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Chicago Nature Info & News – 05/19/2017

Posted by on 3:38 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
May 19, 2017

“Chicago nature info and news to help you discover the region’s
finest natural wonders and to plan your Chicago nature trip.”

 

Here’s what’s happening in Chicago nature, right now!

 

THE PRAIRIES BEGIN TO FLOWER AS MANY WOODLANDS FADE.

THANK YOU TO MY SCOUTS: First of all, I’d like to thank our scouts, Kathy Deets and Zeke Wei, for venturing out to the farthest preserves to selflessly share this valuable information with the people of the Chicago region! Kathy drove to Wisconsin and then to Zion to file reports on Chiwaukee Prairie and Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. And Zeke went all the way out past Kankakee to report on Pembroke Savanna. This week, we scouted a total a remarkable eleven preserves and, yet, we’re still four short of what we needed. If you find this free website useful, please help us scout or give a donation to keep it running.

WOODLAND HIGHLIGHTS: Wild geranium and wild hyacinth are putting on the woodland show of the week. This is why I recommend the savanna at Wolf Road Prairie and Oldfield Oaks, which is not officially featured here. Check out the bluff trail at Black Partridge Woods for geranium, phlox, and (if you look carefully) shooting star. And while you’re at these preserves,. look for delicate blooms of starry false Solomon’s seal, patches of red trillium, and the green foliage of mayapple, wild ginger, and skunk cabbage.

PRAIRIE HIGHLIGHTS: Chiwaukee Prairie in a dream with its breathtaking display of shooting star! It’s definitely worth the drive. Alongside the shooting star, you’ll find Look for the yellow blooms of wood betony, hoary puccoon, and golden Alexander. Experience the blues with birdfoot violet and blue-eyed grass. And watch for shooting stars of white and pink.

 

SCOUTING NEEDS through Thursday, May 25:

If you’d like to scout the preserves for us, please take several quick pictures of the scene to give us an idea of the experience along with some closer shots of the flowers with their leaves.

 

Plan your Chicago nature trip. Here are the best preserves for lush and colorful displays of springtime flowers:

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: Wild hyacinth is blooming in profusion in the savanna. Just park at the kiosk and take the sidewalk(s).

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont: Take the trail atop the bluffs for geranium, phlox, and (if you look carefully) shooting star.

Oldfield Oaks in Darien: This is not a ChicagoNatureNOW! preserve, but it’s now putting on a show of geranium and wild hyacinth in the northwest portion of the preserve.

Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin: The display of shooting stars is a show to behold. And it’s happening right now! Alongside the shooting stars, look for birdfoot violet, hoary puccoon, wood betony, and yellow star grass. You may even find some gorgeous wild lupine. While you’re visiting this preserve, it’s worth a trip to Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, which is getting ready to explode.

THESE PRESERVES ARE PROBABLY STILL GOOD, but didn’t have enough scouts to get to them:

Fermilab Prairie (and woodland) in Batavia: UNSCOUTED. Last week’s report: The prairie offers some nice patches of wood betony, but the woodland adjacent to the prairie is the place to visit at Fermilab. There, you will find woodland phlox throughout. The display of large-flowered trillium is beautiful. And you’ll also find patches of red trillium, bellwort, and lots of mayapples with their hidden white flowers that smell like gardenia.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: UNSCOUTED. Last week’s report: There is a fine display of shooting star covers the northern face of the northeast kame. A walk east along the trail to find a beautiful patch of blue-eyed grass. The yellows of wood betony and golden Alexander are also flowering in the open prairie. Mayapple and skunk cabbage can be found in and around the canopy of the oak savanna.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: UNSCOUTED. Last week’s report: This small hill prairie has several stunning blooms, right now, including blue-eyed grass, and thick patches of wood betony, hoary puccoon, birdfoot violet, and hoary puccoon. Flowering mayapples are located on the eastern slope.

 

PHOTO SECTION

Wild Hyacinth

 

Wild hyacinth at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

Wild hyacinth at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

 

Each May, wild hyacinths bloom in the oak savanna at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

Each May, wild hyacinths bloom in the oak savanna at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

Wild hyacinths bloom in abundance at Oldfield Oaks in Darien.*

Wild hyacinths bloom in abundance at Oldfield Oaks in Darien.*

Shooting Star

Shooting stars

 

May at Chiwaukee Prairie offers a breathtaking display of shooting stars.*

May at Chiwaukee Prairie offers a breathtaking display of shooting stars.*

 

Springtime wildflowers bloom in profusion at Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.*

Springtime wildflowers bloom in profusion at Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.* Here, we can see shooting star, wood betony, hoary puccoon, and yellow star grass.

 

Shooting stars and woodland phlox at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois

Shooting stars and woodland phlox at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.”

