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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
October 5, 2017

“Plan your Chicago fall-color outings with Chicago nature info and news
to help you discover the region’s finest natural wonders.”

 

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Here are some highlights to help you plan your fall-color outings around Chicago:

Given the hot, dry weather over the past six weeks, there has been very little change in the woodland canopy. However, the plants of the prairie have deep roots and are not as affected. The prairie is the first habitat to exhibit fall’s effects.

As the final flowering plants of aster and gentian are fading, experience towering waves of red-stemmed grasses and tawny, fluffy spikes of gayfeather that glow in the sunlight. In one small patch of prairie, you’ll often find more color than any autumn woodland in the region: oranges, golds, reds, maroons, cyans, browns, and tans. Here’s a list of preserves that are worth visiting as they begin changing into their autumn wardrobes:

  • Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates, Illinois: Walk this hill prairie and the large grassland at its base.
  • Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois: Get a wilderness experience by hiking the trails early in the day when few people visit.
  • Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois: Walk the wide trails to see the fall colors through the preserve’s various habitats.
  • Lake in the Hills Fen: Visit to experience the fens and the grand prairie expanse of grasses. And don’t forget to look for fringed gentians in the wet areas.
  • Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin: This is a beautiful prairie in September. Look for fringed and prairie gentians.
  • Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois: This is another preserve that provides an escape from urban life..
  • Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie in Glenview, Illinois: Though this is not an officially featured preserve on this website, visit now to see all three gentians in bloom—bottle, prairie, and fringed.
  • Theodore Stone Preserve: Recently, the trails have been greatly improved. It’s a great time to see asters and waves of red grasses.
  • Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale, Illinois: This is a beautiful prairie very close to Chicago’s city limits.
  • Powderhorn Prairie: This is the most biodiverse site within the city limits of Chicago, though the trails are not well established. So be careful.
  • Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Visit to experience the towering grasses and the final golden blooms, along with gentians at the seep of the fen.
  • Fermilab Prairie in Batavia: Feel small as you walk along wide prairie trails amidst skybound grasses and plants.
  • Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest, Illinois: Take a nice long walk along the wide trails to experience the changing colors of the prairie and wetlands.
  • Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois: Come for the various asters, and take in the grand expanse buy standing on the deck of the prairie house at the north end.
  • Cowles Bog: Take in the early-autumn color on the trail that leads to Lake Michigan.
  • Miller Woods: Visit this large black oak savanna for galloping ferns and the variety of colors and textures.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS:

Bottle Gentians (or Closed Gentians)
These are not flowers that fill the landscape, but they are sublime. (See pictures below.) Look closely and you’ll find them at Lake in the Hills FenWolf Road PrairieSomme Prairie Grove, Powderhorn Prairie, and Belmont Prairie.

Fringed Gentians
Fringed gentians might be the prettiest flower in the Chicago region. 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. Find them at preserves like Bluff Spring Fen, Chiwaukee Prairie,, Illinois Beach Nature PreserveLake in the Hills Fen, and Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie.

Asters, Asters, 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.

Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds!
The hummingbirds are still around and should be for the next couple of weeks. 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 TrailMiller 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, Illinois is sensational for sunsets.

 

PHOTO SECTION

Bottle Gentian (aka, Closed 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. You can find bottle gentians at preserves like Powderhorn Prairie, Lake in the Hills fen, Belmont Prairie, Wolf Road Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, and Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, *

 

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.*

 

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.*

 

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, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and Lake in the Hills Fen.*

 

Asters, Asters, Asters!

New England asters

New England aster is just one of the many species of aster that bloom 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.*

 

Ferns & Canyon Tours

My favorite part of Hoosier Prairie State Nature Preserve is the trail that winds beneath the black oaks of the savanna. Here, ferns begin to don the colors of autumn.*

In the September savanna at Hoosier Prairie, ferns begin to change color long before the trees.*

 

At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, acrobatic cinnamon ferns take hold in the soggy ground of Cowles Bog, which is not a bog at all but, rather, a wetland known as a fen.*

At Cowles Bog in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the change to autumn colors begin with the ferns. Here, acrobatic cinnamon ferns take hold in the soggy ground of Cowles Bog, which is not a bog at all but, rather, a wetland known as a fen.*

 

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.*

 

Sunsets Over Saganashkee Slough

A great blue heron takes flight as the sun sets over Saganashkee Slough in Palos Hills, Illinois

A great blue heron takes flight as the 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 town, 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

 

© 2017, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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