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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
June 14, 2018

“Plan the best Chicago nature walks and outdoor getaways with Chicago nature news and info that helps you discover the region’s finest natural wonders.”

 

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This week’s highlights to help you plan a Chicago outdoor adventure or nature walk this weekend:

Before I begin, one of my intrepid scouts, Zeke, will be taking over the blogging duties for the next two weeks while I’m on vacation. Please make Zeke feel welcome! I’m going to Rocky Mountain National Park which is home to 923 native plant species. That’s far fewer than the 1,706 species that live happily in the Chicago region. And, in terms of land area, the sum of Chicago’s protected natural areas is slightly larger in size. (Learn more here.)  But I’ll have a good time, anyway!

The event of the week is taking place at Bluff Spring Fen, where pale purple coneflower and foxglove beardtongue are making a splash. The pale purple coneflowers are also looking good at Belmont Prairie, where they mix with blues of scurfy pea and spiderwort, and the texture of porcupine grass (the plant of the week). Spiderwort is another fun plant with blue or purple flowers that melt in the heat of day. So, get there before noon or you’ll miss it. See my story about spiderwort.

 

WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A CHICAGO OUTDOOR GETAWAY OR NATURE WALK:

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove: A beautiful symphony of color and texture this week at this intimate remnant prairie nestled within a quiet neighborhood of Downers Grove. Playing the starring role is pale purple coneflower, and supported by a cast of scurfy peaporcupine grass and spiderwort. Spiderwort blooms in large numbers during the morning hours. However, as the day warms, the flowers shrivel and turn to liquid.

Bluff Spring Fen is beginning a show of foxglove beardtongue and pale purple coneflower.

Fermilab Prairie in Batavia is recommended, but only if you visit in the morning. That’s because the flower of Ohio spiderwort has melted by the afternoon. You will also find nice displays of white wild indigo aside the big leaves of prairie dock and compass plant.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion is always a great preserve to visit. Normally, the sand coreopsis is blooming like crazy, right now. But for some reason, it decided not to put on a show this year. Other plants that are flowering there are hairy puccoondowny phlox, pasture rose, sandwort, spiderwort, and New Jersey tea.

Miller Woods was not scouted this week, but it’s always a great place with some nice blooms and long trails for a nice nature walk. And while you’re there, make your way to over to Tolleston Dunes and West Beach.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester is offering a nice display of spiderwort, but get there early before they melt.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook is rated as “Go, if you’re in the neighborhood.” It’s a peaceful place with many different flowers to experience.

 

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK: PORCUPINE GRASS

You can find this porcupine grass at Belmont Prairie, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Bluff Spring Fen, and Powderhorn Marsh & Prairie.

Porcupine grass (Hesperostipa spartea, previously known as Stipa spartea, for anyone who cares) is a particularly fun and interesting plant because of its fascinating seed. The common name refers to its long needles, which apparently resemble the spines of a porcupine, though I think the needle-like fruit best resembles a six- to seven-inch spear. The seed head represents the blade, and the long shaft is known as the awn. As the javelin-shaped fruit falls from the plant, the heavy seed head leads the way and embeds its sharp tip into the soil. As the awn dries, it twirls counter-clockwise until the shaft becomes so tightly wound that the implanted seed head begins to drill into the ground. Humidity and moisture have the opposite effect on the awn, causing it to uncoil, allowing rain or heavy dew to straighten it out. As the awn unwinds, the seed is left in place. The drilling process resumes when the environment dries out, and the cycle repeats until the seed is deposited as far as three to four inches beneath the surface, where the awn decays and the grain germinates. Seeds of porcupine grass can’t help but drill, so much so that they’ve been known to cause fatal wounds in animals. Hence, trust me when I tell you that putting them in your pocket is a big mistake.

The seeds of porcupine grass are long sharp needles that fall off the plant and slowly drill themselves into the soil.

Watch this video to see porcupine grass drill itself into the soil as you watch!


 CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT PORCUPINE GRASS.

