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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
May 3, 2018

“Plan your Chicago spring weekend getaway with Chicago nature news and info
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Here are some highlights to help you plan a spring outdoor weekend getaway into the woodlands of Chicago, which includes breathtaking, mind-blowing shows of Virginia Bluebells that should not be missed:

 

BLUEBELLS, BLUEBELLS, BLUEBELLS! The Virginia bluebell is the flower of the week and the spring season. These sublime performances are proof that Chicago nature offers beauty equal to the national parks. Experience the magnificence with your eyes as well as your nose, as the scent of these azure flowers fill the air with a smell reminiscent of Froot Loops cereal.

The beginning of May brings an unusual explosion of wildflowers, as late-blooming flowers of April overlap with the timely blooms of May. Currently, you’ll find almost every April wildflower blooming at one time. The delightful yellow flowers of marsh marigold, which have normally dried up by now, are still blooming strong along with the small white or light-pink flowers cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, spring cress, Dutchman’s britches, trout lily, and bloodroot. Bright green leaves are also playing a part in turning winter into spring. Umbrella-like leaves of mayapple are now up, along with spears of wild leek, the sprawling leaves of skunk cabbage, and the hearts of wild ginger. But the star-of-the-moment is the Virginia bluebell, which will reach peak bloom this weekend and continue for another week. For performances that will take your breathe away while filling your nose with the scent of Froot Loops cereal, visit O’Hara Woods Preserve, Messenger Woods, and Pilcher Park. Usually ending its bloom two weeks ago, you can still see the bright yellow blooms of marsh marigold at Pilcher Park, Camp Sagawau, and across the stream by the parking lot at McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park. Red trillium is flowering in most preserves and the glorious large-flowered trillium should be blooming by the weekend at Messenger Woods, the woodland connected to Fermilab Prairie, the Heron Rookery Trail (at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore), and possibly at Pilcher Park and O’Hara Woods. Harms Woods in Glenview and Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa usually have great displays, too, but they may not be blooming until next week. The preserves to the north are a week behind those to the south. The woodland next to Fermilab Prairie is looking wonderful with a wide range of blooms including sublime yellow patches of large-flowered bellwort.

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.”

 

WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A CHICAGO SPRING OUTDOOR GETAWAY OR NATURE WALK:

 

O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville is my favorite place to experience Virginia bluebells, and this weekend will be peak bloom. This preserve was once named Dynamite Woods because the site stored explosives during World War II. You can still see the crumbling bunkers that are becoming overgrown by woodland plants. Currently, the white flowers of cutleaf toothwort combine with spring beauty, spring cress, and Dutchman’s breeches, to create small explosions across the woodland floor. The brilliant green leaves of skunk cabbage, mayapple, and wild leek (Chicago’s namesake) mix beautifully with the blooming flowers of other plants.

Pilcher Park in Joliet is a great spot for Virginia bluebells. They can be found along the banks of the meandering creek that cuts through the preserve. Begin your hike at the nature center, and you’ll be surrounded by a lush understory of spring wildflowers of many kinds. Look for the yellow blooms of marsh marigold in the low, muddy areas of the site, like around the bridge by the nature center, which is also the happy home of skunk cabbage with its large fanning leaves.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen is another wonderful place to experience a vast sea of Virginia bluebells, as well as a wide array of other spring ephemerals. The woodland gives off that fresh feeling of spring, with its green carpet of foliage.

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee offers great biodiversity with dense displays of spring flowers and lush, green leaves of wild leek, mayapple, wild ginger, and skunk cabbageRed trillium is everywhere, along with cutleaf toothwortspring beauty, spring cressfalse rue anemoneDutchman’s breeches, bloodrootwhite trout lily, swamp buttercup, and much more, including a fine display of Virginia bluebells along the banks of the creek.

Fermilab Prairie woodland (Fermilab Natural Areas) in Batavia: The beautiful woodland next to the prairie is a great place to visit, right now. You’ll find many, many flower species that are easily viewed from the trail, including cutleaf toothwort, spring beauty, Dutchman’s breeches, bloodrootwhite trout lily, swamp buttercup, red trillium, large-flowered trillium, and large-flowered bellwort.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont is an intimate preserve that’s known for its lush understory, dreamy creek, and steep bluffs. Visit this week for the emerald foliage of wild leek, mayapple, wild ginger, and skunk cabbage. Blooming now are the flowers of false rue anemone, cutleaf toothwort, bloodroot, and spring beauty  And there are some nice patches of Virginia bluebells.

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

The Sublime Virginia Bluebell

Virginia bluebell

Virginia Bluebells will blow your mind this weekend and into next!:

At O'Hara Woods in Romeoville, Illinois, the April sun rises to warm the springtime woodland brimming with Virginia bluebells.*

At O’Hara Woods in Romeoville, Illinois, the sun rises to warm the springtime woodland brimming with Virginia bluebells. While you’re there, take a deep breathe. The air is filled with the sweet scent of Froot Loops cereal.*

 

April at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.*

At Messenger Woods in Homer Glen, sunlight filters through the thin green foliage of the foggy forest where a profusion of Virginia bluebells populate the woodland floor.*

 

Come to Pilcher Park in April for the dramatic performance starring Virginia bluebells.*

Visit Pilcher Park now for the dramatic performance starring Virginia bluebells.*

In April, Virginia bluebells bloom in profusion along the creek at Raccoon Grove in Monee, Illinois

In April, Virginia bluebells bloom in profusion along the creek at Raccoon Grove in Monee, 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.*

 

Large-flowered Trillium:

White trillium carpet the woodland floor at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen, Illinois.*

White trillium carpet the woodland floor at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen, Illinois.*

 

Large-flowered trillium in the springtime woodland at Fermilab Natural Areas in Batavia, Illinois.*

Large-flowered trillium in the springtime woodland at Fermilab Natural Areas in Batavia, Illinois.*

 

Skunk Cabbage:

It's springtime at Pilcher Park and sunlight shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage which, if broken, releases a strong scent reminiscent of skunk, though sweeter and not nearly as overpowering. If you’re someone who, like me, finds the powerful essence of skunk to be an invigorating and life-affirming experience, the skunk inside the cabbage will definitely let you down.*

It’s springtime at Pilcher Park and sunlight shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage which, if broken, releases a strong scent reminiscent of skunk, though sweeter and not nearly as overpowering. If you’re someone who, like me, finds the powerful essence of skunk to be an invigorating and life-affirming experience, the skunk inside the cabbage will definitely let you down.*

 

Mayapple:

Above: Imagine. It’s a rainy April morning in the city and, from a window above, shiny hexagons, mostly black, can be seen floating over wet sidewalks and along glassy, gray streets. In woodlands across northeastern Illinois, April showers bring out the umbrellas, too. Green, and up to a foot wide, the large leaves of mayapples open up across the forest floor. In May, a single waxy, white flower will secretly bloom beneath the plant’s fanning foliage, like a pedestrian under a parasol. (To see the flower, turn to page 204.)

In woodlands across northeastern Illinois, like here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois, April showers bring out the umbrellas in the form of mayapples. And the white flowers of false rue anemone sparkle like raindrops.*

 

 

 

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.

 

Bloodroot:

Bloodroot

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.

 

Red Trillium can be seen at every preserve in this week’s alert:

Red trillium and setting sun.*

Red trillium blooms as the sun sets at O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville, Illinois.*

Pilcher Park’s marsh marigolds are still blooming aside large-leaved 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.*

 

Marsh marigolds and skunk cabbage at McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park, Illinois.*

Marsh marigolds and skunk cabbage at McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park, Illinois.*

 

* 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.

—Mike

 

© 2018, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.