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ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
04-16-2021

Posted by on 3:30 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT04-16-2021

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
April 16, 2021

“Weekly Wildflower Reports Featuring
Chicago’s Best Weekend Getaways & Nature Trips”

 

Plan the Best COVID-19 Walks & Getaways Around Chicago!

Don’t miss one beautiful moment.
Click here to subscribe to received FREE nature alerts!

Each week, we offer you opportunities to find peace during this trying time!
PLEASE DONATE IF WE’VE HELPED YOU FIND SOLACE IN NATURE
.

 

PLEASE READ THIS BEFORE VISITING OUR SHOWCASE PRESERVES DURING THIS TIME OF INCREASED INTEREST IN NATURE:

ChicagoNatureNOW! preserves are Sacred Cathedrals of Nature, NOT playgrounds or amusement parks. Please treat these sanctuaries with reverence, and behave as you would in any house of worship:

    • Stay on the trails.
    • Walk, don’t run.
      • If your kids need to run around, there are THOUSANDS of more appropriate places to play.
    • Speak quietly as to not interfere with the spiritual experiences of others.
    • Don’t pick flowers or remove anything from a preserve.
      • Share cherished moments by through photography, drawing, painting, and writing.
    • Many of these preserves do NOT allow pets, even if they’re leashed.
    • If a rule isn’t listed here, then ask yourself, “Would I do this in church?”

IMPORTANT COVID-19 SITE ACCESS & SAFETY TIPS
(which I hope to remove as more people are vaccinated)

SITE ACCESS:

Most sites and trails that are owned by Chicago-area counties and Indiana Dunes National Park are open, except for visitor centers, buildings, and bathrooms. Fermilab Prairie woodland (Fermilab Natural Areas) in Batavia is closed. Period. And Shoe Factory Road Prairie will be closed for a little while longer because the public abused the site, last year. Check out these websites before you go:

BE SAFE:

  • Wear a mask. Period. This keeps your exhalations from taking to the air.
  • Give each other ten feet of space.
  • The wind carries the virus. When people are present, be conscious of the wind and its direction.
    • When having a conversation, position yourselves so that the wind is blowing from the left or the right.
  • Don’t block people’s progress by gathering along trails, trailheads, or intersections.

 

WILDFLOWER HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR OUTDOOR ADVENTURES INTO CHICAGO’S WOODLANDS:

The delicate wildflowers of spring are filling up our woodlands, including the sublime yellow blooms of marsh marigold (our Plant of the Week). The flower is at or near peak bloom at Pilcher Park, Bluff Spring Fen, Trout Park, and McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park (by the parking lot across the stream). Oh, how I love the flowers and the round-hearted leaves. Spring’s first blooms are plentiful, but their flowers are diminutive, Bend down and take a closer look. Marvel at their intricacy. Most of the flowers currently blooming in our woodlands are colored white, like cutleaf toothwort, spring beauty, false rue anemone, rue anemone, spring cress, white trout lily, Dutchman’s breeches, and bloodroot. Spring beauty is white with pink stripes, and hepatica offers a beautiful palette ranging from white to lavender to purple.

In some woodlands, you’ll find the shy elongated blossoms of large-flowered bellwort. The Virginia Bluebell is beginning to flower, and we’re not far away from peak bloom. The ocean of blue is the most breathtaking event of early spring.

And let’s not forget the bright green leaves of the vernal season. The leafy umbrellas of mayapple are just opening, along with the sprawling leaves of skunk cabbage and the floppy swords of wild leekthe plant that gives Chicago its name. In the late 1600s, Potawatomi Indians who paddled the area rivers were commonly heard yelling “Chicagoua!” after catching a strong whiff of chicagoua, or wild leek, growing prolifically along the wooded banks. Wild leek is part of the onion family, hence the Chicago nickname, “The Big Onion.” It is illegal to remove this plant, or any other plant, from any preserve in the Chicago region.

 

WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A SPRING WILDFLOWER GETAWAY AROUND CHICAGO:

We’ve ranked the preserves on this week’s list based on the quality of the wildflower experience, starting out with the best or “Go!” The “Go, if You’re in the Neighborhood” section is for sites that are worth visiting if you can’t get out to our top-rated preserves. And our “Preserves for You to Scout” section for those preserves that we couldn’t get to this week, but that you can help us explore! The date within the parentheses tells you when we last scouted the preserve. After the date, you may see one of these three mathematical symbols: +, , = (plus, minus, equal). They represent our prediction about how the flowers will look like on the coming weekend: “+” is Probably Better; “-” is Probably Less Dramatic; “=” is Probably the Same. Notice the word “probably.”

 

THIS WEEK’S BEST (“GO!”):

The order of the preserves below is based on the quality of the wildflower experience, starting out with the best.

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee (4/14+): This is my favorite preserve of the week. Ignore the charred earth from a recent burn. After the first 300 feet, the flowers begin! A rich variety of flowers is really putting on a show. Experience the whitish pink expanse of spring beauty and myriad other spring wildflowers, including Dutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone, rue anemone, white trout lily, and surprisingly large colonies of the stange and wonderful red trillium. Also, experience the jade hues and lush patterns of wild leek, mayapple, and wild ginger that add to the springtime mix. This preserve will soon offer a nice display of Virginia bluebells, but not an overwhelming ocean like other preserves. Note that many spring flowers don’t open up at the break of day. They are awakened by the light. On cloudy days, they may remain enclosed safely in their buds. Fortunately, when closed, the white petals of toothwort are still visible and continue to twinkle. 

Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park (last scouted on 4/4): Begin at the west parking lot. Along the narrow trail, you may still find sparkles of sharp-lobed hepatica,. But you’ll definitely see rue anemone and false rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwort, purple cress, bloodroot, and spring beauty. Look for patches of spear-like foliage that resemble green spotted trout. In there, you may find magnificent blooms of yellow trout lily.  And red trillium may be flowering by now. The lush, sprawling foliage of mayapple and wild leek greatly enhance the springtime experience.

O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville (4/14+): The petite white blossoms of cutleaf toothwort are putting on a spectacular show. Like fireworks, they sparkle into the distance across the verdant woodland floor. They look especially beautiful amidst the backdrop of the emerald swords of wild leek (Chicago’s namesake). The preserve was once called Dynamite Woods because the site stored explosives during World War II. You can still see the crumbling bunkers, but they’re being taken over by woodland plants. Walk towards the stream along the south end of the preserve, and you’ll find Dutchman’s breeches (that look like white, puffy overalls), spring beauty, skunk cabbage, mayapple,  and soon-to-bloom Virginia bluebells, which are beginning to flower, but only at 5% peak. This should be the top preserve to visit in a week or two, when the bluebells create a sea of blue.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont (4/13+): This preserve makes me happy with its lushness and many patterns and shades of emerald foliage, especially wild leek, mayapple, the glorious leaves of skunk cabbage, and the small heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger. And right now, you’ll also see sparkles amongst the greenery from the shimmering petals of sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, rue anemonespring beauty, and the occasional Dutchman’s breechesVirginia bluebells are starting to bloom in the sunnier areas. The beautiful leaves I love the leaves of early meadow rue, and the plant is also just beginning to bloom along with the shy drooping blossoms of large-flowered bellwort.

Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet (4/14+): Begin your hike at the nature center, and you’ll be surrounded by a lush understory of spring wildflowers, including cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, purple cress, and Dutchman’s breeches. Just as beautiful as the flowers are the fresh green leaves of wild leek, mayapple, and skunk cabbage. My favorite flower-of-the-moment is marsh marigold, our Plant of the Week, which has reached peak bloom. Look for its yellow flowers in the low, muddy areas of the site. You can find them near the nature center and around the trail after the bridge at this GPS coordinate: 41.532780, -88.016478. In the same place, and just about anywhere with mud, look for the large fanning foliage of skunk cabbage. They’re hard to miss. Virginia bluebells also like the mud, usually along the banks of the creek. This preserve is one of the best places to experience a vastitude of bluebells, which are now beginning to flower and should soon be at peak bloom.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen (last scouted on 4/4): This preserve exudes that green and luxuriant feeling of spring. Currently, you’ll see a carpet of fresh foliage and blooming ephemerals throughout. The most common blossoms in bloom are spring beautycutleaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone. The foliage of mayapple and wild leek greatly contribute to the lush springtime feel of the place. This preserve was known nationwide for its vast display of bluebells, which will probably reach peak in the next week or so.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (4/11+): The transcendent yellow blooms of marsh marigold, are currently blooming. And the large areas of skunk cabbage are refreshingly green. There are also some nice patches of mayapple and a small number of spring ephemerals. Under the trees, you’ll find rue anemone and small patches false rue anemone.For great views of marsh marigold and skunk cabbage, visit Trout Park for dense populations of these plants in an intimate setting. The trail takes you up and down through the bluffs, using a wooden boardwalk that carefully guides you through the extremely sensitive wet areas. When you’re on the boardwalk, look for Chicago’s only native evergreen tree, the rare northern white cedar. Yes, all of those evergreens you see at homes and preserves are not from around here. At the top of the bluff, you’ll also find other spring wildflowers.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (last scouted on 4/7): To see the most spring ephemerals, remain under the tree canopy. Park at the main parking lot for this preserve, located at Somme Woods, and then follow the narrow trail to Somme Prairie Grove. Visit our web page for complete details or forever hold your peace. Along your stroll, you’ll discover spring beauty, white trout lily, cutleaf toothwort, mayapple, and others.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK:  MARSH MARIGOLD

At Bluff Spring Fen, Yellow flowers of marsh marigold were covered in a magical patina of morning frost.

l love marsh marigold. My heart skips a beat when I see the flowers and the clusters of rounded heart-shaped leaves. The Latin name is Caltha palustris. “Caltha” means yellow flower, and “palustris” means “swampy” or “marshy.” And yes, this yellow flower loves wet and mucky soil. It likes full or partial sun, and grows in the aforementioned swamps and marshes, but also in woodlands, fens, floodplains, seeps and springs, and places where the soil is kept wet by underground seepages. The word “marigold” is a misnomer, as this plant is part of the buttercup family.

On this chilly morning at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, happy blossoms of marsh marigold were covered in a magical patina of morning frost. Visit nearby Trout Park for the best view of these plants. Pilcher Park Nature Center has a beautiful display. And you can also find them at Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa.*

In early spring, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.

In early spring, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.*

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Hepatica opens the blooming season:

Sharp-lobed hepatica blooms on the bluff at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.

