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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
August 2, 2018

“Plan the best Chicago outdoor adventure with this Chicago wildflower report
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This week’s wildflower action ups the ante on last week, and last week’s events were great! The purple spikes of prairie blazing star and its slightly shorter cousin, marsh blazing star, have reached peak bloom in the prairies. And prairie dock is finally flowering on stems that reach over nine feet high. The open woodlands and savannas are putting on a show of their own with skyward blooms of feathery sweet Joe-Pye weed and the golden rays of woodland sunflower. Both plants are found under the trees, though the sunflowers can sneak out into the sun. Big bluestem grass is also flowering, but you have to look closely at its top tassel. And, finally, I was amazed to learn of a dramatic wetland wildflower that finds its home in the Chicago area. It’s called the American lotus. The pale yellow flowers resemble those of a water lily, but they are much larger—up to eight inches wide atop stems that can reach six feet high. And that isn’t all. The circular leaves are gorgeous and consistently big, up to two and a half feet in diameter! See the Picture Section below for images of American lotus (and where to find it) along with the many flowers featured in this report.

 

Here’s are some of the highlights of what’s happening in Chicago nature:

Like last week, Wolf Road Prairie is this week’s most showy preserve with a breathtaking display of biodiversity. The beauty immediately begins as soon as you enter the oak savanna at the 31st Street trail head as woodland sunflower and sweet Joe-Pye weed fill the understory. In the prairie, I just love how the purple spikes of prairie blazing star has reached peak arrival mix with pearly whites of wild quinine and rattlesnake master and the vibrant blooms of yellow coneflower. You can also find prairie blazing star and marsh blazing star at other prairies, including Bluff Spring Fen, Kickapoo Prairie, Belmont Prairie, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, Spears Woods, Lake in the Hills Fen, and Bartel Grassland in TInley Park. Compass plant is another showy plant, which is killing it this week, especially when growing in groups or, what I like to call, “forests.” These dreamy prairie forests can be seen at Wolf Road Prairie, Belmont PrairieFermilab Prairie, Kickapoo Prairie, and Springbrook Prairie. Like Wolf Road Prairie,

Somme Prairie Grove is putting on a grand show of biodiversity, as well. It is a pure delight to see so much color and texture. Both woodland sunflower and sweet Joe-Pye weed flowering in profusion under the trees. And the sunny savanna features a panoply of of prairie plants.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie is now covered with a white glow of wild quinine. with marsh blazing star adding to the bouquet. And, not far from there, visit Kickapoo Prairie for Tinker Toy rattlesnake master, a forest of compass plant, and the flamboyant prairie blazing star.

 

PLAN YOUR CHICAGO OUTDOOR ADVENTURE THIS WEEKEND 

 

THIS WEEK’S TOP PRESERVES:

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: Visit this week to experience the beauty of the prairie and oak savanna. In the prairie, blazing star flowers alongside many other species: the white blossoms of wild quininerattlesnake master, mountain mint. flowering spurge, and Culver’s root, along with the golden bouquets of rosinweed, yellow coneflower, plus forests of compass plant, and newly blooming prairie dock. Look around to see the tallest prairie dock. I found at nine-footer!

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: Like Wolf Road Prairie, this preserve is putting on a show in biodiversity. In other words, myriad species are in bloom, Flashy woodland sunflower and towering sweet Joe-Pye weed steal the show under the canopy of trees. However, there are many performances taking place under the open sky of the savanna depending upon where you walk. Along the trails, you’ll discover shows of early goldenrod, wild quinine, rattlesnake master, and purple prairie clover. But there’s more to appreciate than just the flowers. I find delight from the large heart-shaped leaves of prairie dock and the stringy bob hairdo of prairie dropseed.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham: Visit for the ivory landscape with much of the prairie immersed in wild quinine. And you’ll find beautiful patches of marsh blazing star. NOTE: The preserve is not locked up, even if it looks that way. There’s a “dummy lock” at the entrance gate. The lock and chain are merely draped over the gate to give the appearance of being locked. Simply undrape the chain to enter.

Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale: Grand displays of three flowers make this preserve worth attending: the purple spike of prairie blazing star, the latticework of rattlesnake master, with its white molecular-like flower heads, the sweet-smelling mountain mint, and the forest of compass plant and its golden blossoms.

 

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

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills: There are some nice dense patches of wildflowers blooming together, including prairie blazing star, yellow coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and wild bergamot.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: The trail begins under the oaks of the savanna and continues into the prairie and the bowl of the fen. Watch your step along the way. The trails are overgrown, and I’ve been trying for weeks to get them to maintain these potentially unsafe trails. If you find the trails difficult or unsafe, please contact John McCabe at [email protected] or 708-771-1180. Under the tree canopy, you’ll find towering sweet Joe-Pye weed and the aptly named bottlebrush grass. Under the open sky, you’ll find marsh blazing star, swamp milkweed, spotted Joe-Pye weedcompass plantyellow coneflower, and the preserve’s flower of the week, cylindrical blazing star.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: The best show is happening outside the fence of this preserve with displays of prairie blazing star, early goldenrod, wild quinine, and rattlesnake master. And woodland sunflower can be found inside the fence under the trees. The newest flowering plant on the scene is cylindrical blazing star. It has a a deepest root of any prairie plant, even compass plant. See how deep it goes in the illustration at the bottom of the post..

