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ChicagoNatureNOW! ALERT08-17-2017

ChicagoNatureNOW! ALERT
08-17-2017

  • Author: Mike MacDonald
  • Date Posted: Aug 17, 2017
  • Category:

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
August 17, 2017

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

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Here are some highlights to help you plan your Chicago weekend getaway:

Chicagoland is putting on great performances of tall flowers and grasses. Again, Somme Prairie Grove tops this week’s list. Then comes Bluff Spring Fen and Shoe Factory Road Prairie. This is also a time to watch hummingbirds, see fanning ferns, and go on a canyon tour. Yes, we have a canyon! And, if you’re near Zion, I’m never going to stop you from visiting Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. You never know what you’ll discover there.

Thank you to Dave Hodge and the volunteers at Bluff Spring Fen for clearing the trails of overgrowth.

 NOTE: Prairies are wet in the morning, so wear raingear or you’ll become drenched in dew.

 

WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A CHICAGO OUTDOOR GETAWAY


Somme Prairie Grove
 in Northbrook: There are many flowers in bloom throughout the preserve. The trails are narrow and, currently, overgrown. So watch your step. If you visit in the morning, wear  raingear or the plants will drench you with dew. The big show is under the trees where the thousands of yellow woodland sunflowers and taller brown-eyed Susans combine with skybound pale-purple plumes of sweet Joe-Pye weed. In the sunny areas of the savanna, you’ll find yourself travelling through tunnels of big bluestem grass and Indian grass, which is probably the reason for the misnomer “tallgrass prairie.” It’s a misnomer because most of the species in a prairie are actually forbs (flowering plants). Still, when the first settlers travelling from the forest of the east came across the late-summer prairies, the towering grasses of Illinois would have been a unexpected obstacle. As you pass through, look carefully for the tiny flowers upon their tassels and plumes. You’ll find dense stands of molecular rattlesnake master, along with mountain mintwild quinine,  ironweed, obedient plant, and newly emerging blooms of goldenrod. Then, there’s the skyward stalks of compass plant that can easily reach eight feet into the air, along with its tall cousin prairie dock with its enormous heart-shaped leaves. (See comparison below in the large Photo Section.) In addition to appreciating the kaleidoscopic colors, notice the rich textures, including the symmetrical sprays of prairie dropseed.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Towering displays of purplish sweet Joe-Pye weed can be found under the oak savanna that opens the preserve. As you continue, you’ll see tall yellow sunflowers. One is wingstem, which you can identify by the flange running down the stem. Another is cutleaf coneflower, with its the deeply lobed leaves. Then you’ll also see cup plant, especially in the wetter areas. It has large opposing leaves that join at the stem and holds pooled water for birds and insects. Other yellow flowers include rosinweed, shrubby cinquefoil, skyrocketing compass plant, and goldenrods like stiff goldenrod and grass-leaved golderod. Experience that alabaster tones of wild quinineflowering spurge, and rattlesnake master. Along with the purplish sweet Joe-Pye weed, experience the pinks and purples of cylindrical blazing star, rough blazing star, American bellflowernodding wild onion, wild bergamot, and, in the wetter areas, swamp milkweed and spotted Joe-Pye weed. At this time of year, the grasses are prominent, including Canada wild ryelittle bluestembig bluestem, Indian grass, all acting as brushes loaded with morning dew. Notice the minute flowers atop the tassels of big bluestem and Indian grass. And then there’s the aptly named bottlebrush grass that can be found in the shade of the oak savanna.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman States offers wonderful displays of cylindrical blazing star and obedient plant atop the hill prairie, along with compass plant, rosinweed, round-headed bush clover, and the beginnings of goldenrod. Under cover of the oak savanna, you’ll find lots of woodland sunflower and sweet Joe-Pye weed. In the prairie outside the fence, look into the distance to see expanses of purple from the tassels of big bluestem. Then, immerse yourself by taking the wide trails through a vast panorama of big bluestem and Indian grass. And, don’t forget, Bluff Spring Fen is just fifteen minutes away by car.

 

IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, IT’S PROBABLY WORTH A TRIP TO:

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (unscouted this week) always provides a wonderful and wild experience. Look for the emergence of rough blazing star in the prairie and savanna. This spectacular event is only days away.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park is about to explode with always provides a wonderful and wild experience. Look for the emergence of rough blazing star in the prairie and savanna. This spectacular event is only days away.

 

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS:

Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds!
The hummingbirds are still around and should be for the next couple of weeks. You can find them buzzing about at many nature centers including: Sagawau CanyonPilcher Park (at the nature center and south of the greenhouse), and Little Red Schoolhouse.

Ferns & Canyon Tours
Cowles Bog TrailMiller Woods, and Hoosier Prairie (all in northwestern Indiana) are leaping with gymnastic ferns. If you’d like to experience a beautiful fern-lined canyon, call Sagawau Canyon in Lemont, Illinois to sign up for their next canyon tour. Hurry! They fill up fast.