Woodland Phlox 

In May, woodland phlox covers the bluffs at Black Partridge Woods.*

Woodland phlox covers the bluffs at Black Partridge Woods. They can also be found at the other featured woodlands.*

Wild Geranium

May brings glorious displays of wild geranium to Oldfield Oaks in Darien, Illinois, part of Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.*

This week’s glorious display of wild geranium at Oldfield Oaks in Darien, Illinois.

 

You can find wild geranium at all featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.*

You can find wild geranium at all featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.*

Common Blue-eyed Grass

Common blue-eyed grass

Find this gorgeous flower in the prairies and savannas.

 

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.*

 

* 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

 

Chicago Nature Info & News – 05/11/2017

Posted by on 9:28 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
May 11, 2017

“Chicago nature info and news to help you discover the region’s finest natural wonders.”

 

Here’s what’s happening in Chicago nature, right now!

 

SPRING WOODLANDS ARE GREEN, LUSH, AND BLOOMING! AND THE PRAIRIES ARE STARTING TO FLOWER.

WOODLAND HIGHLIGHTS: Discover the white waxy flower of mayapple hidden under its spanning umbrella leaf, blue expanses of woodland phlox, pink displays of wild geranium, the delicate blooms of starry false Solomon’s seal, patches of red trillium, and dramatic white displays of large-flowered trillium.

Though fading, large-flowered trillium can be found at Messenger Woods, the woodland next to Fermilab Prairie (see recent picture below), and along the Heron Rookery Trail in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. (I haven’t scouted the latter location. If you’d like to become an official ChicagoNatureNOW! scout and help other Chicagoans fall in love with local nature, click here to learn more.) Large-flowered trillium may also be found in fine performance at preserves not featured here, Captain Daniel Wright Woods and Harms Woods.

PRAIRIE HIGHLIGHTS: Look for the yellow blooms of wood betony, hoary puccoon, and golden Alexander. Experience the blues with birdfoot violet and blue-eyed grass. And watch for shooting stars of white and pink.

SCOUTING NEEDS through Thursday, May 18:

If you’d like to scout the preserves for us, please take several quick pictures of the scene to give us an idea of the experience along with some closer shots of the flowers with their leaves.

 

Here are the best preserves for lush and colorful displays of springtime flowers:

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont: This intimate preserve will steal your heart. Its bubbling, sparkling stream is the most beautiful in the region and the bluffs add another dimension to the fairy-tale feel. You’ll find many spring flowers, including woodland phlox, wild geranium, skunk cabbage, wild leek, mayapple, wild ginger, Solomon’s seal, and shooting star. (See current picture of shooting stars below.)

Pilcher Park in Joliet: Begin your woodland hike at the nature center and you’ll be surround by spring ephemerals throughout your walk. Look for the large, fanning leaves of skunk cabbage in the muddy parts of the preserve. They’re hard to miss.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen: Parking at the far end of the parking lot. Then walk the grassy path, cross the bridge, and immediately turn left onto an “unofficial official” trail along the creek’s edge. Follow the unmaintained path into the woods to find grand displays of large-flowered trillium. This preserve provides you with the feeling of spring along with a fresh green carpet of foliage and ephemerals throughout.

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee: This woodland preserve features many flowers including geranium, woodland phlox, trout lily, leek, ginger, starry false Solomon’s seal, and mayapple. And there are also lots of red trillium.

O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville: Carpets of spring ephemerals abound, and the mayapples are flowering.

Fermilab Prairie (and woodland) in Batavia: The prairie offers some nice patches of wood betony, but the woodland adjacent to the prairie is the place to visit at Fermilab. There, you will find woodland phlox throughout. The display of large-flowered trillium is beautiful. And you’ll also find patches of red trillium, bellwort, and lots of mayapples with their hidden white flowers that smell like gardenia.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: A fine display of shooting star covers the northern face of the northeast kame. Then, walk east along the trail to find a beautiful patch of blue-eyed grass. The yellows of wood betony and golden Alexander are also flowering in the open prairie. Mayapple and skunk cabbage can be found in and around the canopy of the oak savanna.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: This small hill prairie has several stunning blooms, right now, including blue-eyed grass, and thick patches of wood betony, hoary puccoon, birdfoot violet, and hoary puccoon. Flowering mayapples are located on the eastern slope.

If you can’t make it to my feature preserves, try McKinley Woods/Fredericks Grove in Channahon, Johnson’s Mound in Elburn, Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa, and Harms Woods in Glenview. You’re bound to find some good stuff.

 

PHOTO SECTION

Large-flowered Trillium Are Finishing Up

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

Here’s a shot from earlier this week of large-flowered trillium in the springtime woodland at Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois.

