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ChicagoNatureNOW! ALERT06-23-2017

ChicagoNatureNOW! ALERT
06-23-2017

  • Author: Mike MacDonald
  • Date Posted: Jun 23, 2017
  • Category:

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
June 23, 2017

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

 

This has been a very busy week of scouting because so much is about to happen. In our prairies and woodlands, as one flower fades another is ready to take its place. At Bluff Spring Fen, pale purple coneflowers are ready to wilt, but in the wings are the rich purple hues of leadplant and golden blooms of prairie coreopsis. And, in many of our prairies, the whites of foxglove beardtongue are being replaced by wild quinine.

 

 

Here’s what’s happening in Chicago nature:

This week, the preserves with the best blooms are Bluff Spring FenBelmont Prairie, and Somme Prairie Grove. The first two preserves offer impressive displays of pale purple coneflower, among other fascinating blooms, while the latter has many plants in flowers. Still blooming, but not as prolifically, is the miraculous species called spiderwort, but you will only find them blooming in the morning. By the afternoon, the flowers will have melted into a purple liquid! Learn more here. The kooky grass of the week is porcupine grass. Its long needle-like seed drills itself into the soil at a speed that you can actually watch. See my blog post and video. And then there’s  foxglove beardtongue. In fall, it’s seed smells exactly, and I mean “exactly,” like vomit! See my video below. Now, read on to learn where to find these three miracles of Chicago nature.

 

HIGHLIGHTS

Bluff Spring Fen is featuring pale purple coneflowerfoxglove beardtongue, butterfly weed, common milkweed, and the beginnings of leadplant and prairie coreopsis.

Belmont Prairie is offering a dramatic show of pale purple coneflowerporcupine grass, and scurfy pea, and several beautiful orange blossoms of butterfly weed.

Somme Prairie Grove has many flowers in bloom, including tuberous (or prairie) Indian plantain, purple milkweed, prairie sundrop, white wild indigo, butterfly weed, and more. Leadplant is just starting and, next week, will be putting on a spectacular show.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve features lots of hoary puccoon, butterfly weed, and porcupine grass. There’s lots of wildlife, here, even if you just happen to see their tracks in the sand. (See photos below.)

Spears Woods offers displays of foxglove beardtongue throughout the prairies.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie has the regions first displays of prairie coreopsis, and leadplant is just starting to flower.

 

PLAN YOUR CHICAGO NATURE TRIP THIS WEEKEND

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Your walk begins in the intimate oak savanna under the warm embrace and protection of majestic oaks. Soon, the trails emerge into the open prairie, where y0u’ll find foxglove beardtongue and large shows of pale purple coneflower. Porcupine grass can also be found here, as well as the milkweeds of orange butterfly weed and purplish common milkweed. As you walk deeper into the preserve, notice the grand emergence of leadplant on the southeast kame and prairie coreopsis on the northeast kame. Next week, it they will be fabulous!

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove: Experience the beautiful symphony of color and texture, this week, at this intimate remnant prairie that’s nestled within a quiet neighborhood of Downers Grove. Playing the starring role is pale purple coneflower, and supported by a cast of scurfy pea, butterfly milkweed, and porcupine grass. Spiderwort is fading fast, but can still be found flowering in the during the morning hours. However, as the day warms, the flowers shrivel and turn to liquid.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: There are so many different species of colorful flowers in bloom, right now. It’s like taking a fun course in biology. And don’t forget to use this page on your phone to help identify the various plants. One of my favorite prairie plants is tuberous (or prairie) Indian plantain, which you can find soon after walking in. You’ll also see the gorgeous purple milkweed, but also take the time to take in its delicate fragrance. Along the way, you’ll also find another lovely plant—the yellow prairie sundrop.  Foxglove beardtongue can be found, especially in the northwest corner of the preserve. On your way there, you’ll see a smattering of other blooming flowers, like white wild indigo and butterfly (milk)weed. Then, there’s leadplant, which is getting ready to bloom. So,visit next week for a dramatic show. I often speak of the flowering plants (known as forbs), but the texture of the grasses are also very beautiful, in particular, prairie dropseed or, as I like to call it, Cousin Itt plant. I love Cousin Itt. He made very few appearances on “The Addams Family,” which made that much more exciting to see Itt as a kid (and as an adult). But, now and though the fall, you can see his likeness at Somme Prairie Grove.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion: This preserve is always a great experience, even if there aren’t a lot of blooms. Right now, under the canopy of oaks, you’ll find hoary puccoon in great numbers along with a smattering of  butterfly weed and pasture rose. But don’t just view this beautiful rose. Get down on hands and knees and press your nose into the pink petals. It’s worth the effort. Out in the sand prairie, you’ll discover thousands of porcupine grass with their long, needlelike seeds still attached. This preserve is so rich and wild that you can easily spend most of your day exploring it. And, if you take your time and look closely, you may even find wildlife or their signs. (See photos below of animal tracks, a snapping turtle, and snapping turtle eggs.)

