Chicago Nature Now! Alert
August 2, 2018
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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 Prairie, Fermilab 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 quinine, rattlesnake 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”:
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 weed, compass plant, yellow 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, ironweed, wild bergamot, wild quinine, rattlesnake master, mountain mint, flowering spurge, compass 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.
Wolf Road Prairie
Somme Prairie Grove
Bluff Spring Fen
Prairie Blazing Star and Marsh Blazing Star
American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough
Big Bluestem Grass
Prairie Dock & Compass Plant
Purple Prairie Clover and It’s Remarkably Fresh Scent (see caption for details)
More Flagrantly Fragrant Flowers
Prairie Root System
* 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.
© 2018, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.