 

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.*

 

In May, large-flowered white trillium cover the woodland floor at Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.*

At Heron Rookery Trail in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, I SUSPECT that the large-flowered white trillium is blooming. I haven’t been able to scout this location, this season. If you’d like be one of our scouts to help Chicagoans fall in love with local nature, click here for information.*

Shooting Star

Shooting stars

 

 

Shooting stars and woodland phlox at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois

Shooting stars and woodland phlox at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.”

Woodland Phlox 

In May, woodland phlox covers the bluffs at Black Partridge Woods.*

Woodland phlox covers the bluffs at Black Partridge Woods. They can also be found at the other featured woodlands.*

Wild Geranium

You can find wild geranium at all featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.*

You can find wild geranium at all featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.*

 

At Raccoon Grove, as evening nears in this beautiful spring woodland, the final streaks of sunlight penetrate the emerald canopy. The shining rays highlight the broad leaves of false Solomon’s seal and animate the soft, pink blooms of wild geranium, making all that is illuminated stand apart from the surrounding foliage.*

At Raccoon Grove, as evening nears in this beautiful spring woodland, the final streaks of sunlight penetrate the emerald canopy. The shining rays highlight the broad leaves of false Solomon’s seal and animate the soft, pink blooms of wild geranium, making all that is illuminated stand apart from the surrounding foliage.*

Mayapple

At Black Partridge Woods, take a look underneath the fanning mayapple leaf, and you may find a hidden waxy, white bloom. You may also discover a burgundy flower hiding beneath the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger.*

Take a look underneath the fanning mayapple leaf, and you may find a hidden waxy, white bloom. You may also discover a burgundy flower hiding beneath the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger.*

Red Trillium

Red trillium and setting sun.*

Red trillium and setting sun.*

Common Blue-eyed Grass

Common blue-eyed grass

Find this gorgeous flower in the prairies and savannas.

 

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.*

 

Birdfoot Violet at Pembroke Savanna

In May, Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare bird-foot violet."

Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare bird-foot violet. The leaf in the foreground is from the black oak trees that dominate this black oak savanna. We need a scout for this important location.*

* 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

 

Chicago Nature Info & News – 05/03/2017

Posted by on 9:55 am in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
May 3, 2017

“Chicago nature info and news to help you discover the region’s finest natural wonders.”

 

Here’s what’s happening in Chicago nature, right now!

 

MUCH LIKE LAST WEEK, THE SPRING WOODLANDS ARE LUSH AND AT PEAK FLOWERING! This report is a repeat of last week’s, but with a couple additions. The big rains have made the woodlands even greener, if that’s even possible! This is a wonderful time to experience springtime in Chicago nature.

I visited Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, and wood betony (a.k.a., lousewort) is blooming throughout the savanna (the open area that looks like a prairie, but is really an oak savanna). At Pembroke Savanna, a rare sand savanna located in Hopkins Park, you’ll find a wonderful display of birdfoot violet as you hike the mowed, grassy loop. Usually, the violets are mixed in white sand phlox, but there was only a few plants that I saw. Possibly, I was a little early.

Two weeks ago week, the displays of Virginia bluebells were jaw-dropping, the star of the spring season. Now, the bluebells are still fading. However, many new actors are taking the stage and joining the spring celebration. The new, flamboyant star on the scene is the white, large-flowered trillium. It can be found in large amounts at Messenger Woods and along the Heron Rookery Trail in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. (I haven’t scouted the latter location. If you’d like to become an official ChicagoNatureNOW! scout and help other Chicagoans fall in love with local nature, click here to learn more.) Large-flowered trillium may also be found in fine performance at preserves not featured here, Captain Daniel Wright Woods and Harms Woods.

The fresh, green backdrop of the woodlands is breathtaking, from foliage that conceal your feet to a leafy canopy of lace above your head. The jade understory is covered with wide umbrellas of mayapple, hearts of wild ginger, stars of geranium, spears of wild leek, and fanning leaves of skunk cabbage. Sprinkled amongst the greenery, you may find sparkling displays of false rue anemone and spring beauty. Woodland phlox and wild geranium provide beautiful purple and pink additions to spring’s color scheme. And red trillium adds a touch of burgundy.

SCOUTING NEEDS through Thursday, May 11:

  • Woodlands listed below.
  • Wolf Road Prairie: Wild Hyacinth in oak savanna located at main kiosk on 31st Street
  • Raccoon Grove: Starry False Solomon’s Seal

If you can scout the preserves, please take several quick pictures of the scene to give an idea of the experience along with some closer shots of the flowers with their leaves.

 

Here are the best preserves for lush and colorful displays of springtime flowers:

O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville: No matter where you walk, you’ll find bluebells. My favorite place is along the stream in the southern part of the preserve. They go on as far as you can see. Mayapples, ginger, trout lily, leek, and many other flowers abound here.

