are one thing, while poisonous hairs are another and a serious rash and nausea can follow.

Fig. 3 Buckeye cat Linda Curtis


Mimicry works for caterpillars with spines or brists even if they are not harmful because predators avoid them. For instance, the buckeye caterpillar, Junonia coenia, looks menacing, but is not. The adult butterfly stage also has a “startle effect” with eyespots on the wings.

On the other hand, the saddleback caterpillar has a rather ordinary gray-winged adult mouth the serves as camouflage, blending it into the tree trunk texture. That function is more “not seen, not eaten” instead of “watch out!”

Linda W. Curtis


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Lake County Forest Preserves Horizon

A recent article by Linda Curtis in the Lake County Forest Preserves May issue, 2016

has information on sedges worth reading.

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What good are sedges?

I was having my hair cut today and I told the hairdresser that I found a small rare plant. She asked, “What good is it?” A fair question from someone who couldn’t care less. Well, it was only discovered in 1991,” I said, hoping to elucidate, “so no research has been done yet to find its medicinal or food value.”

“Then what good is it?” she asked again. A fair question for someone like me who cares about rare and endangered plants and realizes she is one of a few who can or could understand.

So I went back to the place where I found the rare plant, a sedge. “OK, sedge,” I said, “Talk to me. Tell me what good you are.”

It gave me no mental insights, but it sure was cute. The tiny spikes were less than an inch long, in rows of two. While I was admiring its small form, a creature of the ground litter legged by, paused, turned its thick black head, and munched one of the spike’s seed-sacs, and moved on. Hmm, I thought, one point as food for an arthropod.

I was still looking at the plant when a swooping sound made me look at a bird that just snatched up the black leggy creature and flew up to a treetop. I could hear the “feed me, feed me” sounds of baby birds. Hmm, I thought, another point for being in a food chain of what-eats-what-eats-what.

I noticed its leaves grew in rows from the grassy tuft. I pulled on one, a rooted cord that I lifted from between other grassy plants. Hmm, I thought, it lives with other plants. If one dies, others cover the soil in its place.

A thunderclap overhead reminded me my time was limited. This area was known to flood from heavy rains and I wondered how the plants survived. Hmm, I remembered, some plants have enough air spaces in their underground stems and can survive for days underwater. That’s why they can survive on a floodplain as they hang on tight with intermeshed roots. That would help other plants “hang in there.” Plants don’t live in isolation, plants are part of an association. A little plant is just one part. It was good.

So, months later, I went back for another haircut. “I found a rare small plant.” And as before, she asked, “What good is it?” I would have liked to say I ate it and it was delicious, but I couldn’t. Or, it was pretty, and I picked it for a bouquet. No. So I said it was small, rare, and food for little creatures. “Well,” she said, “What good it that?”

So, I went back again to visit the plants. The seed-sacs were no longer there, eaten, I presumed, by birds and bugs. Only the leaves, dry and withering, were left on the tuft. As I sat and hoped it would talk to me, a bird hopped down and with quick jerking movements plucked some dried leaves and flew into the marsh. Hmm, I thought. That’s not the same bird I saw before, it’s some kind of wren.

I walked to the edge of the marsh and watched. Head up, head down, up and down, a perky sedge wren constructed a nest in the marsh in a clump of sedges. It wove the leaves in and out of the other leaves and made a domed roof over its nest. Hmm, I thought, nest and roof all in one. The bird sat on top of its nest and rested. Hmm, a nesting and resting place, I liked that.

A few months later, my hair needed another trim. “You know that rare plant I found?” I asked the hairdresser. “Yes,” she answered, did you ever find out what it was good for?”

“Well, yes,” I answered. “It was used to build the nest of a sedge wren. The plant was a sedge and has roughish leaves that cling together and hold the bird’s domed nest together in bad weather.” I showed her a photo that I took of the wee wren and its nest. “The bird is an artist like you,” I said, “but arranges sedge leaves instead of hair.”

“Yes,” she agreed, “That IS what it’s good for.”


Linda W. Curtis










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Sedge Season in the upper Midwest!

From Harbinger, Spring Issue 2016. Illinois Native Plant Society.


Botanist have documented almost 200 species at Hosah Park in Zion, Illinois.

Of these, 169 are natives and thirteen are endangered or threatened. Among the more common are blazing star (Liatris spp.) showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa, flowering spure (Euphorbia corollata), prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) and big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii). Nobody volunteers information about the location of the most endangered plants.

In 2013, the INPS”S indefatigable Linda Curtis surveyed Hosah Park’s Carex, discovering ten species that she included with the inventory of 53 species growing in the Zion beach-ridge plain that comprises IBSP, Spring Bluff, Chiwaukee Prairie, and Waukegan Harbor.

As Curtis tells it in Carex of Hosah Park (www.curtistothethird.com), the sand savannas at Hosah have “upland Carex species, including C. pensylvanica, C. muhlenbergii, and C. siccata in the semi-shade of the savanna trees.” The Hosah wetlands have “masses of southern cattail with red dogwood shrubs and willows along the edges” where C. pellita and C. stricta grow.

In the wet prairie between the road and foredune, Curtis found C. crawei, C. tetanica, and C. buxbaumii. She also noted C. bebbii and C. muehlenbergii in road crevices and along roads and C. brevior and C. muehlenbergii grew by the railroad right-of-way that runs along the site’s western edge.