On the side of a bluff at Black Partridge Woods, sharp-lobed hepatica make their way through a layer of leaves.*

Sharp-lobed hepatica of species Hepatica nobilis acuta at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.

This is short-lobed Hepatica of species Hepatica nobilis acuta. It beacons the start of the blooming season with floral color that ranges from white to pink, blue to purple. They’re fading fast, so get out and find them before it’s too late. Go to Heron Rookery Trail, Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve, and here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.*

 

Cutleaf Toothwort is blooming strong across Chicago’s woodlands:

Cutleaf toothwort at O'Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville, Illinois.

Cutleaf toothwort is small flowers makes a big impact for their size of its flowers, especially when blooming in large numbers. Even when closes, they still impart a sparkle because the petals are much longer than the sepals. Initially, I thought that the “toothwort” name came the toothed leaves or the closed flowers that look like molars. But I was wrong. It is the rhyzome, a root-like structure located just below the soil between the stem and the root. Most people would not figure this out. I mean, I only discovered it after employing my X-ray vision. However, there was a time when people relied on plants, and often their roots, for survival. And Native Americans ate the tooth-shaped tuber. Now, this isn’t the only plant named after its root. The root of bloodroot, as the name suggest, bleeds a red liquid when broken. Native Americans used this sanguine solution as body paint and to dye clothes and baskets. This shot was taken at O’Hara Woods in Romeoville, but you can find it at any of our featured woodlands.*

In April, cutleaf toothwort blooms in profusion amongst a backdrop of mayapples at many woodlands including Raccoon Grove, Black Partridge Woods, Pilcher Park, Messenger Woods, and here at O'Hara Woods where they explode like firecrackers. This preserve was previously known as Dynamite Woods because explosives were stored here during World War II. Nowadays, only thing the spring wildflowers blow up.*

In April, cutleaf toothwort blooms in profusion amongst a backdrop of mayapples at every local woodland, including here at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve where they explode like firecrackers. This preserve was previously known as Dynamite Woods because explosives were stored here during World War II. Nowadays, the only thing that blows up are the spring wildflowers.*

April at O'Hara Woods Nature Preserve brings a woodland floor sparkling with cutleaf toothwort and the greenery of wild leek and mayapple.

April at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve brings a woodland floor sparkling with cutleaf toothwort and the greenery of wild leek and mayapple. You can see all of these plants at all of our featured woodlands.

 

Dutchman’s Breeches (or Dutchman’s Britches):

Dutchman's Breeches at O'Hara Woods

O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve has a large number of Dutchman’s Breeches. It is one of my favorite spring flowers because the flower is just so kooky and the leaves are a dream. You can find them at Heron Rookery Trail, Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve, and many of our showcase woodlands.*

Pink Dutchman's breeches at O'Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville, Illinois.

I discovered this pink variety of Dutchman’s breeches at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville. Notice the beautiful parts and details.*

 

Bloodroot (catch it before it goes away for another year):

This is bloodroot. The name comes from the fact that breaking the stem or the roots makes the plant bleed red. Please, just take my word for it, and don't pick the flower to find out. Native Americans used the plant for dying their clothes and baskets, and for body paint.

This is bloodroot. The name comes from the fact that breaking the stem or the roots makes the plant bleed red. Please, just take my word for it, and don’t pick the flower to find out. Native Americans used the plant for dying their clothes and baskets, and for body paint. Check them out at most of our showcase woodlands.*

 

False Rue Anemone:

False rue anemone

False rue anemone is a beautiful flower that often blooms in clusters. During the day, they close up into little white balls.

 

Red Trillium:

Red trillium and setting sun.*

At O’Hara Woods in Romeoville, red trillium rises as the sun sets.*

 

Mayapple:

In woodlands across northeastern Illinois, like here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois, April showers bring out the umbrellas in the form of mayapples. And the white flowers of false rue anemone sparkle like raindrops.*

In woodlands across northeastern Illinois, like here at Black Partridge Woods, in Lemont, April showers bring out the umbrellas in the form of mayapples. And the white flowers of false rue anemone sparkle like raindrops. At the moment, mayapples are either just sprouting or just starting to open their umbrellas.*

 

Skunk Cabbage:

It's springtime at Pilcher Park and sunlight shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage which, if broken, releases a strong scent reminiscent of skunk, though sweeter and not nearly as overpowering. If you’re someone who, like me, finds the powerful essence of skunk to be an invigorating and life-affirming experience, the skunk inside the cabbage will definitely let you down.*

It’s springtime at Pilcher Park and sunlight shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage which, if broken, releases a strong scent reminiscent of skunk, though sweeter and not nearly as overpowering. If you’re someone who, like me, finds the powerful essence of skunk to be an invigorating and life-affirming experience, the skunk inside the cabbage will definitely let you down. You’ll find many at Pilcher Park Nature Center, Black Partridge Woods, Bluff Spring Fen, Trout Park, and O’Hara Woods.*

 

Virginia Bluebell:

Virginia bluebell

Right now, you’ll find mostly buds and maybe a few open flowers of Virginia bluebell (species Mertensia virginica) at Messenger Woods, Pilcher Park, Black Partridge Woods, and here at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville.*

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

 

If you find this website of Chicago nature information useful, please consider donating or purchasing my nationally-acclaimed book that celebrates all of the preserves featured on this website.

—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
04-09-2021

Posted by on 5:11 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT04-09-2021

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
April 9, 2021

“Weekly Wildflower Reports Featuring
Chicago’s Best Weekend Getaways & Nature Trips”

 

Plan the Best COVID-19 Walks & Getaways Around Chicago!

Don’t miss one beautiful moment.
Click here to subscribe to received FREE nature alerts!

Each week, we offer you opportunities to find peace during this trying time!
PLEASE DONATE IF WE’VE HELPED YOU FIND SOLACE IN NATURE
.

 

Welcome to the first wildflower report of 2021. I wish you an exciting and uplifting new year. We can all use it!

Without warning, over the last few days, spring erupted in our woodlands. Yet just one week ago, flowers were only beginning to bloom amidst a bronze carpet of 2020’s discarded foliage. In just days, last year’s scattered skeletons have been pushed aside by a verdant filigree of renewal. The door to 2020 is officially closed, and a new door has opened. Cross the threshold into nature wonders, and begin your revival.

 

PLEASE READ THIS BEFORE VISITING OUR SHOWCASE PRESERVES DURING THIS TIME OF INCREASED INTEREST IN NATURE:

ChicagoNatureNOW! preserves are Sacred Cathedrals of Nature, NOT playgrounds or amusement parks. Please treat these sanctuaries with reverence, and behave as you would in any house of worship:

    • Stay on the trails.
    • Walk, don’t run.
      • If your kids need to run around, there are THOUSANDS of more appropriate places to play.
    • Speak quietly as to not interfere with the spiritual experiences of others.
    • Don’t pick flowers or remove anything from a preserve.
      • Share cherished moments by through photography, drawing, painting, and writing.
    • Many of these preserves do NOT allow pets, even if they’re leashed.
    • If a rule isn’t listed here, then ask yourself, “Would I do this in church?”

IMPORTANT COVID-19 SITE ACCESS & SAFETY TIPS
(which I hope to remove as more people are vaccinated)

SITE ACCESS:

Most sites and trails that are owned by Chicago-area counties and Indiana Dunes National Park are open, except for visitor centers, buildings, and bathrooms. Fermilab Prairie woodland (Fermilab Natural Areas) in Batavia is closed. Period. And Shoe Factory Road Prairie will be closed for a little while longer because the public abused the site, last year. Check out these websites before you go:

BE SAFE:

  • Wear a mask. Period. This keeps your exhalations from taking to the air.
  • Give each other ten feet of space.
  • The wind carries the virus. When people are present, be conscious of the wind and its direction.
    • When having a conversation, position yourselves so that the wind is blowing from the left or the right.
  • Don’t block people’s progress by gathering along trails, trailheads, or intersections.

 

WILDFLOWER HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR OUTDOOR ADVENTURES INTO CHICAGO’S WOODLANDS:

Spring has arrived with a celebration of delicate wildflowers in many of Chicago’s woodlands. Spring’s first blooms are plentiful, but their flowers are diminutive, including cutleaf toothwort (our Plant of the Week). Bend down and take a closer look. Marvel at their intricate beauty. At the moment, most of the flowers are white, like cutleaf toothwort, spring beautyfalse rue anemone, rue anemone, spring cress, white trout lily, Dutchman’s breeches, and bloodroot. Spring beauty is white with pink stripes, and hepatica offers a beautiful palette ranging from white to lavender to purple.  Visit Heron Rookery Trail and Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve to experience hepatica at its finest.

The sublime lemon flowers of marsh marigold are nearing peak bloom at Pilcher Park and McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park (by the parking lot across the stream). And the show is just starting at Bluff Spring Fen. Oh, how I love the flowers and the round-hearted leaves. In some woodlands, you’ll find the shy elongated blossoms of large-flowered bellwort. The Virginia Bluebell is still a couple of weeks away from peak. The sea of blue is the most breathtaking event of early spring.

And let’s not forget the bright green leaves of the vernal season. The leafy umbrellas of mayapple are just opening, along with the sprawling leaves of skunk cabbage and the floppy swords of wild leekthe plant that gives Chicago its name. In the late 1600s, Potawatomi Indians who paddled the area rivers were commonly heard yelling “Chicagoua!” after catching a strong whiff of chicagoua, or wild leek, growing prolifically along the wooded banks. Wild leek is part of the onion family, hence the Chicago nickname, “The Big Onion.” It is illegal to remove this plant, or any other plant, from any preserve in the Chicago region.

 

WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A SPRING WILDFLOWER GETAWAY AROUND CHICAGO:

We’ve ranked the preserves on this week’s list based on the quality of the wildflower experience, starting out with the best or “Go!” The “Go, if You’re in the Neighborhood” section is for sites that are worth visiting if you can’t get out to our top-rated preserves. And our “Preserves for You to Scout” section for those preserves that we couldn’t get to this week, but that you can help us explore! The date within the parentheses tells you when we last scouted the preserve. After the date, you may see one of these three mathematical symbols: +, , = (plus, minus, equal). They represent our prediction about how the flowers will look like on the coming weekend: “+” is Probably Better; “-” is Probably Less Dramatic; “=” is Probably the Same. Notice the word “probably.”

 

THIS WEEK’S BEST (“GO!”):

The order of the preserves below is based on the quality of the wildflower experience, starting out with the best.