Pilcher Park in Joliet: You’ll find an endless display of bluebells along the creek, as well as many other flowers. Begin your hike at the nature center and you’ll be surround by spring ephemerals throughout your walk. Look for the large, fanning leaves of skunk cabbage in the muddy parts of the preserve. They’re hard to miss.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen: Parking at the far end of the parking lot. Then walk the grassy path, cross the bridge, and immediately turn left onto an “unofficial official” trail along the creek’s edge. Follow the unmaintained path into the woods to find endless vistas of bluebells and grand displays of large-flowered trillium. This preserve provides you with the feeling of spring along with a fresh green carpet of foliage and ephemerals throughout.

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee: In addition to fading patches of bluebells, this preserve is currently brimming with many types of flowers: wild geranium, woodland phlox, trout lily, wild leek, ginger, and mayapple. Check under the leaves of the latter two to find their flowers. There are also lots of red trillium.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont: This intimate preserve will steal your heart. Its bubbling, sparkling stream is the most beautiful in the region and the bluffs add another dimension to the fairy-tale feel. This place is a miracle. You’ll find many spring flowers, including woodland phlox, wild geranium, false rue anemone, skunk cabbage, wild leek, mayapple, wild ginger, Solomon’s seal, and shooting star.

If you can’t make it to my feature preserves, try McKinley Woods/Fredericks Grove in Channahon, Johnson’s Mound in Elburn, Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa, and Harms Woods in Glenview. You’re bound to find some good stuff.

 

PHOTO SECTION

The Sublime Virginia Bluebell (but now fading away)

Virginia bluebell

 

Virginia Bluebells at O’Hara Woods

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 April sun rises to warm the springtime woodland brimming with Virginia bluebells. Right now, they flowers are dropping at all preserves.*

Virginia Bluebells at Messenger Woods

April at Messenger Woods in Lockport features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.

April at Messenger Woods in Lockport features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells. The flowers are currently fading.*

Virginia Bluebells at Raccoon Grove

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.*

 

Virginia Bluebells at Pilcher Park

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

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

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.*

 

Large-flowered Trillium Are Already Blooming

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.*

 

In May, large-flowered white trillium cover the woodland floor at Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.*

At Heron Rookery Trail in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, I SUSPECT that the large-flowered white trillium is in bloom. I haven’t scouted this location, this year. If you’d like to volunteer to be an 0fficial scout to help other Chicagoans fall in love with local nature, click here for information.*

Mayapple & More

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.*

At Black Partridge Woods, take a look underneath the fanning mayapple leaf, and you may find a hidden waxy, white bloom. You may also discover a burgundy flower hiding beneath the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger.*

Take a look underneath the fanning mayapple leaf, and you may find a hidden waxy, white bloom. You may also discover a burgundy flower hiding beneath the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger.*

Woodland Phlox 

In May, woodland phlox covers the bluffs at Black Partridge Woods.*

Woodland phlox covers the bluffs at Black Partridge Woods. They can also be found at the other featured woodlands.*

Wild Geranium

You can find wild geranium at all featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.*

You can find wild geranium at all featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.*

 

At Raccoon Grove, as evening nears in this beautiful spring woodland, the final streaks of sunlight penetrate the emerald canopy. The shining rays highlight the broad leaves of false Solomon’s seal and animate the soft, pink blooms of wild geranium, making all that is illuminated stand apart from the surrounding foliage.*

At Raccoon Grove, as evening nears in this beautiful spring woodland, the final streaks of sunlight penetrate the emerald canopy. The shining rays highlight the broad leaves of false Solomon’s seal and animate the soft, pink blooms of wild geranium, making all that is illuminated stand apart from the surrounding foliage.*

Red Trillium

Red trillium and setting sun.*

Red trillium and setting sun.*

Birdfoot Violet at Pembroke Savanna

In May, Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare bird-foot violet."

Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare bird-foot violet. The leaf in the foreground is from the black oak trees that dominate this black oak savanna.”

* 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

 

Chicago Nature Info & News – 04/27/2017

Posted by on 7:33 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
April 27, 2017

“Chicago nature info and news to help you discover the region’s finest natural wonders.”

 

Here’s what’s happening in Chicago nature, right now!

 

THE SPRING WOODLANDS ARE LUSH AND AT PEAK FLOWERING! Now is the perfect time to experience springtime in Chicago nature.

Last week, the displays of Virginia bluebells were jaw-dropping, the star of the spring season. This week, the bluebells are still putting on a fine performance, but its time in the spotlight is fading. However, many new actors are taking the stage and joining the spring celebration. The new, flamboyant star on the scene is the white, large-flowered trillium. It can be found in large amounts at Messenger Woods and along the Heron Rookery Trail in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. (I haven’t scouted the latter location. If you’d like to become an official ChicagoNatureNOW! scout and help other Chicagoans fall in love with local nature, click here to learn more.) Large-flowered trillium may also be found in fine performance at preserves not featured here, Captain Daniel Wright Woods and Harms Woods.

