More Mysteries in Illinois

We’ve been enjoying our stay in Illinois — this is what full-timing is all about, after all: deciding to “stay awhile” anywhere we like because there’s more we’d like to experience. In our case, we’ve been making the locals crazy with all of our questions.

Okay, maybe not “crazy,” but I think we started a conversation in Utica (or North Utica, but that’s another story) that will hopefully go on after we leave. The best conversations, I’ve always believed, start from a question.

In this case, the question we asked the locals is: “What’s that beautiful fragrant tree growing along the sides of the bridge?” Burdened with clusters of pristine white (with tinges of yellow) flowers, the trees on both sides of the Illinois River were so abundant and thriving so well that it was hard to believe they’d just sprung up overnight.

But that’s what it seemed when we asked about them around town.

“Trees? Which trees?” we were asked.

“The ones along the bridge, the white flowering ones that smell so sweet,” we said.

Shrugs. Puzzled looks. Thoughtful expressions. Most people had never noticed them (!); others knew the trees we were asking about, but had no idea what they were.

“They don’t bloom for very long,” someone said. Several people told us they’d heard the name of the tree (“Seems to me it started with a ‘c.’ Or had the word ‘elephant’ in it. Elephant something. I think.”) but nobody could tell us what it is.

Along the towpath following the canal, I took some photos:

IL_tree_flowers   IL_tree_bark

We asked nearly everyone we met: the proprietors of the Nodding Onion, where we were eating nearly every day. Sharon told us Chef Kevin had heard three different names for the tree but until he could verify which one is correct, he wasn’t going to add to the confusion.

We thought the women at the LaSalle County Historical Museum would know. They knew so much about the area, after all. They didn’t know. True researchers, they started calling everyone they could think of — local naturalists. Lifelong residents. The area greenhouse. The promised us they’d have an answer before we left town. We threatened to stick our hands back in the donation box and retrieve the bills we’d stuck in there if they didn’t (we were kidding, of course).

Three days later, they still shrugged when we stopped back in to find out what they’d learned. Last we heard, they were still asking.

Ellen went online to see if she could find an answer. The two closest possibilities included the wisteria, which she ruled out because it’s a vine rather than a tree, and the Kentucky Yellowwood. The latter seems a great possibility, and the flowers and bark look very similar, but if it is this tree, the Illinois folks ought to treasure those trees more than they seem to, because the information we found says they’re endangered.

How much about the trees in your town do you know? What if someone visiting from somewhere else asked you what the tree is that blooms in the village square or along the residential streets or in the city park? Would you know?

Any chance you know what tree this is, so Ellen can stop tossing and turning all night worrying about it?

About Ellen

Fiction writer and photographer, I travel the country with my sweetheart of a husband as a "full-time RVer."
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