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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 6, 2018

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

 

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This week is when blooms of asters emerge in our woodlands, wetlands, and prairies, a signal that autumn is near. The flamboyant rough blazing star is ending its multi-week run at several prairies and oak savannas. And, in most prairies, you’ll find the towering sunflower blooms of sawtooth sunflower alongside the floating yellow blossoms of tall coreopsis. And, of course, 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 inhaled. 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, prairie gentian, and fringed gentian can be found at preserves like Belmont Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Bluff Spring FenPowderhorn Prairie, Lake in the Hills Fen, and Chiwaukee Prairie. Learn more about gentians 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 Illinois Beach Nature PreservePembroke Savanna,, and Lake in the Hills Fen for expansive displays of rough blazing star.

Sawtooth sunflower rises above the prairie with skybound stalks. Tremendous shows are being held at  Wolf Road Prairie and Spears Woods, but the flower can also be appreciated Belmont PrairieFermilab Prairie, Kickapoo Prairie, Lake in the Hills Fen, and Springbrook Prairie. And finally, Somme Prairie Grove offers many flowers in bloom, including some of the gentians.

 

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 The pinkish blooms of native thistles are joined by fabulous purple expanses of rough blazing star on the kames and fringed gentian near the fens’ soggy seeps. Pearly white blooms of tall boneset can also be found on the kames. This preserve is easily accessible with ample parking and wide lawn paths. Anytime I visit this vast preserve, I feel like I’ve gotten away from civilization.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: A spectacular golden show of skybound sawtooth sunflower is now taking place. There are some twelve-footers out there! Many other flowers are part of the prairie mix, as well, including various goldenrods and various blooms of aster.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs: Wow! The golden flowers are remarkable, with panoramas of sawtooth sunflower and long-bracted tickseed sunflower. (See Spears Woods page for GPS coordinates to the prairie trail head.). You also be welcomed by the tall, elegant big bluestem and Indian grass that provides tones of auburn and brown. And pearly stands of false aster can be found where the ground gets wet.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: There’s a great variety of flowers in bloom throughout the preserve. Many of them are yellow, most notably sawtooth sunflower and tall coreopsis. Along your way, you’ll find asters, like the sky blue aster, and the rare savanna blazing star. Look for the gentians, too: the gorgeous cream gentian, bottle gentian, and prairie gentian. As is common during the late-summer months, you’ll travel through tunnels of big bluestem grass and Indian grass. When the first settlers travelling from the forests of the east, the towering grasses of Illinois would have been a unexpected obstacle. The long hairlike leaves of dropseed are flavescent, making a beautiful combination of color and texture against the sprays of blackening seed heads of prairie clover. The plumes of prairie dropseed smell like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. Check out the Somme Prairie Grove web page for how to access this preserve.

 

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.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: This was a “Go” last week. This week, many of the blooms have faded or disappeared. Still, you can find a decent display of rough blazing star and goldenrods. While you’re here, consider taking a hike in the large prairie beyond, where you’ll find expanses of tall grasses and sawtooth sunflower.

 

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

 

Lake in the Hills Fen

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

Just a week ago, 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.

This is a recent 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.*

 

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.*

 

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.*

 

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

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.*

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.*

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.*

These are not flowers that fill the landscape, but they are sublime. Look closely and you’ll find them at Lake in the Hills FenWolf Road PrairieSomme Prairie Grove, Powderhorn Prairie, and Belmont Prairie. 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.*

Fringed Gentian

Gorgeous fringed gentians bloom in September. However, the flowers are diurnal, meaning that the the blooms only open up with the sun and are closed at night and, sometimes, on cloudy days.*

Gorgeous fringed gentians bloom in September. However, the flowers are diurnal, meaning that the the blooms only open up with the sun and are closed at night and, sometimes, on cloudy days. You can find them at preserves like Bluff Spring Fen, Chiwaukee Prairie, and Lake in the Hills Fen.*

 

Asters, Asters, Asters!

New England asters

Asters come in a variety of colors: white, pink, purple, and blue. The name comes from an Ancient Greek word for “star.” You can find them in most prairies and savannas, and in some wetlands around the region. This is an image of New England aster, which is just one of the many species of aster that bloom at this time of year.*

 

Big Bluestem Grass and the Tallgrass Prairie

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

Here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, big bluestem grass gives true meaning to the term “tallgrass prairie.” Find big bluestem at Belmont PrairieSomme Prairie GroveShoe Factory Road PrairieWolf Road PrairieFermilab PrairieGensburg Markham PrairieKickapoo Woods and PrairieSpears WoodsTheodore Stone Preserve, and other local prairies over the next several weeks.*

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.*

 

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.*

 

* 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.

    4 Comments

  1. Are the lotus beds on Tomahawk Slough finished blooming?

    • Hi, Barbara!
      I really don’t know what’s happening with the lotus at Tomahawk Slough because we do not officially track that location. It’s not part of latest weekly alerts because I rather not report on it than to be wrong and send someone there for nothing. We discovered the lotus this year and then made the extra effort to photograph and report on it. And, even though it is a beautiful scene, the surrounding woodland is overgrown with invasive species, like buckthorn. Just a handful of volunteers and I drive hundreds of miles each week to scout the most important preserves, but we still can’t get to some of them. We need more people to help. I don’t mind reporting on a place that’s not on the official list (that we have not scouted ourselves), but only if we get a reliable scouting report. If you decide to visit, soon, let us know what’s happening along with a quick photo. And, if you live in the area, consider being the person who reports on the place next year. You saw the post. Just go back around the same time next year and let us know the status of the lotus.
      Thanks for following ChicagoNatureNOW!.
      Mike

  2. I could use some help with IDing a type of gentian that I saw at Somme prairie yesterday (9/10/18). It may be a plant known as Northern gentian, but I don’t know. I have some pictures but I can’t figure out how to send them. I also saw ONE fringed gentian, but it was in a cage that someone had placed around it to protect it. That prairie is a great spot because it’s so hard to get to, meaning that most of the time I’m the only one out there. Beauty and solitude and untrammeled paths.

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