Fresh air and beauty abound for weekend visitors touring Elkhart Hill

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[April 21, 2015]  ELKHART - Saturday morning dawned warm and clear, just right for a walk in the woods. That’s just what a group of people from around central Illinois did atop Elkhart Hill, check out the spring wild flowers.

The April weekend flower walks on Elkhart Hill are sponsored by the Elkhart Historical Society. Participants gather in downtown Elkhart at the Country Bumpkin, board a specially built wagon, and journey up a country lane to ‘the Hill.’

The flower walks are led by Gillette Ransom, who has a deep knowledge of Elkhart Hill flora. Not only does Gillette give an in depth talk about the flowers, but her family ties to the founding residents of Elkhart, provide a history lesson of central Illinois. She discussed some of her relatives, the first residents of Elkhart and Elkhart Hill, with gentle humor when discussing their often irascible personalities.

Elkhart Hill is a remnant of the ice age glaciers that covered central Illinois millions of years ago. The first non-native American settlers came to the Hill in 1818.

The flowers that are blooming cover the gamut from the common to some very rare ones, to invasive species that are a cause for concern, because they can drive out the native species. Gillette Ransom mentioned that because of the heat and dry spring in the area, many of the flowers are blooming at least a month ahead of schedule. The Virginia Blue Belles are already covering much of the woodland floor, way ahead of schedule. The invasive honeysuckle is everywhere. Residents of the area gather in the spring and try to remove as much of it as possible. If left on its own, the honeysuckle will drive out the native plants.

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Many of the flowers are known to have medicinal properties. This was common knowledge to the first residents of the area, Native Americans. The knowledge of these properties was passed down to the first white settlers. Ransom pointed out that many of the plants have names that refer to parts of the human body, such as Dutchman’s Breeches. It was thought that the medicinal attributes of the plants referred to specific parts of the body, so they were given names appropriate to that part of the body. Gillette called this the ‘Doctrine of Signature.’ In the case of Dutchman’s Breeches, it was thought that it would help problems below the belt. Wild Ginger was known to have antibiotic properties. Old meat that was going bad was treated with wild ginger to make it safe to eat.

The large number of species blooming on Elkhart Hill makes it a perfect destination for a spring flower walk. One visitor was heard to comment that there must be magic in the dirt on the Hill given the blooms visible in every direction.

The Elkhart Hill weekend flower walks run through the end of the month. Advance reservations are recommended as most tours sell out. A special weekend is planned for the first week in May, an Elkhart Hill Birding Adventure. Check out the Elkhart Historical Society website for times and reservations forms.

[Curt Fox]

Related website

Elkhart Historical Society

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