See a Summer Sunset
Saganashkee Slough in Palos Hills, Illinois is sensational for sunsets, as our celestial star—a bright, burning brass ball—slowly sinks in the sky to start a sultry summer eve.

 

PHOTO SECTION

Woodland Sunflowers

At Somme Prairie Grove, woodland sunflowers surround this majestic bur oak in the savanna.*

At Somme Prairie Grove, woodland sunflowers surround this majestic bur oak in the savanna.*

 

Sweet Joe-Pye Weed

In the open woodland at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, summer brings tall blooms of sweet Joe-Pye weed.*

In the open woodland at Spears Woods and other preserves, discover summer tall, feathery blooms of sweet Joe-Pye weed.*

Compass Plant & Prairie Dock

These are the large leaves of the prairie's most iconic plants. The heart-shaped leaf is that of prairie dock, and the long-lobed leaf is from a cousin called compass plant.

These are the large leaves of the prairie’s most iconic and unmistakable plants. The heart-shaped leaf is that of prairie dock, and the long-lobed leaf is from a cousin called compass plant.*

 

Compass plant towers into the sky.*

This bloom of compass plant reaches for the sky.*

 

You can find prairie dock at Middlefork Savanna, an imaginative creation dreamt up by Mother Nature. Stretching at least twelve feet beneath the prairie is the taproot—the life, the energy source, and the heart of this plant. The root is also the artery, transporting cold water from deep below to nourish and cool the affection of heartshaped leaves, which are prone to shriveling under the summer sun.Where the root meets the air, a blood-red stalk takes over the job. Swerving towards the sky, the thick stem carries life to multiple golden flowers that may float as high as ten feet above the prairie. Here, the first flower has bloomed, while many ball-like buds are about to follow suit.

You can find prairie dock at many preserves, including Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest. It’s an imaginative creation dreamt up by Mother Nature. Stretching at least twelve feet beneath the prairie is the taproot—the life, the energy source, and the heart of this plant. The root is also the artery, transporting cold water from deep below to nourish and cool the affection of heart-shaped leaves, which are prone to shriveling under the summer sun.Where the root meets the air, a blood-red stalk takes over the job. Swerving towards the sky, the thick stem carries life to multiple golden flowers that may float as high as ten feet above the prairie. Here, the first flower has bloomed, while many ball-like buds are about to follow suit.*

 

Landscape of Compass Plants at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Illinois.*

Landscape of Compass Plants at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Illinois.*

 

In August, a knee-high carpet of grass-leaved goldenrod sparkles in the midst of tall goldenrod and a soaring phalanx of prairie dock.

In August, at Lake in the Hills Fen, you can find knee-high carpets of grass-leaved goldenrod and a soaring stands of prairie dock.*

 

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.*

 

Miniature flowers delicately hang from the tassel of big bluestem grass.*

Look closely for miniature flowers that delicately hang from the tassel of big bluestem grass.*

Somme Prairie Grove

In 1985, this area was cast in total darkness, a dirt floor under an endless gray barrier of scraggly buckthorn. Now, after lots of love from volunteers, it is the edge of a woodland, well lit and teeming with tall flowers that reach for the sun.*

In 1985, this area was cast in total darkness, a dirt floor under an endless gray barrier of scraggly buckthorn. Now, after lots of love from volunteers, it is the edge of a woodland, well lit and teeming with tall flowers that reach for the sun.*

 

Obedient plant at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.*

Obedient plant at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.*

 

Bluff Spring Fen

Soft sunlight, diffused by morning mist, filters across the preserve. Gathered at the base of the kame, fire-resistant bur oaks hover above a colorful caboodle of Joe-Pye weed and tall goldenrod.*

Soft sunlight, diffused by morning mist, filters across the preserve. Gathered at the base of the kame, fire-resistant bur oaks hover above a colorful caboodle of Joe-Pye weed and tall goldenrod.*

 

 Shoe Factory Road Prairie

Atop this hill prairie called Shoe Factory Road Prairie, obedient plant and Indian grass take in the view.*

 

 Ferns & Canyon Tours

Royal ferns in the light fog of the savanna at Hoosier Prairie in Highland, Indiana

Royal ferns in the light fog of the savanna at Hoosier Prairie in Schererville, Indiana.*

 

A forest of royal ferns thrives in a wetland that has formed at the base of a high dune.

In the Cowles Bog area, you’ll find many species of fern. Here, a forest of royal ferns thrives in a wetland that has formed at the base of a high dune.*

 

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.*

 

 Sultry Summer Sunsets Over Saganashkee Slough (That’s a mouthful!)

The sun sets on this hot summer afternoon at Saganashkee Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois near Chicago.

On this sweltering, sultry afternoon, a golden sun sets over Saganashkee Slough in Palos Hills, Illinois.*

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

 

SCOUTING NEEDS for my next report on Thursday, August 24 (in rough order of urgency):

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

 

© 2017, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.