Plants of Illinois
The prairies of Illinois contained hundreds of species and varieties of native plants. From about 7,000 years ago, humans have gathered and harvested many of them for food and other uses. Native Americans began to cultivate a few of them about 5,000 years ago.
About 200 years ago, when the new “West” was opened up, hundreds, then thousands of settlers came to the soon-to-be state to create farms. They also took advantage of the many native plants, some of which were similar to ones they knew in the east or in Europe. With the help of Native Americans and by experiment, they soon learned how to use the new plants they discovered. They dug up wild plants and replanted them in their gardens or they collected the seed to sow themselves.
The settlers also brought with them seeds and plants from their old homes. These included fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Of course, these had an impact on the prairie landscape. The wheat, corn, and other grain crops, sown in large fields, would replace the prairie grasses.
This part of the History of Agriculture in Illinois features some of the Museum’s herbarium specimen sheets and archaeological specimens and artifacts. They are a record of the plants grown and cultivated in Illinois over the last 5,000 years.