The fresh, green backdrop of the woodlands is breathtaking, from foliage that conceal your feet to a leafy canopy of lace above your head. The jade understory is covered with wide umbrellas of mayapple, hearts of wild ginger, stars of geranium, spears of wild leek, and fanning leaves of skunk cabbage. Sprinkled amongst the greenery, you may find sparkling displays of false rue anemone and spring beauty. Woodland phlox and wild geranium provide beautiful purple and pink additions to spring’s color scheme. And red trillium adds a touch of burgundy.

 

Here are the best preserves for lush and colorful displays of springtime wildflowers:

O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville: No matter where you walk, you’ll find bluebells. My favorite place is along the stream in the southern part of the preserve. They go on as far as you can see. Mayapples, ginger, trout lily, leek, and many other flowers abound here.

Pilcher Park in Joliet: You’ll find an endless display of bluebells along the creek, as well as many other flowers. Begin your hike at the nature center and you’ll be surround by spring ephemerals throughout your walk. Look for the large, fanning leaves of skunk cabbage in the muddy parts of the preserve. They’re hard to miss.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen: Parking at the far end of the parking lot. Then walk the grassy path, cross the bridge, and immediately turn left onto an “unofficial official” trail along the creek’s edge. Follow the unmaintained path into the woods to find endless vistas of bluebells and grand displays of large-flowered trillium. This preserve provides you with the feeling of spring along with a fresh green carpet of foliage and ephemerals throughout.

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee: In addition to rich patches of bluebells, this preserve is currently brimming with many types of flowers: wild geranium, woodland phlox, trout lily, wild leek, ginger, and mayapple. Check under the leaves of the latter two to find their flowers.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont: Bluebells can be found here, though not as many as the above preserves. But, I must say that this intimate preserve will win your heart. Its bubbling, sparkling stream is the most beautiful in the region and the bluffs add another dimension to the fairy-tale feel. This place is a miracle. You’ll find many spring flowers, including woodland phlox, wild geranium, false rue anemone, skunk cabbage, wild leek, mayapple, wild ginger, Solomon’s seal, and shooting star.

If you can’t make it to my feature preserves, try McKinley Woods/Fredericks Grove in Channahon, Johnson’s Mound in Elburn, Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa, and Harms Woods in Glenview. You’re bound to find some good stuff.

 

PHOTO SECTION

The Sublime Virginia Bluebell

Virginia bluebell

 

Virginia Bluebells at O’Hara Woods

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 April sun rises to warm the springtime woodland brimming with Virginia bluebells.*

Virginia Bluebells at Messenger Woods

April at Messenger Woods in Lockport features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.

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

Virginia Bluebells at Raccoon Grove

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.*

 

Virginia Bluebells at Raccoon Grove

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

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

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.*

 

Large-flowered Trillium Are Already Blooming

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.*

 

In May, large-flowered white trillium cover the woodland floor at Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.*

At Heron Rookery Trail in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, I SUSPECT that the large-flowered white trillium is in bloom. I haven’t scouted this location, this year. If you’d like to volunteer to be an 0fficial scout to help other Chicagoans fall in love with local nature, click here for information.*

Mayapple & More

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.*

At Black Partridge Woods, take a look underneath the fanning mayapple leaf, and you may find a hidden waxy, white bloom. You may also discover a burgundy flower hiding beneath the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger.*

Take a look underneath the fanning mayapple leaf, and you may find a hidden waxy, white bloom. You may also discover a burgundy flower hiding beneath the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger.*

Woodland Phlox 

In May, woodland phlox covers the bluffs at Black Partridge Woods.*

Woodland phlox covers the bluffs at Black Partridge Woods. They can also be found at the other featured woodlands.*

Wild Geranium

You can find wild geranium at all featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.*

You can find wild geranium at all featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.*

 

At Raccoon Grove, as evening nears in this beautiful spring woodland, the final streaks of sunlight penetrate the emerald canopy. The shining rays highlight the broad leaves of false Solomon’s seal and animate the soft, pink blooms of wild geranium, making all that is illuminated stand apart from the surrounding foliage.*

At Raccoon Grove, as evening nears in this beautiful spring woodland, the final streaks of sunlight penetrate the emerald canopy. The shining rays highlight the broad leaves of false Solomon’s seal and animate the soft, pink blooms of wild geranium, making all that is illuminated stand apart from the surrounding foliage.*

Red Trillium

Red trillium and setting sun.*

Red trillium and the setting sun.*

Dutchman’s Breeches (or Dutchman’s Britches) Are Still Blooming

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.*

 

* 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

 

WBEZ Worldview Radio Interview of Mike MacDonald – 04-18-2017

Posted by on 4:17 am in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNOW! featured on WBEZ’s Worldview Program

 

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

This is just a quick post to let you know that, on Tuesday, April 18, ChicagoNatureNOW! was the topic of discussion on Chicago Public Radio’s Worldview program. I was interviewed by host Jerome McDonnell. If you weren’t able to catch it, click here to listen.

