3rd [Spring] Time is a charm!

Watch out for what‘s blooming & pollinators in the Exploration Garden!

How time has flown! The Exploration Garden at Clinton Hills Conservation Park began in 2019. This spring marks the wildflower meadow’s third blooming season – and it should be grand! An old adage says, “The first year a garden sleeps, the second year it creeps, and the third year it leaps.”
To kick off a spectacular succession of native blooms, HeartLands Conservancy, Great Rivers Prescribed Burn Association, and the Village of Swansea performed a prescribed burn on the meadow. A prescribed burn is a carefully planned and directed habitat management practice conducted by a trained and certified “burn boss” and crew. This best practice improves prairie and soil health and encourages native wildflowers to spread their seeds, enhancing the health and vibrancy of the meadow. As a result, this year’s meadow colors should be spectacular. Keep an eye out for all the pollinator and wildlife activity while we build the Raindrop’s Journey feature this spring.

In the Exploration Garden, HLC continues to add Illinois trees to increase the food and nesting needs of insects, birds, and other wildlife. These trees also showcase preferred trees for our area to replace non-beneficial or harmful species, like Bradford (Callery) pear.


  • White oak (Quercus Alba), Illinois State Tree: Hosts over 200 insects that feed birds. Large mammals like deer, turkey, and squirrels feed on the acorns, and many cavity-nesting birds (owls, woodpeckers, eastern bluebirds, bats, etc.) live in these majestic trees.
  • Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa): White blossoms in May and June host hummingbirds and the catalpa sphinx moth.
  • Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum): Grows in wet areas in southern Illinois and is home to frogs, toads, bats, and birds.
  • American plum (Prunus americana): An excellent substitute for Bradford Pear, many birds and bees are attracted to the flowers of this tree, and 345 species of moths and butterflies use these trees as host plants. Red and gray foxes like the fruit.
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis): Another fantastic flowering alternative to Bradford Pear! Many birds, such as cardinals and bluebirds, and mammals, such as opossums and squirrels, love the fruit of serviceberries. The berries are edible and taste similar to a blueberry.
  • Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis): Bright purple and pink buds and blossoms attract bees and other pollinators.
  • Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida): Another white or pink flowering tree that attracts birds (over 75 species), chipmunks, foxes, rabbits, deer, squirrels, and pollinating insects, and serves as the host plant for Azure butterflies.