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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 20, 2018

“Plan the best Chicago wildflower walks with this Chicago nature report
filled with news and info about the region’s finest natural wonders.”

 

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Here are some highlights to help you plan your Chicago autumn adventure during the Season of Gold:

Chicago’s season of gold continues as fall colors become apparent. Fading yellow blooms are joined by the flavescent foliage of plants that have long ago dropped their petals. Last week, giant sawtooth sunflower reigned supreme across the region. This week, their blooms are at thirty percent. Towering waves of red-stemmed grasses dance in the prairie winds, and big bluestem and Indian grass display their tasseled tops. And, finally, the sublime blues of bottle gentian, prairie gentian, and fringed gentian can be found at preserves like Belmont Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Bluff Spring FenPowderhorn Prairie, Lake in the Hills Fen, and Chiwaukee Prairie. However, we have reached the end of the blooming season and next week will be the time when a visit to any preserve on my list will bring some sort of autumn color, whether it be from the glorious, yet underappreciated, withering prairie plants or the foliage in the woodland canopy.

The blooms of skyward sawtooth sunflower are still blooming at Wolf Road Prairie and Spears Woods. This sensational flower can be appreciated at other many preserves like Belmont PrairieFermilab Prairie, Gensburg-Markham PrairieKickapoo Prairie, Lake in the Hills Fen, Somme Prairie Grove, and Springbrook Prairie. Northbrook’s Somme Prairie Grove offers many flowers in bloom, including many of the gentians. And the September panorama at Lake in the Hills Fen is breathtaking. This is also a time to watch hummingbirds, dance with the acrobatic ferns, and attend a canyon tour. Yes, there’s a canyon in Lemont! The season’s blooms are ending, but because the newfound color of withering foliage can be as beautiful as the flowers themselves.

NOTE: Prairies are wet in the morning, so wear rain gear to avoid being drenched in dew.

 

 

PLAN YOUR CHICAGO OUTDOOR ADVENTURE THIS WEEKEND

Before visiting any preserve on our list, click to visit its web page on our website for directions, access to the trails, etc. 

THIS WEEK’S TOP PRESERVES:

Spears Woods in Willow Springs: With its the rolling terrain and varied habitats, Spears Woods is the probably the most beautiful preserve in the region. And, if you visit now, you’ll see why. Wow! The golden flowers are remarkable, with panoramas of sawtooth sunflowerlong-bracted tickseed sunflower, and sprinklings of goldenrod. (See Spears Woods page for GPS coordinates to the prairie trail head.). You also be welcomed by the tall, elegant big bluestem and Indian grass that provides tones of auburn and brown. And pearly stands of false aster can be found where the ground gets wet. Spears Woods is the most beautiful preserve in the region.

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills: September is my favorite time to visit. The light is softer, the days are usually cooler, and the panoramic view of this expansive preserve will make you feel like you’ve gone back in time. The preserve is gorgeous with the warm tones of autumn in the waving grasses along with the golds of omnipresent sawtooth sunflower and various species of goldenrod. Alabaster blooms of tall boneset can be found on the kames. And populations of purples include silky aster in the gravelly spots and the sublime fringed gentian and bottle gentian near the fens’ soggy seeps. This preserve is easily accessible with ample parking and wide lawn paths.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: There’s a great variety of flowers in bloom throughout the preserve. Many of them are yellow, most notably the remaining blooms sawtooth sunflower. Along your way, you’ll find asters of all sorts, including the sky blue aster, Look for the gentians, too: the gorgeous bottle gentian, fringed gentian, and prairie gentian. As is common during the late-summer months, you’ll travel through tunnels of big bluestem grass and Indian grass. When the first settlers travelling from the forests of the east, the towering grasses of Illinois would have been a unexpected obstacle. The long hairlike leaves of dropseed are now flavescent with plumes that smell like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. Before  the Somme Prairie Grove web page for how to access this preserve.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: Come for the spectacular golden show of skyward sawtooth sunflower. As you wander the trails, look for the tallest flowers. There are some twelve-footers out there! Many other flowers are part of the prairie mix, as well, including various goldenrods, various blooms of aster, and the occasional gentian.

 

RATED “GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”:

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins: Visit to find various goldenrods, and hypnotic waves of tall grasses, like the tall tasseled Indian grass and big bluestem. Note: Spears Woods is just down the road.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: Visit for the goldenrods and then take a walk through the large prairie outside the fence, where you’ll find expanses of tall grasses, goldenrods, and sawtooth sunflower.

 

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS:

Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds!
The hummingbirds are still here! You can find them buzzing about at many nature centers including: Sagawau CanyonPilcher Park (at the nature center and south of the greenhouse), and Little Red Schoolhouse.

Ferns & Canyon Tours
Cowles Bog Trail
Miller Woods, Tolleston Dunes, and Hoosier Prairie (all in northwestern Indiana) are leaping with gymnastic ferns that are beginning to change into their autumn colors. If you’d like to experience a beautiful fern-lined canyon, call Sagawau Canyon in Lemont, Illinois to sign up for their next canyon tour. Hurry! They fill up fast.

