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ChicagoNatureNOW! ALERT09-26-2018

ChicagoNatureNOW! ALERT
09-26-2018

  • Author: Mike MacDonald
  • Date Posted: Sep 26, 2018
  • Category:

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 26, 2018
(Fall Color Edition & Final Report for 2018)

“Plan the best Chicago autumn nature walks with this fall color report
filled with news and info about the region’s finest natural wonders.”

 

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Now that autumn has arrived and the blooming season has effectively ended, this post will be our final wildflower alert for the year. Below, I suggest where to find any remaining blooms and provide recommendations about where to find kaleidoscopic fall foliage during the weeks to come.

Here are some highlights to help you plan your fall-color outings around Chicago:

The autumn prairie is a mosaic of colors and textures. It is the first habitat to display autumn color in the foliage. And with the many asters and the ethereal blue and purple gentians that bloom through the end of September, the prairie becomes a beautiful mosaic of colors and textures. Experience towering waves of red-stemmed grasses and the tawny, fluffy spikes of gayfeather that glow in the sunlight. In one small patch of prairie, it’s common to see more color than any autumn woodland: oranges, golds, reds, maroons, cyans, browns, and tans. Here’s a list of preserves that are worth visiting as they change into their autumn wardrobes:

Prairies to visit this fall:

  • Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois: Visit the golden sand prairie close to the lake using the trail to the east.
  • Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois: This preserve offers open expanses of woodland, wetland, and prairie that is my personal favorite preserve of the fall season. Click here for the location of the trailhead that goes west into the prairies.
  • Lake in the Hills Fen: Visit to experience the grand grassland expanse.
  • Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois: This prairie offers a hundreds of species with a wonderful combination of color and texture.
  • Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin: This large prairie offers an array of changing colors, including blooms of fringed and prairie gentians that last through the end of September.
  • Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois: This preserve is really a savanna, but it features many prairie plants.
  • Theodore Stone Preserve: There are two different prairies here, a mesic prairie on the west side of the preserve (near the main entrance) and a dolomite (limestone) prairie on the east side.
  • Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale, Illinois: This is a beautiful prairie very close to Chicago’s city limits.
  • Powderhorn Prairie: Experience the most biodiverse natural area within the city limits of Chicago.
  • Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Visit to see the tall grasses and the colorful foliage of the forbs. While you’re on your way, take time to pause under the embrace of gallant oaks in the intimate oak savanna.
  • Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest, Illinois: Contrary to the name, the preserve offers an expanse of prairie that looks great in the fall.
  • Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates, Illinois: Hike this hill prairie and the large grassland at its base.
  • Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois: This intimate remnant prairie is beautiful throughout the year. And because it’s quite small, your visit could be quite short.
  • Lockport Prairie in Lockport, Illinois: This prairie features a wonderful expanse of tall, waving grasses on a short out-and-back trail.

Woodlands to visit this fall:

  • Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois: The black oak savanna takes up the majority of this preserve. You can spend all day exploring.
  • Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois: Lots of great hiking and color through beautiful woodlands, prairies, and wetlands. Spears is one of my favorite autumn spots.
  • Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois: The many flowers and grasses that have brought us joy throughout the growing season are now performing their final show of the year.
  • Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois: This is a magic place with steep bluffs, a beautiful stream, and where maples scream gold.
  • Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Darien, Illinois: This vast preserve is a very popular spot for hikers, bikers, and fall-color chasers. It’s beautiful, but there are a lot of people.
  • Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee, Illinois: Like Black Partridge Woods, this is a wonderful woodland where maples turn to gold.
  • Hoosier Prairie State Nature Preserve in Schererville, Indiana: The name refers to the large expanse of mostly inaccessible prairie across the street from the parking lot.
  • Messenger Woods in Lockport, Illinois: A beautiful maple forest with nice color.
  • Pilcher Park in Joliet, Illinois: The color here can be great, but keep in mind that it’s a popular preserve.
  • Sagawau Canyon: You can sign up for a tour of the canyon, but you can go anytime to walk the trails in the surrounding preserve.
  • Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park, Illinois: This is the finest example of black oak savanna anywhere in the world. For fall color, black oaks can be a bit understated, but there is a wealth of color in the understory.
  • Miller Woods in Gary, Indiana: This is a big, beautiful preserve that features black oak savanna and a rich understory.
  • Cowles Bog Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore: Walk the trail through the colorful black oak savanna. When the time comes, choose the fork to the right. Soon you’ll be taken over a steep dune and onto a dramatic panorama of waving grasses along the sand shores of a blue Lake Michigan.
  • Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: The oak savanna at the entrance is a gem. It’s small, but very inviting and intimate. And, you also can also hike the trail through the prairie and fen.

 

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS:

Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds!
The hummingbirds will often remain while the weather is warm. 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.

Canyon Tours
To experience a beautiful fern-lined canyon, call Sagawau Canyon in Lemont to sign up for their next canyon tour. Hurry! They fill up fast.

 

PHOTO SECTION

Get out there and discover what autumn can bring:

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, where the prairie meets the woodland, late-September grasses turn to gold.*

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, where the prairie meets the woodland, late-September grasses turn to gold.*

 

At Spears Woods, with the warm evening light falling on this October prairie, the tubular tops of blazing star burned with a golden glow; but not two months earlier, they blazed with purple passion. Autumn transformed the cylindrical inflorescence of hundreds of feathery purple flowers into a column of invisible seeds—invisible because what we see is not the seed but the achene, a dry fruit with a single seed hidden inside. On this plant, also known as gayfeather, each achene, by design, forms a downy tan plume that takes to the air to be scattered by the wind.

