2015 Photo Contest Runner-up- Common Redpoll, Chicago Botanic Garden near Glencoe, Janet Haugen
2015 Photo Contest Runner-up- Common Redpoll, Chicago Botanic Garden near Glencoe, Janet Haugen

Plants and Wildlife

Some of the best remaining examples of native Illinois ecosystems are right here in the Forest Preserves of Cook County. About 55,000 acres of the 69,000 acres of preserves are in a natural state (the other 14,000 is used for parking lots, picnic groves, nature centers, and such). The forest preserves of Cook County contain thousands of plants and animals that are unique only to this area. Check out some of our favorite flora, fauna, and locations in the preserves.

Our Favorite Plants and Wildlife

River Otter
These playful members of the weasel family were once eradicated from Cook County and most of Illinois. Thanks to a recovery project that improved water quality in local waterways, they’re now making a comeback.

Black Crowned Night Heron
This attractive heron forages by night for fish, amphibians and invertebrates. It’s endangered in the state of Illinois but can be found nesting in colonies in the Calumet region and other parts of Cook County.

Blue Spotted Salamander
What’s black with turquoise spots and lives in a forest preserve near you? It’s the blue spotted salamander. If grabbed by a predator, it can leave its wriggling tail behind to distract the attacker while it makes its escape. Don’t worry; it will grow back.

White Oak
A keystone species of local woods, white oaks are a major food source for literally thousands of species of birds, mammals and insects. It’s also the state tree of Illinois.

Compass Plant
The amazing compass plant can put up a flower stalk that’s taller than you! Its tough leaves are oriented with their blades running north/south. This allows the plant to maximize exposure to sunlight while minimizing evaporation.

Eastern White Fringed Orchid
Threatened and endangered species aren’t just found in the Amazon Rainforest or the savannas of Africa. Several populations of the federally threatened Eastern White Fringed Orchid survive in Cook County. Volunteers pollinate them by hand to ensure their survival.

Rapid Color Guides

The Field Museum has developed excellent rapid color guides to plants and animals of the Chicago Region. Click here to see what you can find and learn more about in the forest preserves.

Bloom Calendar

Which plants are blooming now? View our bloom calendar to find out.

Spring Wildflower Guide

Spring means ephemeral wildflowers! These early wildflowers are here and gone during April and May. Take this handy Spring Wildflower Booklet with you to the woods and see how many you can find!