See a September Sunset
Saganashkee Slough
in Palos Hills: Sensational for sunsets, as our celestial star—a bright, burning brass ball—slowly sinks in the sky to start a sultry September eve.

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 Lake in the Hills Fen

This expansive landscape features showy goldenrod as it glows in the morning light at Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills, Illinois.

The expansive landscape at Lake in the Hills Fen is a wonderful sight to behold, especially during the months of September and October.*

 

Sawtooth Sunflower

Sawtooth sunflowers bloom in fields of towering, endless gold in one of the last dramatic displays of the summer season at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

In September, at many prairies across the Chicago region, sawtooth sunflower blooms in towering fields of gold, like here at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

 

Bottle Gentian

Blue bottle gentians survive under the shadow of the dense September prairie, where plants, like this sawtooth sunflower, can tower twelve feet into the air.*

Blue bottle gentians survive under the shadow of the dense September prairie, where plants, like this sawtooth sunflower, can tower twelve feet into the air.*

 

Bottle gentian (or closed gentian) is fully dependent on bumblebees for its survival. The petals of this unusual flower are effectively closed to other insects, but the strong bumblebee is able to muscle its way in through the tip. Late in the season, when fewer plants are blooming, bottle gentian relies on the slim pickings for pollination, hoping bumblebees won’t mind the extra effort.*

Bottle gentian (or closed gentian) is fully dependent on bumblebees for its survival. The petals of this unusual flower are effectively closed to other insects, but the strong bumblebee is able to muscle its way in through the tip. Late in the season, when fewer plants are blooming, bottle gentian relies on the slim pickings for pollination, hoping bumblebees won’t mind the extra effort.*

 

When I first set eyes upon these fading blooms of bottle gentian, I was taken aback, struck by an arrow through my heart. Instantly, I fell in love with the prettiest flowers I had ever seen. Maybe I was just having one of those days, but I was close to tears.*

These are not flowers that fill the landscape, but they are sublime. Look closely and you’ll find them at Lake in the Hills FenWolf Road PrairieSomme Prairie Grove, Powderhorn Prairie, and Belmont Prairie. When I first set eyes upon these fading blooms of bottle gentian, I was taken aback, struck by an arrow through my heart. Instantly, I fell in love with the prettiest flowers I had ever seen. Maybe I was just having one of those days, but I was close to tears.*

Fringed Gentian

Gorgeous fringed gentians bloom in September. However, the flowers are diurnal, meaning that the the blooms only open up with the sun and are closed at night and, sometimes, on cloudy days.*

Gorgeous fringed gentians bloom in September. However, the flowers are diurnal, meaning that the the blooms only open up with the sun and are closed at night and, sometimes, on cloudy days. You can find them at preserves like Bluff Spring Fen, Chiwaukee Prairie, and Lake in the Hills Fen.*

 

Asters Mark the End of the Blooming Season

New England asters

Asters come in a variety of colors: white, pink, purple, and blue. The name comes from an Ancient Greek word for “star.” You can find them in most prairies and savannas, and in some wetlands around the region. This is an image of New England aster, which is just one of the many species of aster that bloom at this time of year.*

 

Big Bluestem Grass and the Tallgrass Prairie

Big bluestem grass gives the true meaning to the term "tallgrass prairie."*

Here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, big bluestem grass gives true meaning to the term “tallgrass prairie.” Find big bluestem at Belmont PrairieSomme Prairie GroveShoe Factory Road PrairieWolf Road PrairieFermilab PrairieGensburg Markham PrairieKickapoo Woods and PrairieSpears WoodsTheodore Stone Preserve, and other local prairies over the next several weeks.*

 

Ferns & Canyon Tours

My favorite part of Hoosier Prairie State Nature Preserve is the trail that winds beneath the black oaks of the savanna. Here, ferns begin to don the colors of autumn.*

 

At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, acrobatic cinnamon ferns take hold in the soggy ground of Cowles Bog, which is not a bog at all but, rather, a wetland known as a fen.*

At Cowles Bog in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the change to autumn colors begin with the ferns. Here, acrobatic cinnamon ferns take hold in the soggy ground of Cowles Bog, which is not a bog at all but, rather, a wetland known as a fen.*

 

Lush ferns line the walls of Sagawau Canyon in Lemont, Illinois.

Lush ferns line the walls of Sagawau Canyon in Lemont, Illinois. But you can only see it if you sign up for their upcoming canyon tours. Register soon. They fill up quickly.*

 

Sunsets Over Saganashkee Slough

A great blue heron takes flight as the sun sets over Saganashkee Slough in Palos Hills, Illinois

A great blue heron takes flight as the sun sets over Saganashkee Slough in Palos Hills, Illinois.

 

* Photo is representational and was not recorded this year. Bloom times vary from year to year.

 

If you’d like to help your neighbors discover national-park quality natural events around our homes, then become an official scout. Or, you can help by just sending us pictures and a text description from your visit. Another way is to post your pictures to Instagram using these essential hashtags: #ChicagoNatureNow and #NameOfPreserve.

Do you find this website useful? Do you benefit from our many hours of weekly scouting? Then please help keep it going by donating or purchasing my nationally-acclaimed book.

—Mike

 

© 2018, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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