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee (4/4+): This is my favorite preserve of the week. Ignore the charred earth from a recent burn. After the first 300 feet, the flowers begin! A rich variety of flowers is really putting on a show. Experience the whitish pink expanse of spring beauty and myriad other spring wildflowers, including Dutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone, rue anemone, bloodroot, and surprisingly large colonies of flowering white trout lily. The strange and wonderful red trillium may also be in bloom. Also, experience the jade hues and lush patterns of wild leek, mayapple, and wild ginger that add to the springtime mix. This preserve will soon offer a nice display of Virginia bluebells, but not an overwhelming ocean like other preserves. Note that many spring flowers don’t open up at the break of day. They are awakened by the light. On cloudy days, they may remain enclosed safely in their buds. Fortunately, when closed, the white petals of toothwort are still visible and continue to twinkle. 

Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park (4/4+): Begin at the west parking lot. Along the narrow trail, you’ll also find sparkles of sharp-lobed hepatica, rue anemone and false rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwort, purple cress, bloodroot, and spring beauty. Look for patches of spear-like foliage that resemble green spotted trout. In there, you may find magnificent blooms of yellow trout lily.  And red trillium may be flowering by now. The lush, sprawling foliage of mayapple and wild leek greatly enhance the springtime experience.

O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville (4/8+): The preserve was once called Dynamite Woods because the site stored explosives during World War II. You can still see the crumbling bunkers, but they’re being taken over by woodland plants. Right now, white flowers of cutleaf toothwort are in full explosion, like sparklers across the woodland floor. Walk towards the stream along the south end of the preserve, and you’ll find Dutchman’s breeches (that look like white, puffy overalls), spring beauty, skunk cabbage, mayapple, wild leek (Chicago’s namesake), and soon-to-bloom Virginia bluebells. This should be the top preserve to visit in a couple of weeks when the Virginia bluebells reach their peak.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont (4/8+): This preserve makes me happy with its lushness and many patterns and shades of emerald foliage, especially wild leek, mayapple, the glorious leaves of skunk cabbage, and the small heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger. And right now, you’ll also see sparkles amongst the greenery from the shimmering petals of bloodroot, sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, and the occasional Dutchman’s breechesVirginia bluebells are present, but not really blooming yet.

Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet (4/8+): Begin your hike at the nature center, and you’ll be surrounded by a lush understory of spring wildflowers, including sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, purple cress, and Dutchman’s breeches. Just as beautiful as the flowers are the fresh green leaves of wild leek, mayapple, and skunk cabbage. My favorite flower-of-the-moment is marsh marigold, which is reaching peak bloom. Look for its yellow flowers in the low, muddy areas of the site. You can find them near the nature center and around the trail after the bridge at this GPS coordinate: 41.532780, -88.016478. In the same place, and just about anywhere with mud, look for the large fanning foliage of skunk cabbage. They’re hard to miss. Virginia bluebells also like the mud, usually along the banks of the creek. This preserve is one of the best places to experience a vastitude of bluebells, which should flower in the next couple weeks.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen (scouted on 4/4, but interpolated for recent growing spurt): This preserve exudes that green and luxuriant feeling of spring. Currently, you’ll see a carpet of fresh foliage and blooming ephemerals throughout. The most common blossoms in bloom are spring beautycutleaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, and false rue anemone. The foliage of mayapple and wild leek greatly contribute to the lush springtime feel of the place. This preserve was known nationwide for its vast display of bluebells, which will probably reach peak in late April.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (4/9+): The transcendent yellow blooms of marsh marigold, are currently blooming. And the large areas of skunk cabbage are refreshingly green. There are also some nice patches of mayapple and a small number of spring ephemerals. Under the trees, you’ll find small patches false rue anemone. For great views of marsh marigold and skunk cabbage, visit Trout Park for dense populations of these plants in an intimate setting. The trail takes you up and down through the bluffs, using a wooden boardwalk that carefully guides you through the extremely sensitive wet areas. When you’re on the boardwalk, look for Chicago’s only native evergreen tree, the rare northern white cedar. Yes, all of those evergreens you see at homes and preserves are not from around here. At the top of the bluff, you’ll also find other spring wildflowers.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (4/7+): To see the most spring ephemerals, remain under the tree canopy. Park at the main parking lot for this preserve, located at Somme Woods, and then follow the narrow trail to Somme Prairie Grove. Along your stroll, you’ll discover spring beauty, white trout lily, some bloodroot, cutleaf toothwort, mayapple, and others.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK:  CUTLEAF (or Cut-leaved) TOOTHWORT

 
Cutleaf toothwort at O'Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville, Illinois.

Cutleaf toothwort is small flowers makes a big impact for their size of its flowers, especially when blooming in large numbers. Even when closes, they still impart a sparkle because the petals are much longer than the sepals. Initially, I thought that the “toothwort” name came the toothed leaves or the closed flowers that look like molars. But I was wrong. It is the rhyzome, a root-like structure located just below the soil between the stem and the root. Most people would not figure this out. I mean, I only discovered it after employing my X-ray vision. However, there was a time when people relied on plants, and often their roots, for survival. And Native Americans ate the tooth-shaped tuber. Now, this isn’t the only plant named after its root. The root of bloodroot, as the name suggest, bleeds a red liquid when broken. Native Americans used this sanguine solution as body paint and to dye clothes and baskets. This shot was taken at O’Hara Woods in Romeoville, but you can find it at any of our featured woodlands.*

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Hepatica opens the blooming season:

Sharp-lobed hepatica blooms on the bluff at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.

On the side of a bluff at Black Partridge Woods, sharp-lobed hepatica make their way through a layer of leaves.*

Sharp-lobed hepatica of species Hepatica nobilis acuta at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.

This is short-lobed Hepatica of species Hepatica nobilis acuta. It beacons the start of the blooming season with floral color that ranges from white to pink, blue to purple. Right now, you can find them at Heron Rookery Trail, Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve, and here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.*

 

Cutleaf Toothwort is blooming strong across Chicago’s woodlands:

In April, cutleaf toothwort blooms in profusion amongst a backdrop of mayapples at many woodlands including Raccoon Grove, Black Partridge Woods, Pilcher Park, Messenger Woods, and here at O'Hara Woods where they explode like firecrackers. This preserve was previously known as Dynamite Woods because explosives were stored here during World War II. Nowadays, only thing the spring wildflowers blow up.*

In April, cutleaf toothwort blooms in profusion amongst a backdrop of mayapples at every local woodland, including here at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve where they explode like firecrackers. This preserve was previously known as Dynamite Woods because explosives were stored here during World War II. Nowadays, the only thing that blows up are the spring wildflowers.*

April at O'Hara Woods Nature Preserve brings a woodland floor sparkling with cutleaf toothwort and the greenery of wild leek and mayapple.

April at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve brings a woodland floor sparkling with cutleaf toothwort and the greenery of wild leek and mayapple. You can see all of these plants at all of our featured woodlands.

 

Dutchman’s Breeches (or Dutchman’s Britches):

Dutchman's Breeches at O'Hara Woods

O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve has a large number of Dutchman’s Breeches. It is one of my favorite spring flowers because the flower is just so kooky and the leaves are a dream. You can find them at Heron Rookery Trail, Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve, and many of our showcase woodlands.*

Pink Dutchman's breeches at O'Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville, Illinois.

I discovered this pink variety of Dutchman’s breeches at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville. Notice the beautiful parts and details.*

 

Bloodroot (catch it before it goes away for another year):

This is bloodroot. The name comes from the fact that breaking the stem or the roots makes the plant bleed red. Please, just take my word for it, and don't pick the flower to find out. Native Americans used the plant for dying their clothes and baskets, and for body paint.

This is bloodroot. The name comes from the fact that breaking the stem or the roots makes the plant bleed red. Please, just take my word for it, and don’t pick the flower to find out. Native Americans used the plant for dying their clothes and baskets, and for body paint. Check them out at most of our showcase woodlands.*

 

Marsh Marigold:

At Bluff Spring Fen, Yellow flowers of marsh marigold were covered in a magical patina of morning frost.

My heart skips a beat when I see marsh marigold. At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, yellow flowers of marsh marigold were covered in a magical patina of morning frost. Visit nearby Trout Park for the best view of these plants. Pilcher Park Nature Center also has a beautiful display.*

In early spring, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.

In early spring, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.*

 

False Rue Anemone:

False rue anemone

False rue anemone is a beautiful flower that often blooms in clusters. During the day, they close up into little white balls.

 

Mayapple:

In woodlands across northeastern Illinois, like here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois, April showers bring out the umbrellas in the form of mayapples. And the white flowers of false rue anemone sparkle like raindrops.*

In woodlands across northeastern Illinois, like here at Black Partridge Woods, in Lemont, April showers bring out the umbrellas in the form of mayapples. And the white flowers of false rue anemone sparkle like raindrops. At the moment, mayapples are either just sprouting or just starting to open their umbrellas.*

 

Skunk Cabbage:

It's springtime at Pilcher Park and sunlight shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage which, if broken, releases a strong scent reminiscent of skunk, though sweeter and not nearly as overpowering. If you’re someone who, like me, finds the powerful essence of skunk to be an invigorating and life-affirming experience, the skunk inside the cabbage will definitely let you down.*

It’s springtime at Pilcher Park and sunlight shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage which, if broken, releases a strong scent reminiscent of skunk, though sweeter and not nearly as overpowering. If you’re someone who, like me, finds the powerful essence of skunk to be an invigorating and life-affirming experience, the skunk inside the cabbage will definitely let you down. You’ll find many at Pilcher Park Nature Center, Black Partridge Woods, Bluff Spring Fen, Trout Park, and O’Hara Woods.*

 

Virginia Bluebell:

Flower buds of Virginia bluebell of species Mertensia virginica at O'Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville, Illinois

Right now, you’ll find the blue and pink buds of Virginia bluebell (of species Mertensia virginica) at Messenger Woods, Pilcher Park, Black Partridge Woods, and here at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville.*

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

 

If you find this website of Chicago nature information useful, please consider donating or purchasing my nationally-acclaimed book that celebrates all of the preserves featured on this website.

—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
03-25-2021
Spring Wildflower Preview

Posted by on 5:37 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT03-25-2021Spring Wildflower Preview

2021 Chicago Spring Wildflower Preview
of a Glorious Future

“Taking a walk in nature is the best medicine for healing our hearts and our spirits during this coronavirus pandemic.”