Spears Woods in Willow Springs: Visit for the woodland of fluffy sweet Joe-Pye weed and woodland sunflowers that surround Hogwash Slough, my favorite Chicagoland wetland. A hike through the prairie will provide you with a decent smattering of flowers, including prairie blazing star, ironweedwild bergamotwild quininerattlesnake mastermountain mintflowering spurgecompass plant, and early goldenrod.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove: This is a tiny preserve, but I think it’s worth the visit to see the miniature forest of blooming compass plant alongside flowering yellow coneflower and prairie blazing star.

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

Wolf Road Prairie

In July, Wolf Road Prairie gives a lesson in biodiversity. Pictured are prairie blazing star, wild quinine, rattlesnake master, flowering spurge, rosinweed, and yellow coneflower.*

This was the view of Wolf Road Prairie on Tuesday, July 24 with a lesson in biodiversity. Pictured are prairie blazing star, wild quinine, rattlesnake master, flowering spurge, Culver’s root, rosinweed, and yellow coneflower.

 

The July prairie explodes with diversity here at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.

This image is fairly representative of what you’d see at Wolf Road Prairie, but every plant shown is currently blooming except for the tall purple spikes of prairie blazing star.*

 

Somme Prairie Grove

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.*

 

Sweet Joe-Pye weed, American bellflower, and woodland sunflower put on a show in the woodland at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.*

Sweet Joe-Pye weed, American bellflower, and woodland sunflower put on a show in the woodland at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.*

 

Purple prairie clover and mountain mint steal the show in this area of Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.

Purple prairie clover and mountain mint steal the show in this area of Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.*

 

Here, at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois , we see the large, deeply lobed leaf of compass plant among a sea of purple prairie clover.*

Here, at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois , we see the large, deeply lobed leaf of compass plant among a sea of purple prairie clover.*

 

 

Kickapoo Prairie

Summer storm clouds brew at Kickapoo Prairie where rattlesnake master, Indian grass, and compass plant glow in the sun.

Summer storm clouds brew at Kickapoo Prairie where rattlesnake master, Indian grass, and compass plant glow in the sun.

 

 

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.*

 

Gensburg-Markham Prairie

The summer sun goes down on wild quinine and marsh phlox as nonstop tollway traffic rolls past its eastern aorder. Each hour of each day, people drive by, unaware of the natural treasures they’d discover by taking the West 159th Street exit.*

The summer sun goes down on wild quinine and marsh phlox as nonstop tollway traffic rolls past its eastern aorder. Each hour of each day, people drive by, unaware of the natural treasures they’d discover by taking the West 159th Street exit.*

 

Bluff Spring Fen

Soon after entering Bluff Spring Fen, you’ll find yourself in an intimate oak savanna, where majestic bur oaks with outstretched limbs protect you in their nurturing embrace.*

Soon after entering Bluff Spring Fen, you’ll find yourself in an intimate oak savanna, where majestic bur oaks with outstretched limbs protect you in their nurturing embrace.*

 

 

Prairie Blazing Star and Marsh Blazing Star

Prairie blazing star and rosinweed in July at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois.*

Prairie blazing star and rosinweed in July at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois.*

 

 

Blazing star blooms at the seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

Blazing star blooms at the seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

 

The wildflowers at Wolf Road Prairie explode in July. Here, we have purple prairie blazing star, white wild quinine and rattlesnake master, and yellow rosinweed.

The wildflowers at Wolf Road Prairie explode in July. Here, we have purple prairie blazing star, yellow rosinweed, and whites of wild quinine, rattlesnake master, and Culver’s root.*

 

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 an reach the wetland by first parking at the far end of Pulaski Woods parking lot and then walking a short distance along the trails.

 

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.

 

 

Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake master

Rattlesnake master is a wonderful Chicago prairie flower that looks like something you’d find in Arizona or Texas. To experience rattlesnake master, visit Belmont Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road PrairieWolf Road PrairieFermilab PrairieGensburg Markham PrairieKickapoo Woods and PrairieSpears WoodsTheodore Stone Preserve, and other local prairies over the next few weeks.*

 

 

Purple Prairie Clover and It’s Remarkably Fresh Scent (see caption for details)

A bee flies over to purple prairie clover at Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve in Elgin, Illinois.*

This flower emanates my favorite (nice) smell in Chicago nature with the fresh scent of carrots and lemon. Here, a bee flies over to purple prairie clover at Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve in Elgin, Illinois.*.

 

Come to Bluff Spring Fen early on a July morning and you might experience a chromatic expanse of purple prairie clover.

Come to Bluff Spring Fen early on a July morning and you might experience a chromatic expanse of purple prairie clover. Currently, most of the flowers have faded at most preserves, except for Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook.*

More Flagrantly Fragrant Flowers

“Lavender in color and mint in fragrance” describes wild bergamot. “Whimsical with an aroma of anise” describes yellow coneflower. Both are native to the prairie, and both are healers. Known as pioneer species, they are among the first plants to colonize disturbed or degraded areas. Their presence improves soil quality while allowing other plants to move in, leading to greater biodiversity.*

“Lavender in color and mint in fragrance” describes wild bergamot. “Whimsical with an aroma of anise” describes yellow coneflower. Both are native to the prairie, and both are healers. Known as pioneer species, they are among the first plants to colonize disturbed or degraded areas. Their presence improves soil quality while allowing other plants to move in, leading to greater biodiversity.*

 

Mountain mint and prairie blazing star flower in the July prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs.*

Mountain mint and prairie blazing star flower in the July prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs.*

 

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.

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—Mike

 

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