Natural history

Natural history classes

Expand your mind among the unfolding colors, sights and sounds at The Morton Arboretum! Join expert instructors and other nature enthusiasts to learn to identify flowers, migratory birds, explore habitats, and discover wetland animals and ecology.

While we do still offer classes in this certificate, as of June 2014, we are not accepting new enrollments in the Naturalist Certificate program. If there are specific subjects you are interested in, please check out the current classes in this program to see if there is an offering that is right for you.


Naturalist certificate

During classroom study and field experience, you will:

  • Gain an understanding of the ecology and biodiversity of northern Illinois
  • Develop your ability to explore, investigate, and interpret the natural world
  • Share your curiosity about how the world works with people of similar interests
  • Meet regional professionals
  • Prepare to take conservation action

Program outline

The Naturalist Certificate has ten core courses and two track options: The Natural Areas track and Interpretive track. In the Natural Areas track, study northern Illinois habitats, plants, and animals, as well as the conservation and management of local habitats. In the Interpretive track, hone your ability to communicate your excitement about nature to others. Focus your study on individual areas of interest with forty-three contact hours of electives.


Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall Field Ecology
Study the ecology of Illinois and explore the relationships between plants, animals, and their environment. Explore the methods and techniques used to analyze, evaluate, and characterize ecological systems in the field. All four classes are required but are not sequential.
N011, N012, N013, N014. 12 hours. Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall

Winter and Spring Fauna
Explore the fascinating world of Illinois insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. Study life histories and behavior patterns and practice field identification. Both classes are required but are not sequential.
N237, N206. 12 or 15 hours. Winter, Spring

Spring, Summer, OR Fall Local Flora
Learn to recognize and identify native and introduced plants in our forests, prairies, and wetlands. Study plant characteristics, names, and habitat. Only one course in this series is required; the others are available for elective credit.
N315, N316, N317. 15 hours. Spring, Summer, Fall.

Conservation Biology
Examine the current concepts and challenging issues in conservation biology. We will emphasize an understanding of biodiversity as it relates to restoration ecology, habitat management, and endangered species preservation. Gain a deeper insight into the connections between local and global issues.
N200. 12 hours. Winter.

Introduction to Botany
Study life cycles, structures, and functions of plants. Class includes both lectures to introduce concepts and lab sessions in which you explore the science of plants.
N234. 18 hours. Fall, Winter.

Interpretation for Naturalists
Learn the techniques to skillfully interpret the natural world for others in ways that will capture the richness of nature and bring it to life for your audience. Help others find their own curiosity about the natural world.
N301. 12 hours. Winter, Summer.


Track courses may be taken as electives in the other track.

Tree Identification and Ecology (Natural Areas Track)
Deepen your understanding of the trees you see every day. You will examine 70 - 80 native and introduced trees, studying leaves, fruit, bark, and tree silhouettes to learn the skills to identify them while developing an understanding of their habitats and ecology.
N242. 16 hours. Summer, Fall.

Introduction to Natural Areas Management (Natural Areas Track)
Visit local prairies, savannas, woodlands, and wetlands to learn about the complexities facing land managers, and the innovative approaches they are applying to restoration and management.
N400. 12 hours. Summer, Fall.

The Curious Naturalist (Interpretive Track)
Share your love of nature with others! Sharing knowledge and skill is really about starting a conversation. Learn to start and manage engaging conversations with children and adults, helping them find their own curiosity about the natural world.
N305. 7 hours. Fall.

Nature Writing (Interpretive Track)
Whether you are writing a simple, two-sentence description of a tree, or an extended essay on the value of nature preserves, effective nature writing inspires as well as informs. Study and practice the basics of clear, concise prose and learn the features that distinguish effective nature writing.
N095. 12 hours. Fall.


Elective courses change from season to season, expanding the certificate with new information and responding to student evaluations and requests. Forty-three hours of enrichment courses are needed to complete the certificate. Elective courses will include classes, workshops, and seminars in the following topic areas and more:

  • Ecology, conservation, and land management of prairies, woodlands, and wetlands
  • Biodiversity studies of local plants, animals, insects, and more
  • Geological and glacial history of northern Illinois
  • Soil, vegetation, and water systems and dynamics
  • Climate and climate change
  • Interpreting and teaching ecological principles



Please contact the Registrars' Office at Registrar-ed@mortonarb.org or 630-719-2468 to enroll in the Naturalist Certificate Program.