Spears Woods in Willow Springs: Foxglove beardtongue is blooming across the prairies. While you’re there, don’t forget to find your way to Hogwash Slough. Click here to visit the Spears Woods page to find the GPS coordinates for the prairie and the slough.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie is a nice place to visit, this week, if you’re in the neighborhood, which happens to be pretty close to Bluff Spring Fen. Come for the region’s first display of prairie coreopsis with leadplant just beginning to flower. Next week, this preserve will be a must-see experience.

Miller Woods (Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore) in Gary, Indiana: Last week, there were grand displays of hoary puccoon, spiderwort, and downy phlox. This week, we couldn’t get to this preserve because we still need at least a dozen more volunteer scouts. Please help us scout.

Experience Spiderwort: Head out to just about any http://spears woodof our featured prairies and savannas to discover spiderwort. However, to see the flowers, you need to arrive by 10 o’clock in the morning. At the start of each day over the time span of about a month, the plant produces new purple flowers that turn to liquid by afternoon! To experience this purple liquid, squeeze the closed buds that resemble slightly opened pistachios. For the rest of the day, people will look at your fingers and think you were recently arrested. Read about spiderwort and learn where you can find it.

Experience Porcupine Grass at these preserves: Belmont Prairie, the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature PreserveShoe Factory Road Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, and Powderhorn Prairie.

 

COMING NEXT WEEK: Leadplant, Prairie Coreopsis, and Goat’s Rue

 

PHOTO SECTION

Pale Purple Coneflower & Foxglove Beardtongue

Watch this video from about this time last year at Bluff Spring Fen:

 

In addition to experiencing the prairie as a whole, take a closer look and discover the many attractions that hide in plain sight. Here, within a scene of a thousand coneflowers, I attended a iniature, slow-motion rodeo that was taking place upon one prickly flower head. I watched as a tiny ant rode the back of a slinking inchworm.*

In addition to experiencing the prairie as a whole, take a closer look and discover the many attractions that hide in plain sight. Here, within a scene of a thousand coneflowers, I attended a iniature, slow-motion rodeo that was taking place upon one prickly flower head. I watched as a tiny ant rode the back of a slinking inchworm.*

 

The predawn clouds take on the colors of the pale purple coneflowers at this dolomite limestone prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois.*

The predawn clouds take on the colors of the pale purple coneflowers at this dolomite limestone prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois.*

 

In June, foxglove beardtongue blooms in profusion at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

In June, foxglove beardtongue blooms in profusion in many of Chicago’s prairies.*

Miraculous Spiderwort with Flowers that Melt!

Ohio spiderwort in the morning light at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois.

Spiderwort in the morning light at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove and at every savanna and prairie that we feature. A flower will open up in the morning and then melt in just a few hours. So, the morning is the time to see the flowers in bloom. Learn more here.

Miraculous Porcupine Grass and Its Spinning Seed!

Porcupine grass (Hesperostipa spartea, previously known as Stipa spartea, for anyone who cares) is a particularly fun and interesting plant because of its fascinating seed. The common name refers to its long needles, which apparently resemble the spines of a porcupine, though I think the needle-like fruit best resembles a six- to seven-inch spear. The seed head represents the blade, and the long shaft is known as the awn. As the javelin-shaped fruit falls from the plant, the heavy seed head leads the way and embeds its sharp tip into the soil. As the awn dries, it twirls counter-clockwise until the shaft becomes so tightly wound that the implanted seed head begins to drill into the ground. Humidity and moisture have the opposite effect on the awn, causing it to uncoil, allowing rain or heavy dew to straighten it out. As the awn unwinds, the seed is left in place. The drilling process resumes when the environment dries out, and the cycle repeats until the seed is deposited as far as three to four inches beneath the surface, where the awn decays and the grain germinates. Seeds of porcupine grass can’t help but drill, so much so that they’ve been known to cause fatal wounds in animals. Hence, trust me when I tell you that putting them in your pocket is a big mistake.

The seeds of porcupine grass are long sharp needles that fall off the plant and slowly drill themselves into the soil. See my video here.

