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.”
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 mint, wild 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 quinine, flowering 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 bellflower, nodding 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 rye, little bluestem, big 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.
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 Canyon, Pilcher Park (at the nature center and south of the greenhouse), and Little Red Schoolhouse.
Ferns & Canyon Tours
Cowles Bog Trail, Miller 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.
Sweet Joe-Pye Weed
Compass Plant & Prairie Dock
Big Bluestem Grass and the Tallgrass Prairie
Somme Prairie Grove
Bluff Spring Fen
Shoe Factory Road Prairie
Ferns & Canyon Tours
Sultry Summer Sunsets Over Saganashkee Slough (That’s a mouthful!)
* 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):
- Pembroke Savanna: The display of rough blazing star is on the way and should be spectacular. Also look round-headed bush clover, western sunflower, and large-flowering false foxglove.
- Illinois Beach Nature Preserve: Status flowering spurge, etc.
- Miller Woods: Rough blazing star, etc.
- Somme Prairie Grove: Status of the many flowers.
- Bluff Spring Fen: Status of blazing star and other blooms.
- Shoe Factory Road Prairie: Status of flowers including woodland sunflower.
- Lake in the Hills Fen: Status of rough blazing star, prairie dock, goldenrods, etc.
- Theodore Stone Preserve: General status.
- Fermilab Prairie: General status.
- Powderhorn Prairie: General atatus.
- Belmont Prairie: Rough blazing star, etc.
- Middlefork Savanna: General status.
- Spears Woods: General status.
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.
© 2017, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.