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How Do We Know?
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|In a letter
written in 1845 to a colleague, Short (1845) described the plants
he observed and collected on a trip through the State of
Illinois...travelling in a light covered wagon, well prepared for
making extensive collections, and vigilantly on the look-out for
every object of interest... Short was one of the earliest
botanists to describe the flora of the state. His writings are
eloquent and extremely exacting. As he wrote in his letter, I
can safely say that few such [objects of interest] escaped our
In recording the genus and species of the plants he observed, Short preserved for later generations a veritable picture of what grew on the undisturbed prairie in the mid-1800s, just before it disappeared under the plow. His descriptions included ecological notes, such as the types of soil in which plants grew, and the effects of fire on the grasses and woody vegetation.
In describing a large section of undisturbed Illinois prairie, Short wrote:
This list describes for the reader possibly every species of blazing star growing on the prairies just 20 miles west of the Wabash River. Even more remarkable is the fact that early botanists like Short and others after him, made collections that eventually came into the collections of herbaria around the state.
The herbarium at the Illinois State Museum contains plants dating from the late 1800s through the present. It provides a record of the plants that grew in Illinois.
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