—Mike


 

Chicago Nature Info & News – 04/18/2017

Posted by on 2:27 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
April 18, 2017

“Chicago nature info and news to help you discover the region’s finest natural wonders.”

 

Here’s what’s happening in Chicago nature, right now!

 

BLUEBELLS, BLUEBELLS, BLUEBELLS! The Virginia bluebell is the flower of the week and the spring season. If the glorious displays of these flowers don’t make you realize why I say that Chicago nature offers national-park quality natural events, you never will. Not only will you experience the beauty with your eyes, but their sweet scent fills the air (and your nose) with a smell reminiscent of Froot Loops cereal.

Joining the spring celebration of bluebells are false rue anemone, spring beauty, spring cress, Dutchman’s breeches, and trout lily. But look for the wild leek with it’s spraying, spear-like foliage, the umbrellas of mayapple, the small heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger, and the large leaves of skunk cabbage in the muddy areas.

 

Here are the best preserves to find magnificent displays of Virginia bluebells, and don’t forget to take in their Fruit-Loops scent:

O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville: No matter where you walk, you’ll find bluebells. My favorite place is along the stream in the southern part of the preserve. They go on as far as you can see. This preserve 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 are being overgrown by woodland plants. But, right now, the ground is exploding with white flowers, 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 puffy white overalls, spring beauties, and, most dramatically, flowing seas of toothwort.

Pilcher Park in Joliet: You’ll find an endless display of bluebells along the creek. Begin your hike at the nature center and you’ll be surround by spring ephemerals throughout your walk. My very favorite flower-of-the-moment is marsh marigold. Look for its yellow blooms in the low, muddy areas of the site. And, when you find a wet and muddy spot, also look for the cabbage foliage of skunk cabbage. It’s hard to miss.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen: After crossing the bridge, you’ll find an endless carpet of bluebells along the trail that splits to the left. This preserve provides you with the feeling of spring, with a fresh green carpet of foliage and ephemerals throughout.

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee: Thanks to Zeke Wei, my first volunteer scout, I can confidently say that the bluebells are going strong and so are many other spring plants and flowers. If you’d like to volunteer to scout preserve for me and to help all Chicagoans fall in love with local nature, click here for information.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont: Bluebells can be found here, though not as many as the above preserves. But, I must say that this intimate preserve will win your heart. It also features the most beautiful stream in the region, but differs from the other preserves because of the tall bluffs. This place is a miracle. You’ll also find false rue anemone, skunk cabbage, wild leek, mayapple, and Solomon’s seal. There’s also wild ginger, with their small heart-shaped leaves, that are just beginning to fill in the woodland floor.

 

PHOTO SECTION

The Sublime Virginia Bluebell

Virginia bluebell

 

Virginia Bluebells at O’Hara Woods

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 April sun rises to warm the springtime woodland brimming with Virginia bluebells.*

Virginia Bluebells at Messenger Woods

April at Messenger Woods in Lockport features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.

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

Virginia Bluebells at Raccoon Grove

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.*

 

Virginia Bluebells at Raccoon Grove

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

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

MORE FLOWERS

Mayapples and False Rue Anemone at Black Partridge Woods

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.*

Cut-leaved 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.*

 

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.*

 

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.

—Mike

 

Chicago Nature Info – 04/13/2017

Posted by on 8:39 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
April 13, 2017

“Chicago nature info and news to help you discover the region’s finest natural wonders.”

 

Welcome to the first official post of the 2017 season

 

Here’s what’s happening in Chicago nature, right now!

Finally, it’s starting to look like spring with innumerable species of wildflowers flowing across the floors of several area woodlands.

At this moment, most of the springtime flowers are blooming white (or a light pink), like cut-leaved 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 that are getting bigger every day. And keep your eyes open for Virginia bluebells. They also green up the preserves but, in about a week, they’ll turn wet woodlands into seas of blue and pink. It is, by far, the most dramatic blooming event of the spring season. If you like yellow flowers, marsh marigolds are blooming at Pilcher Park and at McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park. From the parking lot, look across the stream.

 

Here’s a list of the best preserves to visit for this first important blooming event of the year:

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 are being overgrown by woodland plants. But, right now, the ground is exploding with white flowers, 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 puffy white overalls, spring beauties, and, most dramatically, flowing seas of toothwort. You’ll also

Pilcher Park has the best trails in the current alert. Begin your hike at the nature center and you’ll be surround by spring ephemerals throughout your walk. My very favorite flower-of-the-moment is marsh marigold. Look for its yellow blooms in the low, muddy areas of the site. And, when you find a wet and muddy spot, also look for the cabbage foliage of skunk cabbage. It’s hard to miss. This preserve is also one of the best places for Virginia bluebells. They like it a little bit wet. Look for them along the creek. The go on forever.

