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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
June 21, 2018

“Plan your Chicago nature adventure with Chicago nature info and news
to help you discover the region’s finest natural wonders.”

 

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From April to September, there are non-stop shows at the best of Chicagoland nature preserves.  If you have a chance to visit the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum at Chicago, in the permanent exhibition at the 2nd floor, you will find hundreds of years ago, Chicagoland was mostly covered by the beautiful prairie and woodland, which was mentioned in numerous books that were published hundreds of years ago.  Now 99.9% of those beautiful lands were replaced by agricultural fields and cities.  Many of the 0.1% that were left have been protected and restored by conscious volunteers and nature lovers so that we, our children, and our children’s children can see how beautiful Chicagoland nature looks like thousands of years ago.  What we are trying to bring to you here is the weekly update on best places to visit from the good quality preserves.  It does take some time and learning, and even luck, for someone to develop the connection with fine nature.  I ensure you the journey is well worth it. 

When visiting the preserves, please be conscious of all the precious and tender plants by staying on the trail.  It took years of many volunteers’ effort to restore the area.  We need to be respectful of their works and nature itself.  Note that these good quality preserves are not like the typical parks.  The trails are mostly narrow (most time just for one person to walk on) so that there is little human impact on the land.  As you cannot avoid bugs outdoor in the tall grass in the summer, I recommend wearing long pant and socks or using insect repellent.   

 

Here’s what’s happening in Chicago nature:

This week, the preserves with the best blooms are Belmont PrairieBluff Spring Fenand Somme Prairie Grove. The first two preserves offer impressive displays of pale purple coneflower among other fascinating blooms, while the latter has many plants in flowers. The miraculous species called spiderwort is still blooming, but you will only find them blooming in the morning. By the afternoon, the flowers will have melted into a purple liquid! Learn more here. The kooky grass of the week is porcupine grass. Its long needle-like seed drills itself into the soil at a speed that you can actually watch. See my blog post and video. And then there’s  foxglove beardtongue. In fall, it’s seed smells exactly, and I mean “exactly,” like vomit! See my video below. Now, read on to learn where to find these three miracles of Chicago nature.

 

HIGHLIGHTS

Belmont Prairie is offering a dramatic show of pale purple coneflowerporcupine grass, and scurfy pea, and beautiful orange blossoms of butterfly weed.

Bluff Spring Fen is featuring pale purple coneflowerfoxglove beardtongue, and the beginnings of common milkweedleadplant and possibly butterfly weedprairie coreopsis.

Somme Prairie Grove has many flowers in bloom, including tuberous (or prairie) Indian plantain, purple milkweed, prairie sundrop, white wild indigo, butterfly weed, and more. Leadplant is just starting and, next week, will be putting on a spectacular show.

Spears Woods used to offer displays of foxglove beardtongue throughout the prairies in the past years.  We did not get a chance to scout the area this week.  Please let us know what you find if you visit by leaving comments at the bottom of the blog post.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie has a good display of pale purple coneflower and spiderwort just outside the fence, leadplant is just starting to flower.

 

PLAN YOUR CHICAGO NATURE TRIP THIS WEEKEND

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove: Experience the beautiful symphony of color and texture, this week, at this intimate remnant prairie that’s nestled within a quiet neighborhood of Downers Grove.  There is a grand display of pale purple coneflower, and supported by a cast of scurfy pea, butterfly milkweed, and porcupine grass. Spiderwort is fading fast, but can still be found flowering in the during the morning hours. However, as the day warms, the flowers shrivel and turn to liquid.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Your walk begins in the intimate oak savanna under the warm embrace and protection of majestic oaks. Soon, the trails emerge into the open prairie, where you’ll find foxglove beardtongue and large shows of pale purple coneflower. Porcupine grass can also be found here, as well as the milkweeds of orange butterfly weed and purplish common milkweed. As you walk deeper into the preserve, notice the grand emergence of leadplant on the southeast kame and possibly prairie coreopsis on the northeast kame. Next week, they will be fabulous!