In May, Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare birdfoot violet."

In May, Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare birdfoot violet. The miracles of nature are all around us. And ChicagoNatureNOW! brings them to you every week from April through September. The new season is upon us, and this is the perfect time to join our team by becoming a scout. You can even help by donating here.

Experience the healing power of nature during the coronavirus pandemic.

Spring is officially here, and going out into nature is the best medicine. Right now, experience the solitude of nature and find delight in Mother Nature’s whimsical surprises and creations, like the otherworldly skunk cabbage that generates its own heat to melt the late-winter snow. (Learn about where to find it.) And in just a couple weeks, Chicago nature will put on a show in the muddy bottoms of some woodlands, with the emergence of marsh marigolds. Soon after will come performances from an array of diminutive spring wildflowers, like cutleaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, and spring beauty. April’s show concludes in a flourish as endless expanses of Virginia bluebells fill woodlands with a smell that I can only describe as a fragrant, floral Chanel version of Froot Loops cereal. See the slideshow below for a preview of spring wildflowers. (Please be patient, it can take a little time to load.) SUBSCRIBE NOW (for free) to receive our weekly wildflower reports to learn when and where these wonderful events are taking place.

April begins our fifth season of ChicagoNatureNOW! scouting. Each week over the six-month growing season (early April through late September), you can use this website to experience breathtaking displays of wildflowers around Chicago. Our scouts will begin venturing out across the 5,000-square-mile region to find out what’s going on at our twenty-four showcase preserves. That’s a lot of land to cover! Click here to learn about becoming a nature scout.

And please donate to our GoFundMe Campaign!

In the meantime, here’s an interactive slideshow that foretells a beautiful future for us all:

April at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.*

Chicago Nature
Spring Preview

Skunk Cabbage

In Chicago, the beginning of spring does not arrive in a fanfare of color. Rather, it begins subtly. In early March, burgundy spathes of skunk cabbage, dappled with yellow stripes and spots, quietly emerge from beneath a cloak of brown decaying leaves or, by way of a rare heat-generating process called thermogenesis, melt their way to the surface through layers of late-winter ice and snow. Thermogenesis is a rare property that is shared by only a few of Earth’s plants, one of which is skunk cabbage. Concealed deep inside this burgundy hood is a tiny “green” furnace, generating heat that can rise as much as 63°F above the ambient air temperature. This easily allows the curling spathe to melt the surrounding snow and break through the surface. You can find skunk cabbage at high quality woodlands like Pilcher Park, Black Partridge Woods, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

When skunk cabbage sprouts in late February, we know that spring is on the way.

When skunk cabbage sprouts in late February, we know that spring is on the way.

When skunk cabbage sprouts in late February, we know that spring is on the way.

Skunk Cabbage

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.  The spadix emits a foul odor that, to a human, is reminiscent of skunk. However, to flesh flies, carrion flies, and several kinds of gnats, the spadix smells and looks more like a yummy dead animal, a trick the plant uses to lure them in for pollination. The spadix is also where the process of thermogenesis takes place. It warms the confines of the spathe, providing a cozy haven for pollinating insects while transmitting the smell of carrion far and wide.*

Skunk cabbage's burgundy spathe becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its heat-generating yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The spadix warms the air with the foul odor of a dead animal to lure pollinating insects.

Skunk cabbage's burgundy spathe becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its heat-generating yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The spadix warms the air with the foul odor of a dead animal to lure pollinating insects.

Skunk cabbage's burgundy spathe becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its heat-generating yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The spadix warms the air with the foul odor of a dead animal to lure pollinating insects.

Skunk Cabbage

In Chicago, during the month of March, skunk cabbage is the first plant to sprout, announcing the beginning of spring. It emerges in woodlands across the region. These tender leaves of skunk cabbage will soon develop into giants, up to two feet long and one foot wide.*

These tender leaves of skunk cabbage will soon develop into giants, up to two feet long and one foot wide.

These tender leaves of skunk cabbage will soon develop into giants, up to two feet long and one foot wide.

These tender leaves of skunk cabbage will soon develop into giants, up to two feet long and one foot wide.

Skunk Cabbage

It's springtime at Pilcher Park and sunlight shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage which, if broken, releases a strong scent reminiscent of skunk, though sweeter and not nearly as overpowering. If you’re someone who, like me, finds the powerful essence of skunk to be an invigorating and life-affirming experience, the skunk inside the cabbage will definitely let you down.*

It's springtime at Pilcher Park and sunlight shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage which, if broken, releases a strong scent reminiscent of skunk, though sweeter and not nearly as overpowering.

It's springtime at Pilcher Park and sunlight shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage which, if broken, releases a strong scent reminiscent of skunk, though sweeter and not nearly as overpowering.

It's springtime at Pilcher Park and sunlight shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage which, if broken, releases a strong scent reminiscent of skunk, though sweeter and not nearly as overpowering.

Sharp-Lobed Hepatica

Sharp-lobed hepatica blooms on the bluff at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.

After skunk cabbage rises, sharp-lobed hepatica is the next plant to bloom around the Chicago region, like here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.

After skunk cabbage rises, sharp-lobed hepatica is the next plant to bloom around the Chicago region, like here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.

After skunk cabbage rises, sharp-lobed hepatica is the next plant to bloom around the Chicago region, like here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.

Marsh Marigold

In early spring, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.

In early spring, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.

In early spring, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.

In early spring, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.

In April, the woodland floor at O'Hara Woods explodes with spring ephemerals including flowers like toothwort.

In April, the woodland floor at O'Hara Woods explodes with spring ephemerals including flowers like toothwort.

In April, the woodland floor at O'Hara Woods explodes with spring ephemerals including flowers like toothwort.

Dutchman's Breeches

Dutchman's Breeches at O'Hara Woods.*

Dutchman's breeches with its beautiful foliage at O'Hara Woods.

Dutchman's breeches with its beautiful foliage at O'Hara Woods.

Dutchman's breeches with its beautiful foliage at O'Hara Woods.

Virginia Bluebell

Virginia bluebell

Virginia bluebells can be found in profusion at a few of our southern woodlands.

Virginia bluebells can be found in profusion at a few of our southern woodlands.

Virginia bluebells can be found in profusion at a few of our southern woodlands.

Virginia Bluebell

April at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.*

April at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.

April at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.

April at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.

Virginia Bluebell

This Chicago scene is reminiscent of silver winters in Yosemite, where every inch of exposed landscape is covered in heavy snow and every bough bows in deference to sublime beauty. Here, the rising curtain of morning revealed an abundance of sticky snow that had fallen during the night, draping every available surface with a shining cloak of blue-white magic in a paradise all our own.*

Come to Pilcher Park in April for the dramatic performance starring Virginia bluebells.

Come to Pilcher Park in April for the dramatic performance starring Virginia bluebells.

Come to Pilcher Park in April for the dramatic performance starring Virginia bluebells.

Virginia Bluebell

At O'Hara Woods in Romeoville, Illinois, the April sun rises to warm the springtime woodland brimming with Virginia bluebells.

At O'Hara Woods in Romeoville, the April sun rises to warm the springtime woodland brimming with Virginia bluebells.

At O'Hara Woods in Romeoville, the April sun rises to warm the springtime woodland brimming with Virginia bluebells.

At O'Hara Woods in Romeoville, the April sun rises to warm the springtime woodland brimming with Virginia bluebells.

At Black Partridge Woods, take a look underneath the fanning mayapple leaf, and you may find a hidden waxy, white bloom. You may also discover a burgundy flower hiding beneath the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger.

At Black Partridge Woods, take a look underneath the fanning mayapple leaf, and you may find a hidden waxy, white bloom. You may also discover a burgundy flower hiding beneath the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger.

At Black Partridge Woods, take a look underneath the fanning mayapple leaf, and you may find a hidden waxy, white bloom. You may also discover a burgundy flower hiding beneath the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger.

Starry False Solomon's Seal

At Black Partridge Woods, take a look underneath the  fanning mayapple leaf, and you may find a hidden waxy, white bloom. You may also discover a burgundy flower hiding beneath the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger.*

At Black Partridge Woods, springtime brings greens of every shade to the woodland floor, including skunk cabbage, wild ginger, starry false Solomon's seal.

At Black Partridge Woods, springtime brings greens of every shade to the woodland floor, including skunk cabbage, wild ginger, starry false Solomon's seal.

At Black Partridge Woods, springtime brings greens of every shade to the woodland floor, including skunk cabbage, wild ginger, starry false Solomon's seal.

Wild Geranium

You can find wild geranium at all featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.*

You can find wild geranium at all featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.

You can find wild geranium at all featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.

You can find wild geranium at all featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.

Large-flowered Trillium

Large-flowered trillium carpet the woodland floor at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen, Illinois.*

In late April to early May, large-flowered trillium carpet the woodland floor at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen.

In late April to early May, large-flowered trillium carpet the woodland floor at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen.

In late April to early May, large-flowered trillium carpet the woodland floor at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen.

Large-flowered Trillium

When skunk cabbage sprouts in late February, we know that spring is on the way.

In May, large-flowered trillium cover the woodland floor at Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park.

In May, large-flowered trillium cover the woodland floor at Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park.

In May, large-flowered trillium cover the woodland floor at Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park.

Pembroke Savanna

In May, Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare bird-foot violet."

In May, Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare bird-foot violet.

In May, Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare bird-foot violet.

In May, Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare bird-foot violet.

Wild Hyacinth

Each May, wild hyacinths bloom in woodlands and oak savannas across the Chicago region including, here, at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

Each May, wild hyacinths bloom in the oak savanna at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.

Each May, wild hyacinths bloom in the oak savanna at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.

Each May, wild hyacinths bloom in the oak savanna at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.

Shooting Star

May at Chiwaukee Prairie offers a breathtaking display of shooting stars.*

In May, Chiwaukee Prairie offers a breathtaking display of shooting stars.

In May, Chiwaukee Prairie offers a breathtaking display of shooting stars.

In May, Chiwaukee Prairie offers a breathtaking display of shooting stars.

Hoary Puccoon

At Illinois Beach State Park, hoary puccoon blooms in here in the dunes and also throughout the sandy preserve.*

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, hoary puccoon blooms in here in the dunes and also throughout the sandy preserve

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, hoary puccoon blooms in here in the dunes and also throughout the sandy preserve

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, hoary puccoon blooms in here in the dunes and also throughout the sandy preserve

Wild Lupine

Biodiversity is about the many, not the few. Here, it’s springtime in the savanna, where blue lupines share precious space with hoary puccoon. But, as the season advances, both will fade, making room for an array of other species, in a cycle where each has its time in the sun and then returns to the soil.*

In the savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, blue lupines share precious space with hoary puccoon.