 

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

 

Butterfly milkweed (or butterfly weed) blooms in the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

Butterfly milkweed (or butterfly weed) blooms in several of Chicagoland’s prairies and savannas, including Bluff Spring Fen, Belmont Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, and, here, at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion.*

 

Near the Lake Michigan shore, the low light of morning revealed shapes in the sand that chronicled the secrets of time and affirmed the existence of wondrous creatures and invisible forces.*

Near the Lake Michigan shore at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, the low light of morning revealed shapes in the sand that chronicled the secrets of time and affirmed the existence of wondrous creatures and invisible forces.*

The hatched eggs of the Common Snapping Turtle of species Chelydra serpentina.

On Thursday, June 23, 2017, I found what I thought to be hatched snapping turtle eggs. However, I was recently informed that the buried eggs would not for another two months, which means that this nest was raided by a raccoon or other predator. This makes sense because this nest was right on the trail along the banks of the Dead River (Illinois Beach Nature Preserve).

 

A common snapping turle trudges through the sandy Lake Michigan shoreline on its way to the Dead River at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

 

The Dead River, at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, is the only remaining river in Illinois that flows into Lake Michigan. The name comes either from deep pools of quicksand hidden along the banks that devour unsuspecting hikers or from water that remains still and barely flows. On this sapphire morning, the latter was true.*

The Dead River, at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, is the only remaining river in Illinois that flows into Lake Michigan. The name comes either from deep pools of quicksand hidden along the banks that devour unsuspecting hikers or from water that remains still and barely flows. On this sapphire morning, the latter was true.*

 

 

Pasture Rose at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve & Bluff Spring Fen

Pasture Rose in the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. The fragrance of pasture rose is transcendent—a spiritual experience. Over several weeks in late spring, it blooms barely inches from the ground. During that time, whenever we’re together, I partake in a sacred ritual. I drop to my knees and bow in reverence, nose to petal.*

The fragrance of pasture rose is transcendent—a spiritual experience. Over several weeks in late spring, it blooms barely inches from the ground. During that time, whenever we’re together, I partake in a sacred ritual. I drop to my knees and bow in reverence, nose to petal.*

 

Belmont Prairie

Belmont prairie is special because it is home to an unusually high number of blooming wildflowers and fascinating plant species. During the month of June, this remnant prairie puts on a most impressive floral display: the celebration of the pale purple coneflower.Mixed amongst the coneflowers, the bright-colored grasses crisscrossing the center of the frame are porcupine grass. Its long spear-like seeds miraculously drill themselves into the earth in a counter-clockwise motion that you can actually watch.*

Belmont prairie is special because it is home to an unusually high number of blooming wildflowers and fascinating plant species. During the month of June, this remnant prairie puts on a most impressive floral display: the celebration of the pale purple coneflower. Mixed amongst the coneflowers, the bright-colored grasses crisscrossing the center of the frame are porcupine grass. Its long spear-like seeds miraculously drill themselves into the earth in a counter-clockwise motion that you can actually watch.*

Bluff Spring Fen

Soon after entering Bluff Spring Fen, you’ll find yourself in an intimate oak savanna, where majestic bur oaks with outstretched limbs protect you in their nurturing embrace.*

Soon after entering Bluff Spring Fen, you’ll find yourself in an intimate oak savanna, where majestic bur oaks with outstretched limbs protect you in their nurturing embrace.*

 

Pale purple coneflowers rise above the prairie at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

Pale purple coneflowers rise above the prairie at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

 

At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois, pearl blossoms of foxglove beardtongue catch the morning rays and a new day awakens—one as splendid and picturesque as any place on Earth.*

This year, foxglove beardtongue is not as prolific at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin. Their pearl blossoms catch the morning rays and a new day awakens—one as splendid and picturesque as any place on Earth.*

Spears Woods

The spring prairie at Spears Woods provides a show of foxglove beardtongue.*

The late-spring prairie at Spears Woods provides displays of foxglove beardtongue.*

 NEXT WEEK At Somme Prairie Grove

It was a very dry year in Chicago, yet you wouldn’t know it from looking at this scene. The purple plant in this panorama is leadplant, which can search for water fifteen feet below the arid surface. Other drought-tolerant species seen here include prairie dropseed and wild quinine, in the front; and farther out, prairie dock, compass plant, and rattlesnake master.*

It was a very dry year in Chicago, yet you wouldn’t know it from looking at this scene. The purple plant in this panorama is leadplant, which can search for water fifteen feet below the arid surface. Other drought-tolerant species seen here include prairie dropseed and wild quinine, in the front; and farther out, prairie dock, compass plant, and rattlesnake master.*

 

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

 

SCOUTING NEEDS for my  next report on Thursday, June 22 (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.