Messenger Woods in Lockport 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 more than a week away.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont is a gem, but it’s quite small. False rue anemone, skunk cabbage, wild leek, mayapple, and some Virginia bluebells. There’s also wild ginger, with their small heart-shaped leaves, that are just beginning to fill in the woodland floor.

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.

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Cut-leaved 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.

 

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.

 

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.

—Mike

 

Chicago Nature Now! Alert – 02/27/2017

Posted by on 9:09 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
February 27, 2017
(Skunk Cabbage Update)

“Chicago nature info and news to help you discover the region’s finest natural wonders.”

 

SPRING HAS ARRIVED IN CHICAGO AND THE EVIDENCE IS SPREADING!

In my February 15th blog post and alert, I reported finding the first sprouts of skunk cabbage at Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet, signalling the start of spring in the Chicago area. Now, I’ve confirmed that it’s now pushing up its spotted spathes (see below) at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont and at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.

In Chicago, spring usually arrives in March when sprouts of skunk cabbage push up from the muck. But this hasn’t been a normal winter, given the well-above-average temperatures and minimal snowfall (so far). On February 14, I had a hunch that skunk cabbage may have already popped up. So, I visited Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet. And there it was: skunk cabbage and the beginning of spring in Chicago! The preserve is farther to the south with slightly higher temperatures, making this site one of the first places to see skunk cabbage. To find the skunk cabbage at Pilcher Park, click here for directions to the spot. Park in the gravel pull-off to the right and walk directly off into the woods to your right (east) until you reach a narrow., muddy runoff. It’s no farther than fifty yards from the road. Please keep your eye to the ground and tread lightly. Fresh shoots of skunk cabbage are hidden under the fallen leaves.

Watch my video from my Valentine’s Day visit to Pilcher Park Nature Center:



 

To follow are entertaining and educational excerpts about skunk cabbage from my book, “My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders.”

Searching for Spring

For me, the beginning of spring does not arrive in a fanfare of color. Rather, it begins subtly. In early March, burgundy spathes of skunk cabbage, dappled with yellow stripes and spots, quietly emerge from beneath a cloak of brown decaying leaves or, by way of a rare heat-generating process called thermogenesis, melt their way to the surface through layers of late winter ice and snow. And when March arrives, snow or not, I meander my way around Black Partridge Woods in a hopeful search for spring:

Winter is waning;
I’ve made it to March.
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
The temperature rises.
The snow slowly melts.
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Are you under the white
in a warmth all your own?
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Are you hiding in leaves
or still waiting to rise?
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Leafing through litter
on the brown woodland floor,
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Finally up from the mud
sprouts a burgundy curl.
With eyes to the ground, it is Spring I have found.

 

 

Thermogenesis is a rare property that is shared by only a few of Earth’s plants, one of which is skunk cabbage. Concealed deep inside this burgundy hood is a tiny, “green” furnace, generating heat that can rise as much as 63°F above the ambient air temperature. This easily allows the curling spathe to melt the surrounding snow and break through the surface.

Thermogenesis is a rare property that is shared by only a few of Earth’s plants, one of which is skunk cabbage. Concealed deep inside this burgundy hood is a tiny, “green” furnace, generating heat that can rise as much as 63°F above the ambient air temperature. This easily allows the curling spathe to melt the surrounding snow and break through the surface.*

 

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers. The spadix emits a foul odor that, to a human, is reminiscent of skunk. However, to flesh flies, carrion flies, and several kinds of gnats, the spadix smells and looks more like a yummy dead animal, a trick the plant uses to lure them in for pollination. The spadix is also where the process of thermogenesis takes place. It warms the confines of the spathe, providing a cozy haven for pollinating insects while transmitting the smell of carrion far and wide.

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.
The spadix emits a foul odor that, to a human, is reminiscent of skunk. However, to flesh flies, carrion flies, and several kinds of gnats, the spadix smells and looks more like a yummy dead animal, a trick the plant uses to lure them in for pollination. The spadix is also where the process of thermogenesis takes place. It warms the confines of the spathe, providing a cozy haven for pollinating insects while transmitting the smell of carrion far and wide.*

 

These tender leaves of skunk cabbage will soon develop into giants, up to two feet long and one foot wide.

These tender leaves of skunk cabbage will soon develop into giants, up to two feet long and one foot wide.*

 

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.*

 

* 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

 

Chicago Nature Now! Alert – 02/15/2017

Posted by on 12:43 am in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
February 15, 2017

“Chicago nature info and news to help you discover the region’s finest natural wonders.”

 

IT’S OFFICIAL. SPRING HAS ARRIVED IN CHICAGO!

