Chicago Nature Now! Alert
August 16, 2018
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This week, the magnificent towering blooms of prairie dock will take your breath away. And the same is true for the low-lying button blooms of cylindrical blazingstar, which has the deepest root of any prairie plant. (See how deep it goes in the illustration near the bottom of the post.) The tall and fluffy sweet Joe-Pye weed and golden rays of woodland sunflower can be found in many woodlands and savannas. And, big bluestem and Indian grass are in full flower, but you’ll have to look closely at their top tassels. Also, the majestic American lotus continues to bloom at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs. And, finally, the flamboyant rough blazing star are just starting their spectacular three-week run.
NOTE: Prairies are wet in the morning, so wear rain gear to avoid being drenched in dew.
Here’s are some of the highlights of what’s happening in Chicago nature:
This is a wonderful week for Chicago’s wildflowers. Wolf Road Prairie and Lake in the Hills Fen are passionate with prairie dock. Shoe Factory Road Prairie and Bluff Spring Fen are insane with cylindrical blazingstar. The woodland of Somme Prairie Grove is wild with sweet Joe-Pye weed (and other flowers). And Illinois Beach Nature Preserve and Pembroke Savanna are fantastic with flowering spurge.
Prairie dock and compass plant are displaying their golden sunflowers upon tall stalks that can easily reach ten feet high. When growing in a group, they look like forests. See these dreamy prairie forests at Wolf Road Prairie, Belmont Prairie, Fermilab Prairie, Kickapoo Prairie, Lake in the Hills Fen, and Springbrook Prairie. In most preserves,
PLAN YOUR CHICAGO OUTDOOR ADVENTURE THIS WEEKEND
THIS WEEK’S TOP PRESERVES:
Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much prairie dock in one place. As you enter the oak savanna from the 31st Street trail head you’ll pass through a beautiful expanse of woodland sunflower and sweet Joe-Pye weed. In the prairie, you’ll find towering stalks of prairie dock. Look around for the tallest prairie dock plant. I found at nine-footer! Many other flowers are part of the prairie mix, as well, including flowering spurge, rosinweed, compass plant, and early goldenrod.
Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: The woodland surrounding the preserve is gorgeous, featuring a grand display of woodland sunflower, brown-eyed Susan, ironweed, and sweet Joe-Pye weed. Under the sun. peruse the panoply of prairie plants, including early goldenrod, prairie dock, flowering spurge, and prairie dropseed. The long hairlike leaves of dropseed are turning yellow, making a beautiful combination of color and texture against the sprays of brown seed heads of prairie clover. The plumes of prairie dropseed smell like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. Flowers are beginning to appear on obedient plant, rough blazing star, and the lovely, understated round-headed bush clover.
Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: The show of cylindrical blazingstar is glorious, together with western sunflower, flowering spurge, nodding wild onion, and the emerging blooms of obedient plant and rough blazing star. Note: Bluff Spring Fen is located nearby.
Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: The cylindrical blazing star is fantastic atop the large kame (take the out-and-back trail) and on either side of the switchback trail of the “switchback” kame. Under the oak canopy, you’ll find towering sweet Joe-Pye weed and the aptly named bottlebrush grass. Located at the moist base of the opening kames, golden sunflowers grow atop tall stalks of cutleaf coneflower, cup plant, and wingstem. And, under the open sky, you’ll find the flower of the week, cylindrical blazingstar. Other sun-loving flowers of mention are flowering spurge, spotted Joe-Pye weed, swamp milkweed, compass plant, and shrubby cinquefoil. Note: Shoe Factory Road Prairie is located nearby.
Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion: A large show of flowering spurge is blooming in the savanna, along with large false foxglove and western sunflower. Rough blazing star is just starting to flower, which will keep this preserve on our list for weeks to come. And, in the sand prairie, look for cylindrical blazing star.
Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park: Visit to experience a landscape covered with flowering spurge and partridge pea. And rough blazing star is just starting to bloom and will only get better in the coming weeks.
Sagawau Canyon in Lemont: Note: This nature center is only open from 9 am to 4 pm. Under the trees, you’ll find woodland sunflower, brown-eyed Susan, sweet Joe-Pye weed , and American bellflower. And, in the prairie, there’s a late display of prairie blazing star that’s at the end of its bloom. The nature center offers canyon tours and a hummingbird watch. Call (630) 257-2045 to schedule a tour of the fern-lined canyon.
Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills: Forests of prairie dock can be found along the far southern trail. And on the northern trail, there’s a hillside covered with early goldenrod. The pink plumes of spotted Joe-Pye weed is prominent in the wet areas, and tall boneset is beginning its ivory bloom on the brae of several kames. And rough blazing star is just beginning to flower.
Spears Woods in Willow Springs: Visit for the woodland of fluffy sweet Joe-Pye weed and woodland sunflower that surround Hogwash Slough, my favorite Chicago wetland. And check out Boomerang Slough for swamp rose mallow along the bank. A hike through the prairie will provide you with a diverse display of wildflowers, including ironweed, prairie dock, mountain mint, flowering spurge, compass plant, and early goldenrod.
RATED “GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”:
Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove: Rough blazing star is starting to bloom. You’ll also find the rare and sublime cream gentian alongside prairie dock, compass plant, flowering spurge, and pasture thistle.
Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins: Many flower species can be found, but many are beyond their peak blooms. However, the grasses will help make up for the lack of color. Big bluestem is blooming and Indian grass is just starting to flower. Little bluestem is turning red. Switch grass, Canada wild rye, and prairie dropseed provide rich texture. And rough blazing star is beginning to flower in the dolomite prairie on the eastern half of the preserve.
Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds!
The hummingbirds are here! You can find them buzzing about at many nature centers including: Sagawau Canyon, Pilcher 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 Summer 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 summer eve.
Somme Prairie Grove
Illinois Beach Nature Preserve
Shoe Factory Road Prairie
Bluff Spring Fen
Lake in the Hills Fen
American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough
Large False Foxglove
Big Bluestem Grass
Prairie Dock & Compass Plant
Swamp Rose Mallow
Ferns & Canyon Tours
Sultry Summer Sunsets Over Saganashkee Slough (That’s a mouthful!)
Prairie Root System
* 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.
© 2018, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.