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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
Labor Day Edition
August 31, 2018

“Plan the best Chicago outdoor adventure with this Chicago nature report
filled with news and info about the region’s finest natural wonders.”

 

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This Labor Day weekend is fantastic for wildflowers! The flamboyant rough blazing star that is making its multi-week run at several prairies and oak savannas. And, in most prairies, you’ll find the towering sunflower blooms of sawtooth sunflower and the floating yellow blossoms of tall coreopsis. The goldenrods are also making their presence known. NOTE: The goldenrods do not and cannot cause allergies. The pollen is so heavy that it drops to the ground and, therefore, cannot float through air to be breathed in. Now is the also time to experience the quirky obedient plant. Its pivoting snapdragon flowers obediently stay put when you swivel them on their mysterious botanical hinges. In open woodlands, you’ll still find the feathery skyward blooms sweet Joe-Pye weed alongside the golden rays of woodland sunflower and brown-eyed Susan. The grasses are beautiful at this time of year, as big bluestem and Indian grass display their tasseled tops. These grasses can rise as high as eight feet into the air. And, finally, the sublime blues of bottle gentian can be found at preserves like Belmont Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, and Powderhorn Prairie. Learn more about this plant in the Photo Section (below).

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:

Visit Shoe Factory Road Prairie  Bluff Spring Fen, Lake in the Hills FenIllinois Beach Nature Preserve, and Pembroke Savanna for prominent displays of rough blazing star.

Prairie dock, tall coreopsis, 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. The savanna is also rich with various blooms.

 

PLAN YOUR CHICAGO OUTDOOR ADVENTURE THIS WEEKEND 

 

THIS WEEK’S TOP PRESERVES:

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion: The dramatic show of rough blazing star takes over the entire preserve, with the densest blooms happening in the sand prairie. Also blooming is stiff sunflower, western sunflowerlarge false foxglove, and showy goldenrod. The feathery blooming plumes of Indian grass are gorgeous, as well.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park: Purple rough blazing star is blooming in profusion! Also in the mix is beautiful field goldenrodwestern sunflower, and the understated round-headed bush clover.

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills: The preserve flaming with gold and purple flowers. Tall goldenrod and sawtooth sunflower dominate the yellows while dense stands of rough blazing star provide the purple. Pearly white blooms of tall boneset can also be found on the kames.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: See the fantastic show of rough blazing star and obedient plant  Also flowering is stiff sunflower. western sunflower, white goldenrod, and beautiful stands of Indian grass. Under the trees, you’ll also find a nice display of woodland sunflower. Note: Bluff Spring Fen is located nearby.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: The pretty displays of rough blazing star makes this preserve worth the trip. You can find them atop the big kame (take the out-and-back trail) and on either side of the path of the “switchback” kame. 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 spotted Joe-Pye weedswamp milkweed, and shrubby cinquefoil. Note: Shoe Factory Road Prairie is not far away.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: Visit the prairie for tall coreopsis and forests of sawtooth sunflower. Look around for the tallest sawtooth sunflower. There are some twelve-footers out there! Many other flowers are part of the prairie mix, as well, including various goldenrods and rough blazing star.

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.

 

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

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. Tall tasseled 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.

 

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

 

Shoe Factory Road Prairie

On this foggy August morning at Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates, purple blooms of rough blazing star and the bright green foliage of compass plant bring color to the hill prairie.*

On Sunday at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, the sun burned through the fog to illuminate the purple blooms of rough blazing star and the bright green foliage of compass plant.

 

Rough blazing star rises colors the foggy hill prairie at Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.*

Just the other day, rough blazing star colored the foggy hill prairie at Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.

 

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.* 

 

Lake in the Hills Fen

Rough blazing star and Indiana grass dominate the top of this kame at Lake in the Hill Fen.

On Thursday, rough blazing star and Indiana grass dominated the top of this kame at Lake in the Hill Fen.

 

In late August, tall goldenrod and purple rough blazing star contribute to an explosion of color at Lake in the Hills Fen.

Just before this morning’s sunrise, tall goldenrod and purple rough blazing star contribute to an explosion of color at Lake in the Hills Fen.

 

In late August, tall goldenrod and purple rough blazing star contribute to an explosion of color at Lake in the Hills Fen.

Just today, this was the scene from Lake in the Hills Fen, as tall goldenrod and purple rough blazing star contribute to an explosion of color at Lake in the Hills Fen.

 

Pembroke Savanna

The celebration of rough blazing star and field goldenrod is probably Pembroke’s most prolific performance of the year, but it’s by no means the only one. This rich community of plants puts on many shows throughout the growing season.

The celebration of rough blazing star and field goldenrod is probably Pembroke’s most prolific performance of the year, but it’s by no means the only one. This rich community of plants puts on many shows throughout the growing season.*

 

In a shining spot under the open canopy of the black oaks, western sunflowers smile in the September sun at Pembroke Savanna.

In a shining spot under the open canopy of the black oaks, western sunflowers smile in the September sun at Pembroke Savanna.

 

 

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.*

 

 

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.*

 

 

Wolf Road Prairie

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.*

 

 

Bottle Gentian

Blue bottle gentians survive under the shadow of the dense September prairie, where plants, like this sawtooth sunflower, can tower twelve feet into the air.*

Blue bottle gentians survive under the shadow of the dense September prairie, where plants, like this sawtooth sunflower, can tower twelve feet into the air.*

 

Bottle gentian (or closed gentian) is fully dependent on bumblebees for its survival. The petals of this unusual flower are effectively closed to other insects, but the strong bumblebee is able to muscle its way in through the tip. Late in the season, when fewer plants are blooming, bottle gentian relies on the slim pickings for pollination, hoping bumblebees won’t mind the extra effort.*

Bottle gentian (or closed gentian) is fully dependent on bumblebees for its survival. The petals of this unusual flower are effectively closed to other insects, but the strong bumblebee is able to muscle its way in through the tip. Late in the season, when fewer plants are blooming, bottle gentian relies on the slim pickings for pollination, hoping bumblebees won’t mind the extra effort.*

 

When I first set eyes upon these fading blooms of bottle gentian, I was taken aback, struck by an arrow through my heart. Instantly, I fell in love with the prettiest flowers I had ever seen. Maybe I was just having one of those days, but I was close to tears.*

When I first set eyes upon these fading blooms of bottle gentian, I was taken aback, struck by an arrow through my heart. Instantly, I fell in love with the prettiest flowers I had ever seen. Maybe I was just having one of those days, but I was close to tears.*

 

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.*

 

Sawtooth Sunflower

Sawtooth sunflowers bloom in fields of towering, endless gold in one of the last dramatic displays of the summer season at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

In September, at many prairies across the Chicago region, sawtooth sunflower blooms in towering fields of gold, like here at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

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.*

 

 

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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