In the savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, blue lupines share precious space with hoary puccoon.

In the savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, blue lupines share precious space with hoary puccoon.

Wild Lupine

Wild lupine bloom on the dunes of this black oak savanna at Indiana Dunes National Park.*

Wild lupine bloom on the dunes of this black oak savanna at Indiana Dunes National Park.

Wild lupine bloom on the dunes of this black oak savanna at Indiana Dunes National Park.

Wild lupine bloom on the dunes of this black oak savanna at Indiana Dunes National Park.

Sand Coreopsis

In a celebration of life, blooms of sand coreopsis spread with golden joy along the banks of the Dead River at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

In a celebration of life, blooms of sand coreopsis spread with golden joy along the banks of the Dead River at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion.

In a celebration of life, blooms of sand coreopsis spread with golden joy along the banks of the Dead River at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion.

In a celebration of life, blooms of sand coreopsis spread with golden joy along the banks of the Dead River at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion.

Sand Coreopsis & New Jersey Tea

The turning earth is the dimmer switch, gradually recasting every dim dewdrop, petal, and blade of grass into a galaxy of blazing bulbs and lustrous lamps. On this morning in late May, blooms of golden coreopsis and New Jersey tea are set aglow alongside shimmering spider webs that cling to last year’s grasses.*

On this morning in late May, blooms of golden coreopsis and New Jersey tea are set aglow alongside shimmering spider webs that cling to last year’s grasses.

On this morning in late May, blooms of golden coreopsis and New Jersey tea are set aglow alongside shimmering spider webs that cling to last year’s grasses.

On this morning in late May, blooms of golden coreopsis and New Jersey tea are set aglow alongside shimmering spider webs that cling to last year’s grasses.

Pale Purple Coneflower

Purple pale coneflowers, scurfy pea, and porcupine grass at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois.*

Purple pale coneflowers, scurfy pea, and porcupine grass at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove.

Purple pale coneflowers, scurfy pea, and porcupine grass at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove.

Purple pale coneflowers, scurfy pea, and porcupine grass at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove.

Pale Purple Coneflower

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.

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

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

Foxglove Beardtongue

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

The spring prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs provides a dreamy show of foxglove beardtongue.

The spring prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs provides a dreamy show of foxglove beardtongue.

The spring prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs provides a dreamy show of foxglove beardtongue.

Foxglove Beardtongue

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.*

At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, pearl blossoms of foxglove beardtongue catch the morning rays and a new day awakens.

At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, pearl blossoms of foxglove beardtongue catch the morning rays and a new day awakens.

At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, pearl blossoms of foxglove beardtongue catch the morning rays and a new day awakens.

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If you find this website of Chicago wildflower information useful, please donate to our GoFundMe campaign or purchase my nationally-acclaimed book that celebrates all of the preserves featured on this website.

—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
02-28-2021
Annual “Searching for Spring” Poem Celebrates Spring’s Arrival

Posted by on 5:13 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT02-28-2021Annual “Searching for Spring” Poem Celebrates Spring’s Arrival

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
February 28, 2021

SEARCHING FOR SPRING
2021 Edition

“Chicago’s Best Nature Outings, Outdoor Adventures,
Wildflower Walks, Nature Hikes, & Weekend Getaways!”

Don’t miss one beautiful moment.
Click here to subscribe to received FREE nature alerts!

 

BREAKING NEWS: SPRING HAS SPRUNG IN CHICAGO!

In Chicago, spring officially arrives when sprouts of skunk cabbage push up from the muck or snow. And yesterday, February 27, I found sprouts at both Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet and Black Partridge Woods in Lemont. Please join our Friends of ChicagoNatureNOW! Facebook Group to post pictures of your skunk cabbage finds.

Here’s one of my photographs of skunk cabbage from last year’s exploits at Pilcher Park Nature Center:

Skunk cabbage penetrates the frozen temperatures of late winter using its own heating system known as thermogenesis.

Spring has officially arrived in the Chicago region when skunk cabbage rises the frozen elements using its own heating system known as thermogenesis. Read more about this remarkable species below.

 

As is my tradition, I celebrate the emergence of skunk cabbage and the rebirth of a new growing season by posting my poem and educational excerpt the “Searching for Spring” chapter of my book, “My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders.” I hope that you, too, can get outside and search out the camouflaged skunk cabbage hiding amidst the bronze leaves. (Please watch your step. They’re very hard to see.)

And now, “Searching for Spring.”

Searching for Spring

For me, the beginning of spring does not arrive in a fanfare of color. Rather, it begins subtly. In early March, burgundy spathes of skunk cabbage, dappled with yellow stripes and spots, quietly emerge from beneath a cloak of brown decaying leaves or, by way of a rare heat-generating process called thermogenesis, melt their way to the surface through layers of late winter ice and snow. And when March arrives, snow or not, I meander my way around Black Partridge Woods in a hopeful search for spring:

Winter is waning;
I’ve made it to March.
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
The temperature rises.
The snow slowly melts.
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Are you under the white
in a warmth all your own?
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Are you hiding in leaves
or still waiting to rise?
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Leafing through litter
on the brown woodland floor,
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Finally up from the mud
sprouts a burgundy curl.
With eyes to the ground, it is Spring I have found.

Thermogenesis is a rare property that is shared by only a few of Earth’s plants, one of which is skunk cabbage. Concealed deep inside this burgundy hood is a tiny, “green” furnace, generating heat that can rise as much as 63°F above the ambient air temperature. This easily allows the curling spathe to melt the surrounding snow and break through the surface.

Thermogenesis is a rare property that is shared by only a few of Earth’s plants, one of which is skunk cabbage. Concealed deep inside this burgundy hood is a tiny “green” furnace, generating heat that can rise as much as 63°F above the ambient air temperature. This easily allows the curling spathe to melt the surrounding snow and break through the surface.*

 

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers. The spadix emits a foul odor that, to a human, is reminiscent of skunk. However, to flesh flies, carrion flies, and several kinds of gnats, the spadix smells and looks more like a yummy dead animal, a trick the plant uses to lure them in for pollination. The spadix is also where the process of thermogenesis takes place. It warms the confines of the spathe, providing a cozy haven for pollinating insects while transmitting the smell of carrion far and wide.

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.
The spadix emits a foul odor that, to a human, is reminiscent of skunk. However, to flesh flies, carrion flies, and several kinds of gnats, the spadix smells and looks more like a yummy dead animal, a trick the plant uses to lure them in for pollination. The spadix is also where the process of thermogenesis takes place. It warms the confines of the spathe, providing a cozy haven for pollinating insects while transmitting the smell of carrion far and wide.*

 

These tender leaves of skunk cabbage will soon develop into giants, up to two feet long and one foot wide.

These tender leaves of skunk cabbage will soon develop into giants, up to two feet long and one foot wide (like those on page 60). a cabbage leaf is broken, it releases an odor reminiscent of skunk, hence the name.*

 

It's springtime at Pilcher Park and sunlight shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage which, if broken, releases a strong scent reminiscent of skunk, though sweeter and not nearly as overpowering. If you’re someone who, like me, finds the powerful essence of skunk to be an invigorating and life-affirming experience, the skunk inside the cabbage will definitely let you down.

It’s springtime at Pilcher Park and sunlight shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage which, if broken, releases a strong scent reminiscent of skunk, though sweeter and not nearly as overpowering. If you’re someone who, like me, finds the powerful essence of skunk to be an invigorating and life-affirming experience, the skunk inside the cabbage will definitely let you down.*

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

If you find this website of Chicago nature information useful, please consider donating or purchasing my nationally-acclaimed book that celebrates all of the preserves featured on this website.

—Mike

Inspire People to Volunteer & Spread the Cheer:
“Chicago Nature is #1!”

Posted by on 5:20 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Inspire People to Volunteer & Spread the Cheer:“Chicago Nature is #1!”

Inspire People to Volunteer & Spread the Cheer:
“Chicago Nature is #1!”

 

Here in late July at Spears Woods, wildflowers float above the prairie like musical notes in a symphony of color and texture.*

At Spears Woods, wildflowers float above the prairie like musical notes in a symphony of color and texture, proof that volunteers can work in perfect harmony with nature. *

Have you heard that the Chicago region tops every U.S. national park in native plant biodiversity? Three years ago, I discovered this fact and then published the following two articles:

– Chicago Region Tops U.S. National Parks in Native Plant Biodiversity! – Part 1

Chicago Region Tops U.S. National Parks in Native Plant Biodiversity! – Part 2

For years, I’ve been cheering from the oak tops about the beauty of Chicago nature. Yet, my voice only carries so far, and most Chicagoans have yet to hear the great news. Very few people know that there is nature around Chicago. And unfortunately, you can’t fall in love with nature if you don’t know it’s there!

This website was created to market Chicago nature to the masses and to inspire people to participate in its rehabilitation using this strategy:

Frame the conversation by comparing Chicago’s natural beauty and biodiversity to the famed and revered national parks. Then back it up with stunning images and that data to prove it.

Right now, Chicagoland’s nature preserves are being overwhelmed by invasive species. Yet a vast majority of our nature preserves have no volunteers to restore them. Most preserves with a volunteer steward in charge have only a handful of helpers. Most are getting on in years. Few are under thirty. Lucky for us, we have more than nine million neighbors to draw from to help with restoration and preservation. The potential for growth is remarkable! The challenge is that this isn’t Denver or Seattle, where residents are constantly reminded and lured into the great outdoors by looming mountains, and where a large portion of the population owns a pair of hiking boots. We live in a place that was flat from the start, with no iconic reminders of the kaleidoscopic prairie and its endless horizon. Therefore, we need to spread the word. And to help you, here are some inspirational words that I hope you’ll memorize and share:

Within just fifty miles of downtown Chicago, there’s more protected natural area than most national parks and more native plants species than ANY national park. This means that, every day from April through September, a world-class wildflower bloom is happening right down the road. Learn when and where at ChicagoNatureNOW.com.

A new year is here, so get out there and cheer, “Chicago nature is number one!”

 

If you find this website of Chicago wildflower information useful, please donate to our GoFundMe campaign or purchase my nationally-acclaimed book that celebrates all of the preserves featured on this website.