In Chicago, spring usually arrives in March when sprouts of skunk cabbage push up from the muck. But this hasn’t been a normal winter, given the well-above-average temperatures and minimal snowfall (so far). Yesterday, February 14, I had a hunch that skunk cabbage may have already popped up. So, I visited Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet. And there it was: skunk cabbage and the beginning of spring in Chicago! The preserve is farther to the south with slightly higher temperatures, making this site one of the first places to see skunk cabbage. Black Partridge Woods in Lemont should see sprouting soon. To find the skunk cabbage at Pilcher Park, click here for directions to the spot. Park in the gravel pull-off to the right and walk directly off into the woods to your right (east) until you reach a narrow., muddy runoff. It’s no farther than fifty yards from the road. Please keep your eye to the ground and tread lightly. Fresh shoots of skunk cabbage are hidden under the fallen leaves.

Watch my video from my Valentine’s Day visit to Pilcher Park Nature Center:



 

To follow are entertaining and educational excerpts about skunk cabbage from my book, “My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders.”

Searching for Spring

For me, the beginning of spring does not arrive in a fanfare of color. Rather, it begins subtly. In early March, burgundy spathes of skunk cabbage, dappled with yellow stripes and spots, quietly emerge from beneath a cloak of brown decaying leaves or, by way of a rare heat-generating process called thermogenesis, melt their way to the surface through layers of late winter ice and snow. And when March arrives, snow or not, I meander my way around Black Partridge Woods in a hopeful search for spring:

Winter is waning;
I’ve made it to March.
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
The temperature rises.
The snow slowly melts.
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Are you under the white
in a warmth all your own?
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Are you hiding in leaves
or still waiting to rise?
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Leafing through litter
on the brown woodland floor,
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Finally up from the mud
sprouts a burgundy curl.
With eyes to the ground, it is Spring I have found.

 

 

Thermogenesis is a rare property that is shared by only a few of Earth’s plants, one of which is skunk cabbage. Concealed deep inside this burgundy hood is a tiny, “green” furnace, generating heat that can rise as much as 63°F above the ambient air temperature. This easily allows the curling spathe to melt the surrounding snow and break through the surface.

Thermogenesis is a rare property that is shared by only a few of Earth’s plants, one of which is skunk cabbage. Concealed deep inside this burgundy hood is a tiny, “green” furnace, generating heat that can rise as much as 63°F above the ambient air temperature. This easily allows the curling spathe to melt the surrounding snow and break through the surface.*

 

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers. The spadix emits a foul odor that, to a human, is reminiscent of skunk. However, to flesh flies, carrion flies, and several kinds of gnats, the spadix smells and looks more like a yummy dead animal, a trick the plant uses to lure them in for pollination. The spadix is also where the process of thermogenesis takes place. It warms the confines of the spathe, providing a cozy haven for pollinating insects while transmitting the smell of carrion far and wide.

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.
The spadix emits a foul odor that, to a human, is reminiscent of skunk. However, to flesh flies, carrion flies, and several kinds of gnats, the spadix smells and looks more like a yummy dead animal, a trick the plant uses to lure them in for pollination. The spadix is also where the process of thermogenesis takes place. It warms the confines of the spathe, providing a cozy haven for pollinating insects while transmitting the smell of carrion far and wide.*

 

These tender leaves of skunk cabbage will soon develop into giants, up to two feet long and one foot wide.

These tender leaves of skunk cabbage will soon develop into giants, up to two feet long and one foot wide.*

 

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.*

 

* 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

 

REMARKABLE FACTS ABOUT CHICAGO NATURE – Fact 2: Chicago Has A Native Cactus!

Posted by on 6:22 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

REMARKABLE FACTS ABOUT CHICAGO NATURE
Fact 2: Chicago Has A Native Cactus!

(Experience the Magic of Nature Near Your Home)

 

Eastern prickly pear cactus blooms in late June in sandy preserves around the Chicago area.

Eastern prickly pear cactus blooms in late June in sandy preserves around the Chicago area.

It’s wintertime. So why am I showing you this plant of the desert in a book about Chicago’s natural wonders? First, I did it to remind the weenies, those who complain about the weather as they walk out into the blizzard without a hat, that there is a place called Arizona. But my primary motivation is to provide support to the real Chicagoans, the hearty souls who love it here, by introducing them to a kindred spirit and probably our most unexpected neighbor. Meet the eastern prickly pear cactus. Yes, it seems crazy, but Chicago has a native cactus!

If you’d like to pay a visit to this longtime and sometimes bristly resident, maybe to exchange ideas or the occasional barb, look for habitats with sandy or rocky soils, like those found at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Powderhorn Marsh and Prairie (located in Chicago proper), Tolleston Dunes Trail (part of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore), or here, at Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve near the Fox River.

—Mike

P.S. 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.