Earthworms’ Castings: Nearby Nature Places to Love

Jean Ponzi

By Jean Ponzi

Where can you bop out to, for a Nature-rich day? 

Missouri Botanical Garden has curated a map of 50 great locations, on the Missouri and Illinois sides of our region, where you can explore biodiversity as you enjoy being out-of-doors. 

Sites on this Nearby Nature Map range from public parks to state and local conservation areas, to company and community campuses that are open to the public. Each location is maintained to cultivate biodiversity, in addition to buildings, playing fields and more conventional uses.

Some of these places are famous. There’s Shaw Nature Reserve, Tower Grove Park, and World Bird Sanctuary on the Missouri Side. In Illinois there’s the Heartland Institute prairie, the gardens at Southern Illinois University, and Pere Marquette State Park.

Some are surprising to find on a Nature-rich location list. 

Did you know that Bellefontaine Cemetery, in the City of St. Louis, is a Level 4 Arboretum? This is the top level for a site dedicated to conserving and learning from trees. Bellefontaine holds it for having over 500 types of trees and woody plants, mostly species native to our bioregion, with staff dedicated to scientific research as well as tree care, and extensive public education. This historic cemetery is an active partner in the Arbnet Global Trees Campaign. Bellefontaine’s Meadows area, where native plants flourish around Green Burials, is a unique place to appreciate Nature’s role in the flow of life.

Another surprising place is the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center, on the banks of the mighty Mississippi in Alton, Illinois. NGRREC was developed by partners Lewis & Clark Community College and the University of Illinois, to lead scientific research on the ecology and use of inland riverways. This LEED Platinum building was designed to be a part of its natural environs, surrounded by native plants on a site that appears to be a rise in the riverbank. 

Be a Citizen Scientist as you explore! Use the app iNaturalist on your smartphone to help identify plants and animals you meet. This global-standard bio-blitzing app is configured in our region to add the valuable data of your observations to a biodiversity atlas, in the works with partners at the Garden, Saint Louis Zoo and Lindenwood University. 

May the Force of Nature be with you, this autumn and beyond!

October 10-16 is the iNaturalist StepOut, a week of special action encouraging all ages to download your Nature super-sleuthing tool at iNaturalist.org, get your Nearby Nature Map from mobot.org/StepOut and step out, with friends or kin, to explore and enjoy.

Jean Ponzi invites you into conversations on her Earthworms podcast from KDHX St. Louis Independent Media. She works for plants and Nature as Green Resources Manager of the EarthWays Center of Missouri Botanical Garden. She’s been a Healthy Planet Peep since 1997!