—Mike

The Boy and the Waterfall
A Photographer’s Story and Message of Hope

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A Photographer’s Story and Message of Hope

The Boy and the WaterfallA Photographer’s Story and Message of Hope

The Boy and the Waterfall:
A Photographer’s Story and Message of Hope

 

Sunlight forms a rainbow at the base of Multnomah Falls in Corbett, Oregon

A fusion of sunlight and mist forms a rainbow at the base of Multnomah Falls in Corbett, Oregon.

Though this is not an article about Chicago nature, I’d like to end the year with a message of hope by sharing this inspirational story from my experience in nature as a photographer.

There once was a little boy who I met while composing images of Oregon’s famed Multnomah Falls. I was in the zone, just doing my thing, when I noticed his intense interest in my work. It was as clear as the plummeting, crashing water that sprayed before us.

He was slender and especially lightweight for the age of five. I know this because I lifted him up and held him with ease as he peered through my camera’s viewfinder high on the tripod. This was after I asked him and his approving mother if he wanted to see what I was photographing. He was silent up to that point, but he couldn’t take his eyes off of me.

We talked as he excitedly sat on the side of my forearm that was folded like it was sprained and hanging from a sling. I was surprised at his buoyancy, as if he were supported from above. With one open eye, he took in the falling waters through the lens, and I handed him the shutter release so that he could press the button to record the images onto film.

When the photo session ended, his mother called me over. And that’s when I learned that she wasn’t his mother, after all. “Thank you for doing this,” she said. “I’m his aunt. A week ago, his parents passed away in a car accident. You’re the first person he’s spoken to, since.”

Without trying to attract attention, just by doing what I love to do, I found it possible to make a difference in the world in unexpected ways.

I wish you a new year filled with passion, possibility, and wonder! And let your passion be your gift to others.

(By the way, this moving story reminds me of the famous “Dutch girl” scene from my favorite movie “Miracle on 34th Street” that you can watch by clinking this YouTube link:. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSbkHZd7MQE.)

If you find this website of Chicago wildflower information useful, please donate to our GoFundMe campaign or purchase my nationally-acclaimed book that celebrates all of the preserves featured on this website.

—Mike

Chicago Wildflower Report & Info – 09/23/2020

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Chicago Wildflower Report & Info – 09/23/2020

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 23, 2020
(Fall Color Preview & Final Report for 2020)

Weekly Wildflower Report

“Chicago’s Best Nature Outings, Outdoor Adventures,
Wildflower Walks, Nature Hikes, & Weekend Getaways!”

Don’t miss one beautiful moment.
Click here to subscribe to receive FREE wildflower alerts!


If you’re able, please show your appreciation for
bringing beauty into your life during the pandemic.

PLEASE DONATE TO HELP US CONTINUE OUR MISSION.

DONATE TO OUR GOFUNDME CAMPAIGN!


The 2020 wildflower scouting season has come to an end.

Thank you to my wonderful volunteer scouts who have devoted hundreds of hours and traveled thousands of miles to bring these free weekly reports to nature-hungry Chicagoans!

In particular, I’d like to thank ZEKE WEI and JIM YASSICK for taking over the reins for several weeks while I went through heart surgery. 

And thanks to CHARLIE YANG who continues to scout more preserves than anyone. His enthusiastic participation has been indispensable.

As for our followers, please share with us how our service has contributed to your life. We’d love to hear about your adventures! You can write a comment by visiting the blog, our Facebook group, or send me an email. And please share this website with others, and ask them to subscribe.

Now that autumn has arrived and the blooming season has effective ended, this post will be our final wildflower alert for the year. Below, I suggest where to find any remaining blooms and kaleidoscopic fall color in the weeks to come.

HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR FALL COLOR WEEKEND GETAWAYS IN CHICAGO NATURE:

Even though the goldenrods and sunflowers are fading, the prairie is already displaying autumn colors in its foliage. And with the many asters and gentians that flower into October, the prairie becomes a beautiful mosaic of oranges, golds, reds, maroons, cyans, browns, and tans.. In one small patch of prairie, it’s common to see more color than any autumn woodland. You’ll experience towering waves of red-stemmed grasses and the tawny, fluffy spikes of gayfeather glowing in the sunlight. Here’s a preview of what you can find in the scenic preserves and woodlands 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. I love this place, which is why it tops the list.
  • 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.
  • Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois: This preserve is really a savanna, but it features many prairie plants that offer rich autumn color and texture. The many flowers and grasses that have brought us joy throughout the growing season are now performing their final show of the year.
  • Lake in the Hills Fen: Visit this vast preserve to experience the grand grassland expanse that runs to a distant horizon. Wow!
  • Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois: This prairie offers hundreds of species with a wonderful combination of color and texture. Walk (or drive) to the prairie house at the north end and view the prairie expanse from the deck.
  • 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.
  • Theodore Stone Preserve: The seas of grasses are beautiful. 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. There is also a woodland trail that offers some canopy color.
  • Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale, Illinois: This is a beautiful prairie very close to Chicago’s city limits with a sea of grasses.
  • Powderhorn Prairie: Experience the fall color of the prairie at the most biodiverse natural area within the city limits of Chicago.
  • Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Visit the prairie for tall expanses of grasses and olorful foliage from the forbs. And while you’re on your way in, stop under the trees to receive the hug from the gallant oaks.
  • 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:

  • Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois: Asters bloom into the first week of October along with white snakeroot and elm-leaved goldenrod. And because there is a mix of tree species, the color range is spectacular. The wetlands are beautiful as they reflect the surrounding color. And you’ll find lots of great hiking over the rolling terrain.
  • Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois: The black oak savanna takes up the majority of this preserve. You can spend all day exploring.
  • Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois: Because this is an oak savanna, the tree color is not as colorful as woodlands with a variety of species. Combined with the understory in the prairie-like expanse, this is a wonderful preserve to visit.
  • Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois: This is a magical place with steep bluffs, a beautiful stream, and where maples scream gold. Wow! This is another favorite preserve of mine.
  • Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Darien, Illinois: This vast preserve is a very popular spot for hikers, bikers, and fall-color chasers. The tree colors in the woodland and savanna is very nice and I love the views along Sawmill Creek. It’s beautiful, but there are crowds of people on the weekends, especially around the man-made waterfall.
  • Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee, Illinois: Like Black Partridge Woods, this site features a beautiful creek and a wonderful woodland where maples turn to gold.
  • Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: The intimate oak savanna is a dream come true! Stand under the tawny tones of venerable oaks and feel their warm embrace. Then continue on the trail into the prairie and fen, where unexpected color and texture compete the autumn experience.
  • Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park, Illinois: This is the finest example of a black oak savanna anywhere in the world. For fall color, the black oaks can be a bit understated, but there is a wealth of color in the understory. I love the feel of this preserve. And you’re likely to be alone because the preserve is not frequently visited.
  • Messenger Woods in Lockport, Illinois: This large woodland offers a golden maple forest.
  • Pilcher Park in Joliet, Illinois: This hardwood maple woodland offers great color. But keep in mind that it’s a popular preserve. Go early for the best experience.
  • Miller Woods in Indiana Dunes National Park: This is a big, beautiful preserve that features a black oak savanna with a rich understory. And the ferns are fun!
  • Cowles Bog Trail in Indiana Dunes National Park: Walk the trail through the colorful black oak savanna. At a point along the trail, choose the fork to the right. Soon, you’ll be taken over a steep dune and onto a spectacular panorama of waving golden grasses along the sandy shores of a blue Lake Michigan. Wow!
  • Sagawau Canyon: Call them to register for a canyon tour, or just go for a walk through the colorful woodland and prairie.

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.

PLANT OF THE WEEK: THE ASTERS (marking the end of the blooming season)

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. Click here for a complete (pdf) list of local asters and goldenrods.

PHOTO SECTION

Get Outdoors 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 Park 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 at Waterfall Glen 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.*

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 PrairieSpears WoodsTheodore Stone Preserve, and other local prairies over the next several weeks.*

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

If you find this website of Chicago nature information useful, please consider donating or purchasing my nationally-acclaimed book that celebrates all of the preserves featured on this website.

—Mike

Chicago Wildflower Report & COVID-19 Nature Outings – 09/18/2020

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Chicago Wildflower Report & COVID-19 Nature Outings – 09/18/2020

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 18, 2020

Weekly Wildflower Report

“Chicago’s Best Nature Outings, Outdoor Adventures,
Wildflower Walks, Nature Hikes, & Weekend Getaways!”

Don’t miss one beautiful moment.
Click here to subscribe to received FREE nature alerts!


During the COVID-19 pandemic,
we’re working hard to bring you opportunities to find peace!

PLEASE DONATE TO HELP US CONTINUE OUR MISSION.


WE NEED MORE SCOUTS!
CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT VOLUNTEERING.


PLEASE READ THIS BEFORE VISITING OUR SHOWCASE PRESERVES DURING THIS TIME OF INCREASED OUTDOOR ACTIVITY:

ChicagoNatureNOW! preserves are Sacred Cathedrals of Nature, NOT playgrounds or amusement parks. Please treat these sanctuaries with reverence. Behave as you would in any house of worship:

  • No foraging. And don’t pick flowers or plants or remove anything from a preserve.
    • Our preserves are small and rare. That’s why Chicago has grocery stores and flower shops.
    • Share cherished moments through photography, drawing, painting, and writing.
  • Stay on the trails.
  • Walk, don’t run.
    • If your kids need to run around, there are THOUSANDS of more appropriate places to play.
  • Speak quietly as to not interfere with the spiritual experiences of others.
  • Many of these preserves do NOT allow pets, even if they’re leashed.
  • When in doubt, ask yourself, “Would I do this in a house of worship?”

IMPORTANT COVID-19 SITE ACCESS & SAFETY TIPS

SITE ACCESS:

Most sites and trails that are owned by Chicago-area counties and Indiana Dunes National Park are open, except for visitor centers, buildings, and bathrooms. Fermilab Prairie woodland (Fermilab Natural Areas) in Batavia is closed. Period. Check out these websites before you go:

BE SAFE:

  • WEAR A MASK to protect others. Act as if you are infected because you very well could be.
    • Respect Science: Science doesn’t care what you think or do.
    • Respect Nature: Nature does what it’s programmed to do. It responds to provocation and, like science, doesn’t care what you think or do.
    • Respect Each Other: People DO care about what you do, especially when it affects them. If you don’t respect others, they won’t respect you.
  • WATCH YOUR DISTANCE by giving each other at least TEN feet of space because a breeze can carry the virus.
    • Don’t obstruct people’s progress by blocking trails or gathering around trailheads or intersections.
    • When people are present, be conscious of the wind and its direction.
    • When having a conversation, position yourselves so that the wind is blowing from the left or the right.

