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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 dockShoe 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 PrairieFermilab 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 spurgerosinweed, 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 goldenrodprairie 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 weedswamp milkweedcompass 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 dockmountain mintflowering spurgecompass 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 grassCanada 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.

 

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS:

Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds!
The hummingbirds are 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 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.

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Somme Prairie Grove

In 1985, this area was cast in total darkness, a dirt floor under an endless gray barrier of scraggly buckthorn. Now, after lots of love from volunteers, it is the edge of a woodland, well lit and teeming with tall flowers that reach for the sun.*

In 1985, this area was cast in total darkness, a dirt floor under an endless gray barrier of scraggly buckthorn. Now, after lots of love from volunteers, it is the edge of a woodland, well-lit and teeming with tall flowers that reach for the sun. Here, we can see an August celebration of woodland sunflower, brown-eyed Susan, sweet Joe-Pye weed, and ironweed.*

 

At Somme Prairie Grove, woodland sunflowers surround this majestic bur oak in the savanna.*

At Somme Prairie Grove, woodland sunflowers surround this majestic bur oak in the savanna.*

 

 

Pembroke Savanna

In August, the white blooms of flowering spurge erupts across the sand savanna at Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve in Hopkins Park, Illinois.*

In August, the white blooms of flowering spurge erupts across the sand savanna at Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve in Hopkins Park, Illinois.*

 

 

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

In late summer, early flowering spurge and purple rough blazing star blanket the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

In late summer, flowering spurge and purple rough blazing star blanket the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve *

 

At the end of this late-summer day, large false foxglove blooms across the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach State Park. You can also experience this plant at Bluff Spring Fen, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and Pembroke Savanna.*

At the end of this late-summer day, large false foxglove blooms across the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach State Park. You can also experience this plant at Bluff Spring Fen, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and Pembroke Savanna.*

Shoe Factory Road Prairie

Atop this hill prairie called Shoe Factory Road Prairie, obedient plant and Indian grass take in the view.*

Atop this hill prairie called Shoe Factory Road Prairie, obedient plant and Indian grass take in the view.* 

Spears Woods

In the open woodland at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, summer brings tall blooms of sweet Joe-Pye weed.*

In the open woodland at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, summer brings tall blooms of sweet Joe-Pye weed.*

Bluff Spring Fen

Soft sunlight, diffused by morning mist, filters across the preserve. Gathered at the base of the kame, fire-resistant bur oaks hover above a colorful caboodle of spotted Joe-Pye weed and tall goldenrod.*

Soft sunlight, diffused by morning mist, filters across the preserve. Gathered at the base of the kame, fire-resistant bur oaks hover above a colorful caboodle of spotted Joe-Pye weed and tall goldenrod.*

 

Lake in the Hills Fen

In August, a knee-high carpet of grass-leaved goldenrod sparkles in the midst of tall goldenrod and a soaring phalanx of prairie dock.

In August, a knee-high carpet of grass-leaved goldenrod sparkles in the midst of tall goldenrod and a soaring phalanx of prairie dock.

 

Cylindrical Blazingstar

In August, cylindrical Blazingstar blooms in the sand savanna at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.*

In August, cylindrical blazingstar blooms in the sand savanna at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. You can also find it Illinois Beach Nature Preserve and, in large numbers, at Shoe Factory Road Prairie and Bluff Spring Fen.*

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois.

 

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois teeming with American lotus.

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois is teeming with the grand American lotus. You can reach the wetland by first parking at the far end of the Pulaski Woods lot and then walking a short distance along the trails.

Large False Foxglove

In late summer, large false foxglove blooms in profusion in the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

In late summer, large false foxglove blooms in profusion in the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois. You call also experience this flower at Pembroke Savanna, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and in the savanna of Bluff Spring Fen.*

Big Bluestem Grass

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

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

 

Miniature flowers delicately hang from the tassel of big bluestem grass.*

Miniature flowers delicately hang from the tassel of big bluestem grass.*

 

 

Prairie Dock & Compass Plant

You can find prairie dock at Middlefork Savanna, an imaginative creation dreamt up by Mother Nature. Stretching at least twelve feet beneath the prairie is the taproot—the life, the energy source, and the heart of this plant. The root is also the artery, transporting cold water from deep below to nourish and cool the affection of heartshaped leaves, which are prone to shriveling under the summer sun.Where the root meets the air, a blood-red stalk takes over the job. Swerving towards the sky, the thick stem carries life to multiple golden flowers that may float as high as ten feet above the prairie. Here, the first flower has bloomed, while many ball-like buds are about to follow suit.

You can find prairie dock at Middlefork Savanna, an imaginative creation dreamt up by Mother Nature. Stretching at least twelve feet beneath the prairie is the taproot—the life, the energy source, and the heart of this plant. The root is also the artery, transporting cold water from deep below to nourish and cool the affection of heartshaped leaves, which are prone to shriveling under the summer sun.Where the root meets the air, a blood-red stalk takes over the job. Swerving towards the sky, the thick stem carries life to multiple golden flowers that may float as high as ten feet above the prairie. Here, the first flower has bloomed, while many ball-like buds are about to follow suit.*

 

Landscape of Compass Plants at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Illinois.*

A landscape of compass plant at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Illinois.*

 

Compass plant towers into the sky.*

This bloom of compass plant reaches for the sky.*

 

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.

 

Swamp Rose Mallow

The beautiful blooms of swamp rose mallow is a plant that can be found in August around some of Chicago's wetlands.*

The beautiful blooms of swamp rose mallow is a plant that can be found in August around some of Chicago’s wetlands.*

 

 

Ferns & Canyon Tours

Royal ferns in the light fog of the savanna at Hoosier Prairie in Highland, Indiana

Royal ferns in the light fog of the savanna at Hoosier Prairie in Schererville, Indiana.*

 

A forest of royal ferns thrives in a wetland that has formed at the base of a high dune.

In the Cowles Bog area, you’ll find many species of fern. Here, a forest of royal ferns thrives in a wetland that has formed at the base of a high dune.*

 

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.*

 

Sultry Summer Sunsets Over Saganashkee Slough (That’s a mouthful!)

The sun sets on this hot summer afternoon at Saganashkee Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois near Chicago.

On this sweltering, sultry afternoon, a soft flavescent sun sets over Saganashkee Slough in Palos Hills, Illinois.*

 

Prairie Root System

The root system of some common prairie plants.

The root system of some common prairie plants. Note that cylindrical blazing star has the deepest root that reaches over fifteen feet! Click the image for a bigger view.

 

* 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.

    2 Comments

  1. Hey Mike – I heard you on NPR back in the spring, went to see you speak at the library and just want to say a big thank you for a host of truly spectacular hikes from the bluebells blanketing the forest, to Miller Woods and Illinois State Beach, Belmont and Wolf Road, Somme and Bluff Spring. Seeing these places at peak bloom is incredible. Even my wife has a new appreciation for the beauty and diversity of these wildflowers. Thanks!

    • Hi, Dean! You are very welcome. Hearing your feedback and encouragement makes my job that much more rewarding!

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