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: There are so many different species of colorful flowers in bloom, right now. It’s like taking a fun course in biology. One of my favorite prairie plants is tuberous (or prairie) Indian plantain, which you can find soon after walking in. Along the way, you’ll also find another lovely plant—the yellow prairie sundrop.  Foxglove beardtongue can be found, especially in the northwest corner of the preserve. On your way there, you’ll see a smattering of other blooming flowers, like white wild indigo. Then, there’s leadplant, which is getting ready to bloom.  There are many other special species in bloom.  To name a few: meadow parsnip, thicket parsley, Downy phlox, Pale Spike Lobelia, Veined Pea, Gray dogwood.  Most of of the species are not in large coverage, but it is really fun to find them in the preserve.

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins: The show is on the east side of the preserve where there is a rare dolomite limestone prairie.  Lovely pale purple coneflower can be found here.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs was not scouted this week.  Foxglove beardtongue used to bloom across the prairies around this time.  While you’re there, don’t forget to find your way to Hogwash Slough. Click here to visit the Spears Woods page to find the GPS coordinates for the prairie and the slough.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie is a nice place to visit, this week, if you’re in the neighborhood, which happens to be pretty close to Bluff Spring Fen.  This week, there is not much going on within the preserve, but just outside the fence, there is good display of pale purple coneflower and spiderwort on the slope, leadplant and black-eyed Susan will join the show pretty soon.

Miller Woods (Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore) in Gary, Indiana was not scouted this week.  We still need at least a dozen more volunteer scouts. Please help us scout.

Experience Porcupine Grass at these preserves: Belmont Prairie, the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature PreserveShoe Factory Road Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, and Powderhorn Prairie.

 

COMING NEXT WEEK: Leadplant, Prairie Coreopsis, different kinds of Milkweeds

 

PHOTO SECTION

Pale Purple Coneflower & Foxglove Beardtongue

Watch this video from about this time a few years ago at Bluff Spring Fen:

 

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.*

 

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 in many of Chicago’s prairies.*

Miraculous Spiderwort with Flowers that Melt!

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

Spiderwort in the morning light at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove and at every savanna and prairie that we feature. A flower will open up in the morning and then melt in just a few hours. So, the morning is the time to see the flowers in bloom. Learn more here.

Miraculous Porcupine Grass and Its Spinning Seed!

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. See my video here.

 

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

 

Butterfly milkweed (or butterfly weed) blooms in the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

Butterfly milkweed (or butterfly weed) can bloom in several of Chicagoland’s prairies and savannas around this time, including Bluff Spring Fen, Belmont Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, and, here, at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion.*

 

Near the Lake Michigan shore, the low light of morning revealed shapes in the sand that chronicled the secrets of time and affirmed the existence of wondrous creatures and invisible forces.*

Near the Lake Michigan shore at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, the low light of morning revealed shapes in the sand that chronicled the secrets of time and affirmed the existence of wondrous creatures and invisible forces.*

 

A common snapping turle trudges through the sandy Lake Michigan shoreline on its way to the Dead River at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

 

The Dead River, at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, is the only remaining river in Illinois that flows into Lake Michigan. The name comes either from deep pools of quicksand hidden along the banks that devour unsuspecting hikers or from water that remains still and barely flows. On this sapphire morning, the latter was true.*

The Dead River, at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, is the only remaining river in Illinois that flows into Lake Michigan. The name comes either from deep pools of quicksand hidden along the banks that devour unsuspecting hikers or from water that remains still and barely flows. On this sapphire morning, the latter was true.*

 

 

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.*

 

Belmont Prairie

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.*

Bluff Spring Fen

Soon after entering Bluff Spring Fen, you’ll find yourself in an intimate oak savanna, where majestic bur oaks with outstretched limbs protect you in their nurturing embrace.*

Soon after entering Bluff Spring Fen, you’ll find yourself in an intimate oak savanna, where majestic bur oaks with outstretched limbs protect you in their nurturing embrace.*

 

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.*

 

At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois, pearl blossoms of foxglove beardtongue catch the morning rays and a new day awakens—one as splendid and picturesque as any place on Earth.*

This year, foxglove beardtongue is not as prolific at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin. Their pearl blossoms catch the morning rays and a new day awakens—one as splendid and picturesque as any place on Earth.*

Spears Woods

The spring prairie at Spears Woods provides a show of foxglove beardtongue.*

The late-spring prairie at Spears Woods provides displays of foxglove beardtongue.*

 

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

 

SCOUTING NEEDS for my  next report on Thursday, June 28 (in rough order of urgency):

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, Zeke

 

© 2018, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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