Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 20, 2017
“Plan your Chicago autumn 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 autumn adventure during the Season of Gold:
Chicago’s season of gold continues as fall colors become apparent. Fading yellow blooms are joined by flavescent foliage of plants that have dropped their petals long ago. Last week, giant sawtooth sunflower reigned supreme across the region. This week, their blooms are at thirty percent. Towering waves of red-stemmed grasses dance in the prairie winds. And, right now, some prairies offer beautiful purple displays of gentian. However, we have reached the end of the blooming season and next week will be the time when a visit to any preserve on my list will bring some sort of autumn color, whether it be from the glorious, yet underappreciated, withering prairie plants or the foliage in the woodland canopy.
This week’s top recommendation is to see the showy goldenrod at Shoe Factory Road Prairie. Next on the list are Somme Prairie Grove, Spears Woods, Theodore Stone Preserve, Bluff Spring Fen, Lake in the Hills Fen. and Illinois Beach Nature Preserve.. However, right now, any preserve gives me a great feeling. This is also a time to watch hummingbirds, dance with the acrobatic ferns, and attend a canyon tour. Yes, there’s a canyon in Lemont! The season’s blooms are ending, but because the newfound color of withering foliage can be as beautiful as a grand display of wildflowers.
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.
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 to see showy goldenrod and then take a hike into the vast grassland below.
- 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: Fall colors are adding to the floral mix. Click here for the location of the trailhead that goes west into the prairies.
- Lake in the Hills Fen: Visit to experience the fens and the grand prairie expanse of grasses and goldenrods. And don’t forget to look for fringed gentians near the wet areas.
- Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin: This is a beautiful prairie in September. Look for fringed 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: The trails have been greatly improved and 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.
- Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Visit to experience the towering grasses and the final golden blooms, along with fringed gentians at the seep of the fen.
- Fermilab Prairie in Batavia: Feel short 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 the final stages of sawtooth sunflower. 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.
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,, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. Lake 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 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
Lake in the Hills Fen
Ferns & Canyon Tours
Sunsets Over Saganashkee Slough
* 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.
© 2017, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.