WE NEED SCOUTS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU LIVE SOUTH.
CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT VOLUNTEERING!

WILDFLOWER HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR WEEKEND OUTDOOR GETAWAY:

September is “The Month of Gold,” when goldenrods and sunflowers radiate across Chicago’s prairies and savannas. So, I’m going to make this easy for you. Go to Wolf Road Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, and Spears Woods for the spectacular shows of the towering sawtooth sunflower. As you hike the trails, they loom above and around you as if you’re passing through a tunnel. Bring along your tape measure to find the tallest one. I recently found some thirteen-footers on the north half of Wolf Road Prairie!

Of course, the goldenrods are blooming everywhere around Chicago. The best display is taking place at Lake in the Hills Fen, with its grand panoramic view. INTERESTING NOTE: Goldenrod does not provoke allergies. The pollen cannot be inhaled because it’s too heavy and simply drops to the ground.  The real culprit is common ragweed, which blooms at the same time. Many of the asters are now flowering, marking the end of the blooming season. There are so many asters and goldenrods that it’s really hard to identify them all. Click here for a complete (pdf) list of local asters and goldenrods.

The large and conspicuous plants are stealing the show, right now, which is why you’ll have to look carefully to find the gems hidden at your feet. In particular, September is also the season of gentians: prairie, bottle, cream, and fringed (our Plant of the Week).

For a greater appreciation of our native habitats, don’t just look at the plants. Touch and smell the plants. (But don’t eat them unless you know what you’re doing.) Run your fingers across the soft tan tassels of Indian grass and atop the rough, sometimes smooth, leaves of our many sunflowers. Tickle your hand as you pass through a cloudy plume of prairie dropseed. And while you’re there, stop and pay attention to its rich fragrance of slightly burnt buttered popcorn. Receive the strong and refreshing fragrance of mint from the faded gray flowers of mountain mint and brown seeds wild bergamot. The black seeds of yellow coneflower smell like licorice, while the dark brown seeds of purple prairie clover give off my favorite good smell in Chicago nature—a transfusion of lemons and carrots. So, what is my favorite bad smell? That would be the brown, teardrop seed ball of foxglove beardtongue. When in bloom, the white snapdragon flowers have no appreciable smell. But beginning around the end of August, the seeds smell exactly like vomit. Some say, “moldy socks.” Either way, it’s fabulous!

And, right now, you can see white snakeroot in the shade of our woodlands and savannas. It is a poisonous plant that’s responsible for “milk sickness” that killed thousands of people in the 1800’s, including Abe Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. You may smell it and touch it, BUT DON’T EAT IT! The poison was spread through the milk of cows that ingested the plant. On a more uplifting note, the active ingredient eupitorin in white snakeroot may have anticancer properties.

WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A SUMMER WILDFLOWER GETAWAY AROUND CHICAGO:

Before visiting a preserve, visit the website for the landholder first. Click here for some resources.

We’ve ranked the preserves on this week’s list based on the quality of the wildflower experience, starting out with the best or “Go!” The “Go, if You’re in the Neighborhood” section is for sites that are worth visiting if you can’t get out to our top-rated preserves. And our “Preserves for You to Scout” section for those preserves that we couldn’t get to this week, but that you can help us explore! The date within the parentheses tells you when we last scouted the preserve. After the date, you may see one of these three mathematical symbols: +, , = (plus, minus, equal). They represent our prediction about how the flowers will look like on the coming weekend: “+” is Probably Better; “-” is Probably Less Dramatic; “=” is Probably the Same. Notice the word “probably.”

THIS WEEK’S BEST (“GO!”)

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (9/17-): Wow! And I mean, “Wow!” For an unforgettable experience that will have you remember the year 2020 for something good, get out to Wolf Road Prairie to dive into the deep sea of golden sawtooth sunflower. For the best diving experience, take the narrow southbound trail behind the prairie house that’s located on Constitution Avenue at the north end of the preserve. (Normally, our directions have you park at the kiosk along 31st Street on the south end.) Immediately, the trail immerses you in swaying waves of towering sunflowers and grasses. Take your tape measure to find the tallest sunflower. The literature states that they can grow as high as thirteen feet, but the tallest I’ve ever found was twelve feet tall. That is, until last weekend when I found a handful of thirteen-footers along the northern trail! That’s taller than two of me. (See picture below.)

Mike MacDonald and a 13-foot sawtooth sunflower at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

Mike MacDonald and a 13-foot sawtooth sunflower at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

Along your hike to the south end, you’ll experience the grasses of Indian grass and big bluestem plus several flower species that include the pearly tall boneset, which can be found in large patches, cream gentian, pasture thistle, rough blazing star, round-headed bush clover, and the goldenrods of stiff, tall, and grass-leaved.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs (9/17-): This is your last chance for the year to experience the sea of sawtooth sunflower in the prairie’s undulating terrain. Mixed within the golden floral panorama and the flavescent tones of autumn’s calling are several species of goldenrod and aster, tall boneset, and a nice expanse of false aster. This preserves offers several “rooms,” each with its own personality. At one moment you’re in a prairie. The next, you’re overlooking a serene wetland through an open woodland. There’s no place like Spears Woods.

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake In The Hills (9/14-): Our scout Jim rated this preserve a “Wow!” for its expansive displays of tall boneset and goldenrod across the rolling panorama.  One of the most alluring qualities of this preserve is it endlessness. Goldenrods (including tall grass-leaved, field, and white, which looks just like an aster) are exploding throughout the fen, frequently intermixed with the off-white blooms of tall boneset. In addition, the maroon waves of Indian grass serve as a dramatic backdrop. In the soggy sections to the west, you’ll find the fading blooms of fading spotted Joe-Pye weed. And to the south, don’t miss the towering yellow blossoms of sawtooth sunflower. When you enter the preserve through the maze-like fencing, I suggest first taking a left and hiking the short looping trail that ends right back at the entrance. If you’re adventurous, take the longer trail (making a right at the entrance) leading into the southern section of the fen, and walk all the way to “Barbara’s Bench,” a resting stop paying tribute to the late Barbara Wilson, who dedicated much of her life to the stewardship and protection of this preserve. On your journey, you’ll encounter multiple dense patches of tall goldenrod and boneset, sawtooth sunflower, and the occasional flowering stalks of rough blazing star. If you visit in the early morning, there’s a good chance you’ll experience rolling fog hovering over the bowl of the fen, and possibly other magic. On Jim Yassick’s recent visit, he experienced a discussion between two owls on the trail between the parking lot and the main entrance! Please let us know about your own personal miracles from here at “The Lake” or any other preserve on our list.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (9/14+): Golden blooms of sawtooth sunflower and many species of goldenrod are exploding across the oak savanna in keeping with September’s theme. This preserve is known for its floral variety, which includes several kinds of aster, rough blazing star, and the glorious fringed, cream, and bottle gentians that grow low in the sunny areas. In addition, red and brown hues from big bluestem and Indian grass help to augment the colors from the asters and gentians. Finally, don’t miss the dramatic rising of rattlesnake master “skeletons” in the open prairie. During the summer, it’s safe to touch their prickly flower heads. But right now, they’re extremely sharp and will probably leave one of its bony seeds in your finger.

NOTE: If you visit Somme in the early morning, we suggest donning rainwear to avoid getting drenched in morning dew.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (9/14-): As the foliage of the summer prairie is transforming into the rusts, browns, reds, and golds of autumn, yellows of sunflower and goldenrods sparkle across the preserve. As you enter the fen from the kiosk and hike the short trail to the curving creek, take note of the captivating sea of spotted Joe-Pye weed. While fading, the purple blossoms still show a hint of their youthful selves. Under the trees, you’ll find asters, and goldenrods, and the poisonous white snakeroot. Under the sun, the grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass show off beautiful tones of reds, rusts, and browns. The seep in the bottom of the bowl is the most enchanting spot, right now, featuring a beautiful mixture of shrubby cinquefoil, grass-leaved goldenrod, assorted sunflowers, and gentians, including cream, bottle, and fringed. Finally, keep an eye out for the beautiful great blue lobelia, which is scattered across the preserve,

NOTE: If you visit early in the morning, wear rain gear or you’ll end up soaked to the skin from dew.

Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie Wisconsin (9/15=.): This pretty prairie-on-the-lake is a “Go!” for the fringed and prairie gentians amidst a scene with a smattering of golden sawtooth sunflower and several species of goldenrod. You’ll also find rough blazing star, swamp thistle, and a variety of asters. And seas of beautiful grasses are changing color into their autumn tones.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham (9/17-): The foliage of the prairie is beginning to don autumn’s warm tones of reds, rusts, and browns, acting as a canvas to vibrant yellow blooms of the goldenrod alongside the remaining rays of tall coreopsis, sawtooth sunflower, and sneezeweed. Copious amounts of the pearly tall boneset can be seen in many locations along with an occasional mix of asters.

We need scouts, especially Southsiders!
Click here to learn about how you can help us share the beauty.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park (9/14-): Go for the fine displays of field goldenrod and sweet everlasting. Rough blazing star is also blooming, though much subdued this year.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (9/17-): The golden hues of sunflowers and goldenrods beautifully combine with the reds and browns tones of the grasses. However, much of the floral color can only be seen from a distance where sawtooth sunflowers blanket the far western portion of the preserve. Along your hike, look carefully at your feet for cream and bottle gentian.

Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest (Unscouted. Last scouted on 9/2.): Even though we didn’t scout this preserve, you can expect to find abundant blooms of sawtooth sunflower and goldenrod.

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
Miller Woods is leaping with gymnastic ferns that are beginning to change into their autumn colors.

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.

PLANT OF THE WEEK: 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.*

The gorgeous fringed gentian blooms 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 this beautiful blooms at locations that include Chiwaukee Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, and Somme Prairie Grove.*

PHOTO SECTION

Sawtooth Sunflower

September at Wolf Road Prairie gives proof of nature’s comfort, as sawtooth sunflower and obedient plant tangle in a glorious embrace.*

September at Wolf Road Prairie gives proof of nature’s comfort, as sawtooth sunflower and obedient plant tangle in a glorious embrace.*

Bottle Gentian

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.*

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.*

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.*

Here at Powderhorn Prairie in Chicago, bottle gentian survive under the shadow of the dense late-summer prairie, where plants, like this sawtooth sunflower, can tower twelve feet into

Rough Blazing Star

Rough blazing star glows in the morning light at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

Rough blazing star glows in the morning light at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

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. Click here for a complete (pdf) list of local asters and goldenrods.

