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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.”

 

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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 GroveShoe 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 PreserveMiller 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.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: Sawtooth sunflower is everywhere, putting on a majestic gilded display in every direction. To scream, “Wow!” at the sight would be appropriate.

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.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove is an intimate preserve that is currently showcasing sawtooth sunflower and bottle gentian.

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.

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, 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 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

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.*

Here at Wolf Road Prairie, and at almost every prairie in the region, sawtooth sunflower blooms in fields of towering, endless gold in one of the last dramatic displays of the summer season. See them at Spears Woods, Middlefork Savanna, Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Chiwaukee Prairie, Kickapoo Prairie, Theodore Stone Preserve, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, and Belmont Prairie..*

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, 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.*

 

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

Late-summer morning 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.*

In the sand prairie, early-morning September light strikes the tops of Indian grass, golden western sunflower, and rough blazing star in the sand prairie along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

 

 

Lake in the Hills Fen

This expansive landscape features showy goldenrod as it glows in the morning light at Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills, Illinois.

On Monday, September 11, the expansive landscape at Lake in the Hills Fen featured newly blooming showy goldenrod. When the flog lifted, the flowers began to glow in the early morning light.

 

 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 resembles 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

In late August at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, golden blooms of compass plant rise above a purple patches of rough blazing star.*

In late August at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, golden blooms of compass plant rise above a purple patches of rough blazing star.*

 

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.*

 

A forest of royal ferns thrives in a wetland that has formed at the base of a high dune.*

At Indiana Dunes Natoinal Lakeshore, 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.*

 

Sunsets Over Saganashkee Slough

The sun sets on this hot summer afternoon at Saganashkee Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois near Chicago.

On this sweltering, sultry afternoon, a golden 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.

 

SCOUTING NEEDS for my next report on Thursday, September 21 (in rough order of urgency):

 

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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