An article in the recent Harbinger Magazine from the Illinois Native Plant Society comments that Linda Curtis found ten Carex sedges in Zion’s Hosah Park on the Lake Michigan Coast. Hosah Park was once slated for development as was  Chiwaukee Prairie. Lucky us, even if a few roads remain, they are now hiking and biking trails for all to see and enjoy.

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Rare Carex discovered

Palmetto, Journal of the Florida Native Plant Society, published in Dec. 2014 Read the article here: Carex peninsulae – Florida’s globally imperiled Carex

Linda Curtis’ discovery of peninsula sedge, Carex paeninsulae, a category G2 plant.

The plant image may be seen on the Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants.C.paen Fl Atlas

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Carex Corner, plus Bog-Fen Carex reviews

Carex Corner is written for Harbinger: Illinois Native Plant Society.

Following after  is reviews for Bog-Fen Carex

Cx Crn wee sedgesjpgWonderful reviews are coming in. Thanks to all.

From Kew Botanic Garden, A. Marshall: “I like your description of a “belly-botanist” on p. 199 and will point this out to some of the botanists here at Kew!”

From Missouri Botanic Garden, K. Yatskievych:” The photography is excellent, the page layouts are simple and elegant, the cartoons are a delight, and your description of it as an entry-level botany guide was right on the mark.”

From Ecological Resource Specialist B. Hess: I enjoyed the layout/organization, the close-up photos, and the etymology of the sedge names.

From steward of LCFP, P. Showers after Bog-Fen book presentation: I was able to put the Bog-Fen manual to good use. You are one of the best public speakers I have heard, ….. charismatic.” (He means carexmatic)

From Dr. Robert Mohlenbrock, author of The Illustrated Flora of Illinois: Congratulations on your fine book. Your photos are truly outstanding. You have made an important contribution to the Illinois plant literature


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Beautiful paintings



Upper painting is a sedge meadow at LCFP Spring Bluff by steward Melissa Pierson, 2014. The lower painting was ussed by WES, Wisconsin Entomological Society of the Blandings Turtle and Ctenucha moth by Melissa Pierson, 2015,  as their October issue cover. The painting accompanies the poem in the menu labeled articles, “Is it time?”

Sedge Meadow Painting Melissa PiersonMoth, Turtle, Moon Linda Curtis

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The boar banned from sedges

I looked out my window and what did I see

but a hairy beast under the sycamore tree.

I saw his snout, and that tooth filled head,

eating a sedge from my garden bed.

I shouted, he snorted  as  I grabbed and pulled his hair.

Get away you beast, don’t come back, don’t you dare!

I let go my choke hold and his fur of bristles,

he ran to his boar herd through a field of thistles.

His story soon told that all boars should be wary.

Stay away from humans, they sure are scary.

Photo by James M. Curtis

(No animals were harmed during this photo shoot)

Linda convinces the boar to leave

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Dunesland Carex

fig2Dunesland Carex is  Linda Curtis’s next book in progress about the Carex of the  Lake Michigan Coast between Kenosha Dunes in Wisconsin  and  18 miles south to the Waukegan Harbor in Illinois. The image shows the former beaches of the ancient landform. Only a mile wide, it was built with erosional/depositional sand and gravel over the last 4,000 years. Some lands have lost their foredunes, such as Chiwaukee Prairie in Kenosha County.  Illinois Beach State Park’s beautiful sand dunes now extend almost to the state border, interrupted by North Point Marina in Illinois and Prairie Harbor Marina in adjoining Kenosha County. Waukegan dunes adjoin the Illinois Beach State Parks coastline. The sand dunes species are mostly different from those in Bog-Fen Carex and Woodland Carex, yet a few species grow in several habitats.


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Daughter Accepts Nomination for Linda Curtis

Tracey Lee Nielsen, my only daughter, accepted my nomination for Leaders of Lake County Awards, 2015 at the breakfast provided by Shaw Media for their Suburban Living. Here’s what she spoke to the listening faces. “I’m here to recognize my mother Linda W. Curtis as one of the difference makers in Lake County. She is due back in town next month so I have the honor of telling you a little bit about her and her impact on Lake County. Linda Curtis is a botanist who rediscovered the water marigold in Lake Villa’s Cedar Lake. In 1998, the Chicago Tribune did a wonderful article on her calling her the Lady of the Lake after this discovery. Ever since Mom retired from the science department of the College of Lake County, she continues her botany research with my Dad helping her in and out of ditches, through bogs and through very remote areas. I had to ask my parent to leave a log of their botanical journeys on their refrigerator in case they go missing one day! Linda has been a Friend of the Lake Villa library and volunteer herbarium coordinator of Volo Bog. My mom has a knock for finding rare plants and sharing her discoveries with herbaria across the country. She photographs and notes the location or gps of the plants, some never cataloged before. She writes articles for professional magazines, including Erigenia and Harbinger for Illinois Native Plant Society, Palmetto for the Florida Native Plant Society, and WES, Wisconsin Entomological Society. She is a self-published author of three books and a favorite speaker for plant societies.

Linda will speak to the DuPage Wild Ones on June 18 at Volo Bog, 2016. And Linda will sell both Woodland Carex and Bog-FenCarex at the Conserve Lake County Plant Sale on May 16.




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