Pat Armstrong – Shooting Star

Submitted By Wild Ones Greater Dupage Chapter

Patricia (Pat) Armstrong has been a major contributor to the restoration, protection, and understanding of the Midwest’s natural heritage for over fifty years. Throughout her life she has served as an educator, environmentalist, ecologist, scholar, researcher, artist, photographer, field biologist, restoration expert, consultant, writer, entrepreneur, and innovator.

Upon completion of her education (B.A. in Biology and English at North Central College and M.S. in Biology and Ecology from the University of Chicago), Pat has dedicated much of her time to educating others. She has taught in public schools, colleges, universities, nature centers, arboreta, and lectured for gardening clubs, non-profit organizations, and seminars. As a participant in the Juneau Icefield Research Program she was Michigan State University’s first female instructor.

Her published works include four books, many scientific papers, and numerous popular articles. Pat has trained hundreds of prairie-restoration and management professionals, and has led several expeditions to remote areas throughout the world to help others appreciate wilderness.

Pat’s expertise and extensive knowledge of native plants, their habitats, ecological importance, and other valuable data, range from the tiniest of mosses and lichens, to the largest of trees. She is an expert in prairie and woodland ecosystems, with over forty years of experience in management and restoration. As a consultant for Illinois’ DuPage County Forest Preserve she has spent many long hours surveying rare and endangered habitats, and her work has helped save many remnants from destruction. Despite all her responsibilities, Pat is always willing to take the time to answer questions, making her one of our area’s most valuable assets. Her wealth of knowledge and her willingness to share this knowledge with all age levels has earned her great respect and admiration from all who know her. Although her botanical knowledge seems exhaustive, she continues to take notes at every meeting and lecture, always curious to learn more.

Pat started her own business, Prairie Sun Consultants, in 1985, and later co-founded the Wild Ones Greater DuPage (IL) Chapter in 1992, the first chapter in Illinois. She is the backbone of this chapter, and her Wild Ones contributions include serving as our chapter president (for ten years), the chapter board, national board, and many other duties. Most importantly, she was the inspiration for many of us to become Wild Ones members. In addition to her Wild Ones contributions she is a lifetime member, valuable contributor, and past president of the Illinois Native Plant Society, and a distinguished member of the DuPage County Environmental Commission, which provides environmental guidelines for residents and businesses.

It seems that nature has been incorporated into every aspect of Pat’s life. She is an award-winning nature photographer, and many of her photographs have been published. Her botanical line drawings and note cards are sold in art galleries, while her poetry, stories, and presentations, express a profound insight into, and respect for nature. She is also an accomplished mountain climber, and was probably the first woman to solo-climb Mexico’s four highest mountains.

Living what she teaches, Pat, along with her husband Chuck, built a passive-solar, highly energy-efficient home, and planted their entire yard as a prairie in the middle of the Chicago suburbs in 1983. Pat will even take the time to relocate insect egg cases she finds in her prairie before burning. A few years ago, Pat and Chuck added solar panels, and broke new ground by planting a prairie on a steeply pitched roof in only 4 inches of soil. Pat also wrote the Wild Plant Family Cookbook, a book on cooking with wild edibles. Many of us have enjoyed her sumac tea.

Her deep love of the natural world has amazed, captivated, motivated, and inspired all those who know her. One Wild Ones member recalls, “I watched her as she would throw her arms unabashedly around a tree with sheer joy and admiration, and in the next moment she could shed a tear over a lost species of flower that she remembered from her childhood.”

As for our local chapter, we have all benefited from knowing Pat, and she is our hero. The natural-landscape movement in both Illinois and the Midwest has gained much from her contributions, and she has helped many to appreciate the beauty of native plants, the wonders of nature living outside our doors, and a landscape that truly belongs.