At Spears Woods, with the warm evening light falling on this October prairie, the tubular tops of blazing star burned with a golden glow; but not two months earlier, they blazed with purple passion. Autumn transformed the cylindrical inflorescence of hundreds of feathery purple flowers into a column of invisible seeds—invisible because what we see is not the seed but the achene, a dry fruit with a single seed hidden inside. On this plant, also known as gayfeather, each achene, by design, forms a downy tan plume that takes to the air to be scattered by the wind.*

 

At Spears Woods, this ephemeral pond becomes a portal into an afternoon of autumn splendor.

At Spears Woods, this ephemeral pond becomes a portal into an afternoon of autumn splendor.*

 

Rare marram grass dominates the foredune along the shore of Lake Michigan at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

Rare marram grass dominates the foredune along the shore of Lake Michigan at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

 

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, this radiant bush reaching out into the sand prairie is shrubby cinquefoil. In the summer, the plant is undramatic. Like a long, drawnout fireworks display, it releases its arsenal of flowers over a two- to three-month period as one flower explodes over here and another over there. But, in the fall, with foliage burning bright, shrubby cinquefoil goes all out, putting on one of the finest finales of any plant. There’s a lesson here. This fall, spare yourself the stiff neck from staring up at the trees and visit the prairie where you’ll find more color than in any woodland.*

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, this radiant bush reaching out into the sand prairie is shrubby cinquefoil. In the summer, the plant is undramatic. Like a long, drawn-out fireworks display, it releases its arsenal of flowers over a two- to three-month period as one flower explodes over here and another over there. But, in the fall, with foliage burning bright, shrubby cinquefoil goes all out, putting on one of the finest finales of any plant. There’s a lesson here. This fall, spare yourself the stiff neck from staring up at the trees and visit the prairie where you’ll find more color than in any woodland.*

 

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, wise oaks in this savanna spread their branches wide to allow the sun’s rays to nourish the diverse community of plants below. These enlightened trees have learned that sharing the light with life at the bottom ensures not only their survival but also the prospect of reaching new heights.*

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, wise oaks in this savanna spread their branches wide to allow the sun’s rays to nourish the diverse community of plants below. These enlightened trees have learned that sharing the light with life at the bottom ensures not only their survival but also the prospect of reaching new heights.*

 

In the fall at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, don’t just stare up at the trees. Look down. There’s a bounty of color at your feet. Here, a black oak leaf landed amidst a bed of pasture rose with leaves more vibrant than any tree in this savanna.

In the fall at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, don’t just stare up at the trees. Look down. There’s a bounty of color at your feet. Here, a black oak leaf landed amidst a bed of pasture rose with leaves more vibrant than any tree in this savanna.*

 

In the September savanna at Hoosier Prairie, ferns begin to change color before the trees.*

In the September savanna at Hoosier Prairie, ferns begin to change color before the trees.*

 

At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, acrobatic cinnamon ferns take hold in the soggy ground of Cowles Bog, which is not a bog at all but, rather, a wetland known as a fen.

At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, acrobatic cinnamon ferns change to gold along the Cowles Bog Trail.*

 

As you hike the boardwalk and the narrow sections of the Cowles Bog Trail, you may find yourself glancing down to watch your step. But in the fall, remember to raise your eyes to view the scenery in the skies.

As you hike the boardwalk and the narrow sections of the Cowles Bog Trail, you may find yourself glancing down to watch your step. But in the fall, remember to raise your eyes to view the scenery in the skies.*

 

In the fall at Black Partridge Woods, I head to the high vantage point of these bluffs to immerse myself in the intoxicating colors and textures of the tiered foliage. Down below, the creek bed is dry. But when the flow returns, fallen leaves will ride the colorful currents that reflect the radiant dome.

In the fall at Black Partridge Woods, I head to the high vantage point of these bluffs to immerse myself in the intoxicating colors and textures of the tiered foliage. Down below, the creek bed is dry. But when the flow returns, fallen leaves will ride the colorful currents that reflect the radiant dome.*

 

Compared to the golden maples of autumn, oaks can be a bit understated. Here, at Bluff Spring Fen, this bur oak, when placed in the spotlight, certainly puts on a show.

Compared to the golden maples of autumn, oaks can be a bit understated. Here at Bluff Spring Fen, this bur oak, when placed in the spotlight, certainly puts on a show.*

 

Visit Raccoon Grove in the fall for its golden maples and picturesque stream.

Visit Raccoon Grove in the fall for its golden maples and picturesque stream.*

 

Every October, I am drawn to the banks of Sawmill Creek for the annual celebration of golden maples. On this particular day, the stream turned to a trickle, its rocky bed transformed into the staging area for a colorful, yet peculiar, parade—one that waits for rainfall in order to proceed.*

Every October, I am drawn to the banks of Sawmill Creek for the annual celebration of golden maples. On this particular day, the stream turned to a trickle, its rocky bed transformed into the staging area for a colorful, yet peculiar, parade—one that waits for rainfall in order to proceed.*

Bottle Gentians (through late September, possibly into October)

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.*

 

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.*

These are not flowers that fill the landscape, but they are sublime. Look closely and you’ll find them at Lake in the Hills FenWolf Road PrairieSomme Prairie Grove, Powderhorn Prairie, and Belmont Prairie. 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.*

Fringed Gentian (through late September, possibly into October)

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 Mark the End of the Blooming Season (many can be seen into October)

New England 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. This is an image of New England aster, which is just one of the many species of aster that bloom at 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.*

 

Canyon Tours

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.*

* 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 our homes, 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

 

 

© 2018, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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