 

PHOTO SECTION

Pale Purple Coneflower & Foxglove Beardtongue

In addition to experiencing the prairie as a whole, take a closer look and discover the many attractions that hide in plain sight. Here, within a scene of a thousand coneflowers, I attended a iniature, slow-motion rodeo that was taking place upon one prickly flower head. I watched as a tiny ant rode the back of a slinking inchworm.*

In addition to experiencing the prairie as a whole, take a closer look and discover the many attractions that hide in plain sight. Here, within a scene of a thousand coneflowers, I attended a iniature, slow-motion rodeo that was taking place upon one prickly flower head. I watched as a tiny ant rode the back of a slinking inchworm.*

 

Belmont prairie is special because it is home to an unusually high number of blooming wildflowers and fascinating plant species. During the month of June, this remnant prairie puts on a most impressive floral display: the celebration of the pale purple coneflower.Mixed amongst the coneflowers, the bright-colored grasses crisscrossing the center of the frame are porcupine grass. Its long spear-like seeds miraculously drill themselves into the earth in a counter-clockwise motion that you can actually watch.*

Belmont prairie is special because it is home to an unusually high number of blooming wildflowers and fascinating plant species. During the month of June, this remnant prairie puts on a most impressive floral display: the celebration of the pale purple coneflower. Mixed amongst the coneflowers, the bright-colored grasses crisscrossing the center of the frame are porcupine grass. Its long spear-like seeds miraculously drill themselves into the earth in a counter-clockwise motion that you can actually watch.*

 

Pale purple coneflowers rise above the prairie at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Pale purple coneflowers rise above the prairie at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

 

The predawn clouds take on the colors of the pale purple coneflowers at this dolomite limestone prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois.*

The predawn clouds take on the colors of the pale purple coneflowers at this dolomite limestone prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois.*

 

In June, foxglove beardtongue blooms in profusion at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

In June, foxglove beardtongue blooms in profusion at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Sand Coreopsis at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

In a celebration of life, blooms of sand coreopsis spread with golden joy along the banks of the Dead River at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

In a celebration of life, blooms of sand coreopsis spread with golden joy along the banks of the Dead River at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

 

Pasture Rose at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve & Bluff Spring Fen

Pasture Rose in the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. The fragrance of pasture rose is transcendent—a spiritual experience. Over several weeks in late spring, it blooms barely inches from the ground. During that time, whenever we’re together, I partake in a sacred ritual. I drop to my knees and bow in reverence, nose to petal.*

The fragrance of pasture rose is transcendent—a spiritual experience. Over several weeks in late spring, it blooms barely inches from the ground. During that time, whenever we’re together, I partake in a sacred ritual. I drop to my knees and bow in reverence, nose to petal.*

Spiderwort

Ohio spiderwort in the morning light at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois.

Ohio spiderwort comes to life in the morning light, but soon fades to a liquid in the heat of the day. To see this remarkable plant in bloom, you must visit in the morning hours. If you show up late in the day, you’ll find buds with purple liquid inside. Read more about spiderwort by clicking here.

The Wonderfully Large Leaves of Compass Plant & Prairie Dock

These are the large leaves of the prairie's most iconic plants. The heart-shaped leaf is that of prairie dock, and the long-lobed leaf is from a cousin called compass plant.

These are the large leaves of the prairie’s most iconic plants. The heart-shaped leaf is that of prairie dock, and the long-lobed leaf is from a cousin called compass plant.

Deer Fawns

Mother white-tailed deer and her fawn at Miller Woods Nature Preserve, part of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Gary, Indiana.

This is the time of year to spot deer fawns. I’ve already seen two. Just recently, I made this shot at Miller Woods Nature Preserve. This week, I saw a mother and her fawn at Fermilab Prairie.

 

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

 

If you find this website of Chicago nature information useful, please consider donating or purchasing my nationally-acclaimed book that celebrates all of the preserves featured on this website.

—Mike

 

© 2018, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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