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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
August 23, 2018

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Before I begin, I suggest that you visit Wolf Road Prairie between 10 and 4 on Saturday, August 25 for their Annual Prairie Fest. And maybe I’ll see you there! Visit the newly renovated prairie house, and take part in activities that will interest the entire family. And, best of all, take a guided tour through the prairie sparkling with gold! Click here for their website or visit their Facebook page.

 

The flower of the moment is the flamboyant rough blazing star that is beginning its spectacular three-week run. And you can still experience its much smaller cousin, 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.) Now is the time to experience the quirky obedient plant that has pivoting snapdragon flowers that obediently stay put when you swivel it on its mysterious botanical hinge. Very cool! In many prairies, the towering golden blooms of prairie dock can be found. They’ll make you feel small and take your breath away. In open woodlands, you’ll still find the feathery skyward blooms sweet Joe-Pye weed and golden rays of woodland sunflower.  And big bluestem and Indian grass are in full flower, but you’ll have to look closely at their top tassels. And then there are the goldenrods alongside the tallest plant in the prairie, sawtooth sunflower. It can easily tower twelve feet into the air. And you thought compass plant and prairie dock were tall!

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 another wonderful week for Chicago’s wildflowers. Visit Wolf Road Prairie for the Annual Prairie Fest on Saturday, August 25 and take a guided tour to experience prairie dock, tall coreopsissawtooth sunflower, and various goldenrods. Shoe Factory Road Prairie and Bluff Spring Fen are bursting with rough blazing star and cylindrical blazingstar. Lake in the Hills Fen is also showing off its golden bling along with the royal rough blazing star, which is having a better than normal year at this preserve. You can also find this beautiful plant in great numbers at Shoe Factory Road Prairie  Bluff Spring Fen, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and Pembroke SavannaPrairie dockcompass plant, and sawtooth sunflower are festooned with golden sunflowers upon skybound stalks. They can be seen at many preserves across the region, including Wolf Road Prairie, Belmont PrairieFermilab Prairie, Kickapoo Prairie, Lake in the Hills Fen, and Springbrook Prairie. And, finally, the woodland of Somme Prairie Grove is wild with sweet Joe-Pye weed, woodland sunflower, brown-eyed Susan, and tall ironweed.

 

 

PLAN YOUR CHICAGO OUTDOOR ADVENTURE THIS WEEKEND 

 

THIS WEEK’S TOP PRESERVES:

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: Come for their Annual Prairie Fest on Saturday, August 25 between 10 and 4  And take a guided through the golden prairie where you’ll find tall coreopsis and forests of prairie dock prairie dock and sawtooth sunflower. Look around for the tallest prairie dock plant. I found at nine-footer! Then search for the tallest sawtooth sunflower. There are definitely some twelve-footers out there! Many other flowers are part of the prairie mix, as well, including various goldenrods and rough blazing star. And, in the oak savanna, you’ll see woodland sunflower and sweet Joe-Pye weed.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: The woodland surrounding the preserve is gorgeous, featuring a grand display of woodland sunflower, brown-eyed Susan, tall ironweed, and sweet Joe-Pye weed. Under the sun. peruse the panoply of prairie plants, including goldenrods, obedient plant, rough blazing starround-headed bush clover, the lovely cream gentianprairie 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.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: See the fantastic show of rough blazing star and obedient plant that bloom alongside the remaining purple blossoms of cylindrical blazingstar. Also, present are western sunflower, flowering spurge, and nodding wild onion. Under the trees, you’ll also find a dense display of woodland sunflower. Note: Bluff Spring Fen is located nearby.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: The flowers of cylindrical blazing star and the fresh prominent blooms rough blazing star are putting on a glorious display atop the big kame (take the out-and-back trail) and on either side of the path of the “switchback” kame. Also in the purple mix is the rarely seen white goldenrod. It looks nothing like a goldenrod and almost exactly like an aster, which is why it was once part of the aster family. This is why science is so great. If they get it wrong, they fix it. They don’t continue the myth. 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, tall coreopsis, and wingstem. Other sun-loving flowers of mention are flowering spurge, spotted Joe-Pye weedswamp milkweedcompass plant, and shrubby cinquefoil. Note: Shoe Factory Road Prairie is not far away.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion: Rough blazing star is beginning to flower, which will keep this preserve on our list for weeks to come. There’s also a sparkling show of flowering spurge in the savanna, along with large false foxglove and western sunflower.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park: Purple rough blazing star is blooming in a mix of beautiful field goldenrodwestern sunflower, and the understated round-headed bush clover The landscape is also dotted with thinning white blooms flowering spurge.

