Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 13, 2017
“Plan your Chicago outdoor adventure with Chicago nature info and news
to help you discover the region’s finest natural wonders.”
Here are some highlights to help you plan your Chicago outdoor adventure during the Season of Gold:
September is the Season of Gold in Chicagoland. In the first half of the month, the prairies and savannas reflects the various sunny shades of goldenrod and sunflower-like plants. You’ll also find towering waves of red-stemmed grasses dancing in the prairie winds. And, right now, some prairies offer wonderful purple displays of rough blazing star and purple gentians.
The most prominent plant is the towering sawtooth sunflower (see picture below) that can easily reach twelve feet tall. The name comes from its serrated leaves that look saw-like. for the finest display in the region, visit Wolf Road Prairie.
This week’s recommendations are Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Spears Woods, Bluff Spring Fen, Lake in the Hills Fen. Wolf Road Prairie, and Illinois Beach Nature Preserve . If you’re in the neighborhood, visit Belmont Prairie, Theodore Stone Preserve, Miller Woods, and Tolleston Dunes. This is also a time to watch hummingbirds, see fanning ferns, and go on a canyon tour. Yes, there’s a canyon in Lemont!
NOTE: Prairies are wet in the morning, and boy do I know it! So, trust me. Wear rain gear or you’ll become drenched in dew.
WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A CHICAGO OUTDOOR GETAWAY
Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman States: In the open hill prairie, you’ll find wonderful displays of rough blazing star, obedient plant , western sunflower, goldenrods and the grasses of Indian grass, and side oats grama, Under cover of the oak savanna, you’ll find a dense and prolific expanse of sawtooth sunflower, boneset, tall goldenrod, and Indian grass. In the prairie outside the fence, look into the distance to see expanses of auburn and brown from the tassels of big bluestem and Indian grass. Consider immersing yourself in these grasses by taking the wide trails through a vast panorama. While you’re in the area, you may want to check out Bluff Spring Fen, which is just fifteen minutes away by car.
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, which is probably the reason for the misnomer “tallgrass prairie.” It’s a misnomer because most species in a prairie are actually forbs (flowering plants). Still, when the first settlers travelling from the forests of the east, the towering grasses of Illinois would have been a unexpected obstacle. The trails are narrow and somewhat overgrown. So watch your step. If you visit in the morning, wear rain gear or the plants will drench you with dew.
Spears Woods in Willow Springs: As you enter the prairie (see Spears Woods page for GPS coordinates), you are welcomed by the beautiful September tones of auburn, brown, and gold, and flashes of white as you explore the wetter areas. Big bluestem and Indian grass line provide the auburns and browns, while the golds are reflected in tall coreopsis, sawtooth sunflower, and long-bracted tickseed sunflower. Pearly stands of false aster can be found where the ground gets wet.
Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: This preserve is celebrating September gold of sawtooth sunflower, wingstem, and the various goldenrods. As you explore, you’ll find white snakeroot and asters under the trees and the sublime purples of fringed gentian and great blue lobelia in the wet areas. And, of course, as you enter the bowl of the fen, you’ll pass through skyward stands of big bluestem and Indian grass.
Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills (I know, it’s redundant.): Make a trip to this vast preserve to experience the expansive of auburn and golden tones with rolling views of the prairie. Experience the tall grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass, along with the brilliant yellows of goldenrod, sawtooth sunflower, and prairie dock. The pinkish blooms of native thistles are joined by purple displays of rough blazing star and fringed gentians by the fens’ soggy seeps. 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. The preserve is very accessible with ample parking and wide lawn paths.
llinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion is a beautiful outdoor getaway. It feels like wilderness, especially when go early in the day and you can be alone. You’ll find purple rough blazing star, western sunflower, showy goldenrod, and Indian grass.
IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, IT’S PROBABLY WORTH A TRIP TO:
Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins: The mesic prairie on the west side of the preserve (after entering the main entrance) is tall with grasses and yellow flowers like tall coreopsis, common sneezeweed, and brown-eyed Susan . However, it’s the dolomite (limestone) prairie to the east where the magic is happening. Growing from the rock is a glorious little patch that includes rough blazing star, little bluestem, yellow goldenrod, and the unusual white goldenrod that looks like an aster. There’s a also a delicate, low grass. This is a scene that steals my heart. It’s a very special and delicate spot, so please stay on the trail.
Miller Woods & Tolleston Dunes in Indiana: I forecast that both preserves offer long trails through wooded dunes, ferns, and flowers. We did not have the resources to visit this preserve. Please help us by volunteer to become a nature scout.
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 Fen, Wolf Road Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Powderhorn Prairie, and Belmont Prairie.
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, and Lake in the Hills Fen.
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 Canyon, Pilcher 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, Illinois is sensational for sunsets.
Bottle Gentian (aka, Closed Gentian)
Asters, Asters, Asters!
Big Bluestem Grass and the Tallgrass Prairie
Illinois Beach Nature Preserve
Lake in the Hills Fen
Theodore Stone Preserve
Shoe Factory Road Prairie
Ferns & Canyon Tours
Sunsets Over Saganashkee Slough
* Photo is representational and was not recorded this year. Bloom times vary from year to year.
SCOUTING NEEDS for my next report on Thursday, September 21 (in rough order of urgency):
- Illinois Beach Nature Preserve: Status showy goldenrod, asters, rough blazing star, western sunflower, and more.
- Somme Prairie Grove: Status of the many flowers, including sawtooth sunflower and asters.
- Bluff Spring Fen: Status of the many flowers, including sawtooth sunflower and asters.
- Shoe Factory Road Prairie: Status of flowers including goldenrods.
- Spears Woods: Sawtooth sunflowers, goldenrods, etc.
- Lake in the Hills Fen: Status of rough blazing star, goldenrods, etc.
- Theodore Stone Preserve: General status, including rough blazing star in eastern dolomite prairie.
- Miller Woods & Tolleston Dunes: General status
- Fermilab Prairie: General status.
- Powderhorn Prairie: General atatus.
- Belmont Prairie: General status.
- Middlefork Savanna: General status.
- Pembroke Savanna: Rough blazing star and goldenrods.
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.
© 2017, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.