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ChicagoNatureNOW! ALERT09-13-2018

ChicagoNatureNOW! ALERT
09-13-2018

  • Author: Mike MacDonald
  • Date Posted: Sep 13, 2018
  • Category:

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 13, 2018

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

 

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September is the Season of Gold in Chicagoland. In particular, the smiling, yellow blooms of sawtooth sunflower tower above the panorama in such fantastic fashion that it is bound to make your heart skip a beat! The name comes from its serrated leaves that resemble the blade of a saw. Blooms of asters have emerged in our woodlands, wetlands, and prairies, a signal that autumn is near. And, of course, the goldenrods are also making their presence known. NOTE: The goldenrods do not and cannot cause allergies. The pollen is so heavy that it drops to the ground and, therefore, cannot float through air to be inhaled. The grasses are beautiful at this time of year, as big bluestem and Indian grass display their tasseled tops. These grasses can rise as high as eight feet into the air. And, finally, the sublime blues of bottle gentian, prairie gentian, and fringed gentian can be found at preserves like Belmont Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Bluff Spring FenPowderhorn Prairie, Lake in the Hills Fen, and Chiwaukee Prairie. Learn more about gentians in the Photo Section (below).

NOTE: Prairies are wet in the morning, so wear rain gear to avoid being drenched in dew.

 

Here’s are some of the highlights of what’s happening in Chicago nature:

Sawtooth sunflower rises above the prairie with tremendous shows are being held at Wolf Road Prairie and Spears Woods. This sensational flower can be appreciated at other many preserves like Belmont PrairieFermilab Prairie, Gensburg-Markham PrairieKickapoo Prairie, Lake in the Hills Fen, Somme Prairie Grove, and Springbrook Prairie. Northbrook’s Somme Prairie Grove offers many flowers in bloom, including some of the gentians. And finally, the September panorama at Lake in the Hills Fen is breathtaking.

 

PLAN YOUR CHICAGO OUTDOOR ADVENTURE THIS WEEKEND 

 

THIS WEEK’S TOP PRESERVES:

Spears Woods in Willow Springs: With its the rolling terrain and varied habitats, Spears Woods is the probably the most beautiful preserve in the region. And, if you visit now, you’ll see why. Wow! The golden flowers are remarkable, with panoramas of sawtooth sunflowerlong-bracted tickseed sunflower, and sprinklings of goldenrod. (See Spears Woods page for GPS coordinates to the prairie trail head.). You also be welcomed by the tall, elegant big bluestem and Indian grass that provides tones of auburn and brown. And pearly stands of false aster can be found where the ground gets wet. Spears Woods is the most beautiful preserve in the region.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: Come for the spectacular golden show of skyward sawtooth sunflower. As you wander the trails, look for the tallest flowers. There are some twelve-footers out there! Many other flowers are part of the prairie mix, as well, including various goldenrods, various blooms of aster, and the occasional gentian.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: There’s a great variety of flowers in bloom throughout the preserve. Many of them are yellow, most notably sawtooth sunflower. Along your way, you’ll find asters, like the sky blue aster, and the rare savanna blazing star. Monarchs love the blazing stars at this time of year when there are fewer flowers left to feed on. Look for the gentians, too: the gorgeous cream gentian, bottle gentian, fringed gentian, and prairie gentian. As is common during the late-summer months, you’ll travel through tunnels of big bluestem grass and Indian grass. When the first settlers travelling from the forests of the east, the towering grasses of Illinois would have been a unexpected obstacle. The long hairlike leaves of dropseed are now flavescent with plumes that smell like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. Check out the Somme Prairie Grove web page for how to access this preserve.

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills: September is my favorite time to visit. The light is softer, the days are usually cooler, and the panoramic view of this expansive preserve will make you feel like you’ve gone back in time. The preserve is gorgeous with the warm tones of autumn in the waving grasses along with the golds of omnipresent sawtooth sunflower and various species of goldenrod. Alabaster blooms of tall boneset can be found on the kames. And populations of purples include silky aster in the gravelly spots and the sublime fringed gentian and bottle gentian near the fens’ soggy seeps. This preserve is easily accessible with ample parking and wide lawn paths.

 

RATED “GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”:

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins: Visit to find sawtooth sunflower, various goldenrods, and hypnotic waves of tall grasses, like the tall tasseled Indian grass and big bluestem. Note: Spears Woods is just down the road.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: Visit for the goldenrods and then take a walk through the large prairie outside the fence, where you’ll find expanses of tall grasses, goldenrods, and sawtooth sunflower.

 

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS:

Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds!
The hummingbirds are here! 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 Trail
Miller Woods, Tolleston Dunes, and Hoosier Prairie (all in northwestern Indiana) are leaping with gymnastic ferns that are beginning to change into their autumn colors. 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: 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

Sawtooth Sunflower

Sawtooth sunflowers bloom in fields of towering, endless gold in one of the last dramatic displays of the summer season at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

In September, at many prairies across the Chicago region, sawtooth sunflower blooms in towering fields of gold, like here at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

Bottle Gentian

Blue bottle gentians survive under the shadow of the dense September prairie, where plants, like this sawtooth sunflower, can tower twelve feet into the air.*

Blue bottle gentians survive under the shadow of the dense September prairie, where plants, like this sawtooth sunflower, can tower twelve feet into the air.*

 

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

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, Asters, Asters!

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.*

 

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 soft flavescent 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.

 

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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