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills: Gold, purple, and white is the theme. Goldenrods and prairie dock highlight this vast landscape with their gilded blossoms. Blooms of amethyst arise from spotted Joe-Pye weed and emerging rough blazing star, which is quickly stealing the show. And pearly white blooms of tall boneset on the kames and flat-topped aster in the wetter areas add sparkle to the landscape.

 

 

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

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove: Rough blazing star is blooming. And, you’ll also find the rare and sublime cream gentian alongside prairie dock, tall coreopsiscompass plant, flowering spurge, and pasture thistle.

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins: The main show is taking place in the small patch of dolomite prairie on the eastern half of the preserve where rough blazing star, little bluestem, and white goldenrod bloom most delicately. Yes, you read it correctly. white goldenrod. It looks like a white aster and can be found at other preserves, like Bluff Spring Fen, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, and Lake in the Hills Fen. Blooming tassels of Indian grass and big bluestem dominate the eastern half of the preserve, alongside switch grassCanada wild rye, and prairie dropseed. Note: Spears Woods is just down the road.

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 docktall coreopsisflowering spurgecompass plant, and early goldenrod. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve is only a few miles away.

 

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

 

Wolf Road Prairie

A "forest" of compass plants reach for the sky at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

On the evening of Friday, August 17, 2018., I found this stunning scene—a “forest” of compass plants reaching for the sky at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.

 

September at Wolf Road Prairie gives proof of nature’s comfort, as sawtooth sunflower and obedient plant tangle in a glorious embrace.*

September at Wolf Road Prairie gives proof of nature’s comfort, as sawtooth sunflower and obedient plant tangle in a glorious embrace.*

 

Bluff Spring Fen

In August, cylindircal blazingstar covers the northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

This is a recent shot from Sunday, August 19, 2018 of cylindircal blazingstar covering the northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois. And, if you visit this week, you’ll find freshly blooming rough blazing star in an even more spectacular display.

 

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.*

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. Right now, rough blazing star is putting on a magnificent show.* 

 

In late August at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, golden blooms of compass plant rise above a purple patches of rough blazing star.*

In late August at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, golden blooms of compass plant rise above a purple patches of rough blazing star.*

 

 

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.*

 

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.*

 

Pembroke Savanna

At Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park, Illinois, early September explodes with rough blazing star.*

At Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park, Illinois, late August begins an explosive bloom of rough blazing star that continues into September.*

 

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

On August 14, 2018, the white blooms of flowering spurge erupts across the sand savanna at Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve in Hopkins Park, Illinois.

 

 

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

Rough blazing star and western sunflower find protection from the elements inside the swale of the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

Rough blazing star and western sunflower find protection from the elements inside the swale of the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

 

Early late-summer light strikes the tops of indian grass, western sunflower, and rough blazing star at the sand prairie along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

Early late-summer light strikes the tops of indian grass, western sunflower, and rough blazing star at the sand prairie along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

 

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.*

 

 

Theodore Stone Preserve

The dolomite prairie on the eastern side of the preserve reminds me of a planned garden or springtime in the desert, where each plant is given its own space to grow. But instead of a separation of lifeless mulch or sand, here, rough blazing star and little bluestem are connected by a downy, green veil of mysterious grass.

The dolomite prairie on the eastern side of Theodore Stone Preserve reminds me of a planned garden or springtime in the desert, where each plant is given its own space to grow. But instead of a separation of lifeless mulch or sand, here, rough blazing star and little bluestem are connected by a downy, green veil of mysterious grass.*

 

 

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.*

 

 

Rough Blazing Star

Compared to the densely colonized black soil prairie along its western border, this rocky dolomite prairie can sometimes appear a bit sparse. But near summer’s end, the eastern prairie easily outshines its western neighbor when the vibrant pinks of rough blazing star fill all feelings of emptiness.*

Compared to the densely colonized black soil prairie along its western border, this rocky dolomite prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve can sometimes appear a bit sparse. But near summer’s end, the eastern prairie easily outshines its western neighbor when the vibrant pinks of rough blazing star fill all feelings of emptiness. (NOTE: The density of flowers varies from year to year.)*

 

Spider webs and rough blazing star in the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

Spider webs and rough blazing star in the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

 

Obedient Plant

Obedient plant at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.*

Obedient plant can be found at many local preserves, like here at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, and Wolf Road Prairie. Use your finger to pivot the flower on the stem and it will obediently remain in place, hence the name. Though, grow it in your garden, and it has a habit of spreading and not staying put.*

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.*

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.

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