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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
April 27, 2018

“Plan your Chicago spring weekend getaway with Chicago nature news and info
to help you discover the region’s finest natural wonders.”

Welcome to the first official post of the 2018 season!


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Here are some highlights to help you plan a spring nature outing into the woodlands of Chicago:

It’s the end of April and, finally, spring has arrived with a celebration of wildflowers in Chicago-area woodlands. At this moment, most of the springtime flowers are blooming white (or a light pink), like cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, spring cress, Dutchman’s breeches, and bloodroot. Bright green leaves are also playing a part in turning winter into spring. Umbrella-like leaves of mayapple are just coming up, along with spears of wild leek, and the sprawling leaves of skunk cabbage. And get ready for Virginia bluebells. They are greening up the preserves and, in about a week, they’ll turn woodlands into seas of blue. It is the most dramatic blooming event of early spring. Right now, marsh marigolds are blooming at Pilcher Park and at McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park by the parking lot across the stream.

This is also a good time to see the long emerald spears of wild leek, the plant that gives Chicago its name. In the late 1600s, Potawatomi Indians who traveled the area rivers were commonly heard to yell “Chicagoua!” after catching a strong whiff of chicagoua, or wild leek, growing prolifically along the wooded banks. Wild leek is part of the onion family, hence the Chicago nickname, “The Big Onion.”




O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville used to be called Dynamite Woods because the site was used to store explosives during World War II. You can still see the crumbling bunkers, but they’re now becoming overgrown by woodland plants. Right now, white flowers of cutleaf toothwort appear as small explosions, like sparklers across the woodland floor. Walk towards the stream at the back of the preserve and you’ll find Dutchman’s breeches (that look like white, puffy overalls), spring beauties, soon-to-bloom Virginia bluebells, skunk cabbage, and wild leek—Chicago’s namesake.

Pilcher Park in Joliet has the best trails in the current alert. Begin your hike at the nature center and you’ll be surrounded by a lush understory of spring wildflowers. My favorite flower-of-the-moment is marsh marigold. Look for its yellow blooms in the low, muddy areas of the site. You can find them near the nature center and around the trail after the bridge at this GPS coordinate: 41.532780, -88.016478. And, when you find a wet and muddy spot, also look for the large fanning foliage of skunk cabbage. It’s hard to miss. This preserve is also one of the best places for Virginia bluebells, which aren’t yet in bloom. They like it a little bit wet. So, look for them along the creek.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen will provide you with the feeling of spring, with a fresh green carpet of foliage and ephemerals throughout. The preserve is also known for its vast expanses of bluebells, but that’s still about a week away.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont is showing green on the woodland floor with wild leek, mayapple, and some Virginia bluebells. Wild ginger, with their small heart-shaped leaves, that are just starting out. False rue anemone, cutleaf toothwort, and spring beauties are blooming in small quantities with more on the way.

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee went unscouted this week, but this preserve is dense with spring wildflowers. You will not be disappointed. If you’d like to volunteer to scout this preserve for us, click here for information.




April 26, 2018 at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville:

Cut-leaved toothwort begins to bloom in the April woodland at O'Hara Wood in Romeoville, Illinois.

Cut-leaved toothwort begins to bloom in the April woodland at O’Hara Wood in Romeoville, Illinois.


Cutleaf toothwort can be found exploding across our woodlands:

In April, cut-leaved toothwort blooms in profusion amongst a backdrop of mayapples at O'Hara Woods in Romeoville, Illinois.

Like firecrackers, cut-leaved toothwort explodes in profusion against a backdrop of mayapples at O’Hara Woods in Romeoville, Illinois. This preserves was previously known as Dynamite Woods because explosives were stored here during World War II. Nowadays, spring is when the preserve explodes with flora.*


Dutchman’s Breeches (or Dutchman’s Britches):

Dutchman's Breeches at O'Hara Woods

O’Hara Woods has a large number of Dutchman’s Breeches. It is one of my favorite spring flowers because the flower is just so kooky and the leaves are a dream.




This is bloodroot. The name comes from the fact that breaking the stem makes the plant bleed red. Please, just take my word for it, and don’t pick the flower to find out.


Pilcher Park’s marsh marigolds and skunk cabbage:

In early spring, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.

In April, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.*

* Photo is representational and was not recorded this year. Bloom times vary from year to year.


If you find this website of Chicago nature information useful, please consider donating or purchasing my nationally-acclaimed book that celebrates all of the preserves featured on this website.



© 2018, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.