Cardinal Flower and Great Blue Lobelia

Great blue lobelia and cardinal flower in the panne at Montrose Beach Dunes in Chicago, Illinois.*

Great blue lobelia and cardinal flower in the panne at Montrose Harbor in downtown Chicago.

Grasses of Big Bluestem & Indian Grass

Big bluestem grass gives the true meaning to the term "tallgrass prairie."*

The towering height of big bluestem gives true meaning to the term “tallgrass prairie.”*

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

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

In the dolomite prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois, feathery plumes of dew-drenched Indian grass steal the show from rough blazing star and goldenrod.*

In the dolomite prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois, feathery plumes of dew-drenched Indian grass steal the show from rough blazing star and field goldenrod.*

Rough blazing star and Indiana grass dominate the top of this kame at Lake in the Hill Fen.

Feathery plumes of Indian grass and rough blazing star festoon the top of this kame at Lake in the Hill Fen.

Wolf Road Prairie

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.*

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

Pembroke Savanna

Field goldenrod and rough blazing star bring an air of autumn to the sand savanna at Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park, Illinois.*

Field goldenrod and rough blazing star bring an air of autumn to the sand savanna at Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park, Illinois.*

Lake in the Hills Fen

In late August, tall goldenrod and purple rough blazing star contribute to an explosion of color at Lake in the Hills Fen.

At this time of year, tall goldenrod and purple rough blazing star contribute to an explosion of color at Lake in the Hill Fen.

The golden blooms of stiff goldenrod and shrubby cinquefoil turn the seep of this fen aglow at Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills, Illinois.*

The golden blooms of stiff goldenrod and shrubby cinquefoil turn the seep of this fen aglow at Lake in the Hills Fen.*

Prairie Root System

The root system of some common prairie plants.

The root system of some common prairie plants. Note that cylindrical blazing star has the deepest root that reaches over fifteen feet! Click the image for a bigger view.

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

If you find this website of Chicago nature information useful, please consider donating or purchasing my nationally-acclaimed book that celebrates all of the preserves featured on this website.

—Mike

Chicago Wildflower Report & COVID-19 Nature Outings – 09/11/2020

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Chicago Wildflower Report & COVID-19 Nature Outings – 09/11/2020

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 11, 2020

Weekly Wildflower Report

“Chicago’s Best Nature Outings, Outdoor Adventures,
Wildflower Walks, Nature Hikes, & Weekend Getaways!”

Don’t miss one beautiful moment.
Click here to subscribe to received FREE nature alerts!

 

THANK YOU TO ZEKE WEI AND JIM YASSICK FOR KEEPING THIS ENTERPRISE RUNNING AND COMPOSING THESE REPORTS WHILE I’VE BEEN RECOVERING FROM HEART SURGERY!

 


During the COVID-19 pandemic,
we’re working hard to bring you opportunities to find peace!

PLEASE DONATE TO HELP US CONTINUE OUR MISSION.


 

WE NEED MORE SCOUTS!
CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT VOLUNTEERING.


PLEASE READ THIS BEFORE VISITING OUR SHOWCASE PRESERVES DURING THIS TIME OF INCREASED OUTDOOR ACTIVITY:

ChicagoNatureNOW! preserves are Sacred Cathedrals of Nature, NOT playgrounds or amusement parks. Please treat these sanctuaries with reverence. Behave as you would in any house of worship:

  • No foraging. And don’t pick flowers or plants or remove anything from a preserve.
    • Our preserves are small and rare. That’s why Chicago has grocery stores and flower shops.
    • Share cherished moments through photography, drawing, painting, and writing.
  • Stay on the trails.
  • Walk, don’t run.
    • If your kids need to run around, there are THOUSANDS of more appropriate places to play.
  • Speak quietly as to not interfere with the spiritual experiences of others.
  • Many of these preserves do NOT allow pets, even if they’re leashed.
  • When in doubt, ask yourself, “Would I do this in a house of worship?”

IMPORTANT COVID-19 SITE ACCESS & SAFETY TIPS

SITE ACCESS:

Most sites and trails that are owned by Chicago-area counties and Indiana Dunes National Park are open, except for visitor centers, buildings, and bathrooms. Fermilab Prairie woodland (Fermilab Natural Areas) in Batavia is closed. Period. Check out these websites before you go:

BE SAFE:

  • WEAR A MASK to protect others. Act as if you are infected because you very well could be.
    • Respect Science: Science doesn’t care what you think or do.
    • Respect Nature: Nature does what it’s programmed to do. It responds to provocation and, like science, doesn’t care what you think or do.
    • Respect Each Other: People DO care about what you do, especially when it affects them. If you don’t respect others, they won’t respect you.
  • WATCH YOUR DISTANCE by giving each other at least TEN feet of space because a breeze can carry the virus.
    • Don’t obstruct people’s progress by blocking trails or gathering around trailheads or intersections.
    • When people are present, be conscious of the wind and its direction.
    • When having a conversation, position yourselves so that the wind is blowing from the left or the right.

WE NEED SCOUTS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU LIVE SOUTH.
CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT VOLUNTEERING!

 

WILDFLOWER HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR WEEKEND OUTDOOR GETAWAY:

September is “The Month of Gold,” when goldenrods and sunflowers radiate across Chicago’s prairies and savannas. So, I’m going to make this easy for you. Go to Wolf Road Prairie and Spears Woods for the spectacular shows of sawtooth sunflower. As you hike the trails, they loom above and around you as if you’re passing through a tunnel. Bring along your tape measure to find the tallest one. I recently found some thirteen-footers on the north half of Wolf Road Prairie!

Now is also your last chance to experience stunning shows of rough blazing star at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Pembroke Savanna, Bluff Spring Fen, and Theodore Stone Preserve. And of course, goldenrods are blooming everywhere around Chicago. NOTE: Goldenrod does not provoke allergies. The pollen cannot be inhaled because it’s too heavy and simply drops to the ground.  The real culprit is common ragweed, which blooms at the same time. Many of the asters are now flowering, marking the end of the blooming season. There are so many asters and goldenrods that it’s really hard to identify them all. Click here for a complete (pdf) list of local asters and goldenrods.

The large and conspicuous plants are stealing the show, right now, which is why you’ll have to look carefully to find the gems hidden at your feet. In particular, September is also the season of gentians: prairie, fringed, cream, and bottle (our Plant of the Week).

For a greater appreciation of our native habitats, don’t just look at the plants. Touch and smell the plants. (But don’t eat them unless you know what you’re doing.) Run your fingers across the soft tan tassels of Indian grass and atop the rough, sometimes smooth, leaves of our many sunflowers. Tickle your hand as you pass through a cloudy plume of prairie dropseed. And while you’re there, stop and pay attention to its rich fragrance of slightly burnt buttered popcorn. Receive the strong and refreshing fragrance of mint from the fading flowers of mountain mint and wild bergamot. The seeds of yellow coneflower smell like licorice, while the seeds of purple prairie clover give off my favorite good smell in Chicago nature—a transfusion of lemons and carrots. So, what is my favorite bad smell? That would be the brown, teardrop seed ball of foxglove beardtongue. When in bloom, the white snapdragon flowers have no appreciable smell. But beginning around the end of August, the seeds smell exactly like vomit. Some say, “moldy socks.” Either way, it’s fabulous!

And, right now, you can see white snakeroot in the shade of our woodlands and savannas. It is a poisonous plant that’s responsible for “milk sickness” that killed thousands of people in the 1800’s, including Abe Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln. You may smell it and touch it, BUT DON’T EAT IT! The poison was spread through the milk of cows that ingested the plant. On a more uplifting note, the active ingredient eupitorin in white snakeroot may have anticancer properties.

 

WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A SUMMER WILDFLOWER GETAWAY AROUND CHICAGO:

Before visiting a preserve, visit the website for the landholder first. Click here for some resources.

We’ve ranked the preserves on this week’s list based on the quality of the wildflower experience, starting out with the best or “Go!” The “Go, if You’re in the Neighborhood” section is for sites that are worth visiting if you can’t get out to our top-rated preserves. And our “Preserves for You to Scout” section for those preserves that we couldn’t get to this week, but that you can help us explore! The date within the parentheses tells you when we last scouted the preserve. After the date, you may see one of these three mathematical symbols: +, , = (plus, minus, equal). They represent our prediction about how the flowers will look like on the coming weekend: “+” is Probably Better; “-” is Probably Less Dramatic; “=” is Probably the Same. Notice the word “probably.”

 

THIS WEEK’S BEST (“GO!”)

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (9/2=): Wow! And I mean, “Wow!” For an unforgettable experience that will have you remember the year 2020 for something good, get out to Wolf Road Prairie to dive into the deep sea of golden sawtooth sunflower. For the best diving experience, take the narrow southbound trail behind the prairie house that’s located on Constitution Avenue at the north end of the preserve. (Normally, our directions have you park at the kiosk along 31st Street on the south end.) Immediately, the trail immerses you in swaying waves of towering sunflowers and grasses. Take your tape measure to find the tallest sunflower. The literature states that they can grow as high as thirteen feet, but the tallest I’ve ever found was twelve feet tall. That is, until last weekend when I found a handful of thirteen-footers along the northern trail! That’s taller than two of me. (See picture below.)

Mike MacDonald and a 13-foot sawtooth sunflower at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

Mike MacDonald and a 13-foot sawtooth sunflower at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

Along your hike to the south end, you’ll experience the grasses of Indian grass and big bluestem plus several flower species that include the pearly tall boneset, which can be found in large patches, cream gentian, obedient plant, pasture thistle, rough blazing star, round-headed bush clover, and the goldenrods of stiff, tall, and grass-leaved.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs (9/10=): Wow! Spears Woods is exploding with yellow as seas of sunflowers (sawtooth and long-bracted tickseed) flow across the undulating prairie terrain. There’s also a beautiful alabaster expanse of false aster in the western prairie. Yes, there are other flowers, as well, like tall coreopsis, grass-leaved goldenrod, ironweed, slender false foxglove, and pasture thistle, but their occasional appearances are overpowered by the golden floral panorama and the flavescent tones of autumn’s calling. This preserves offers several “rooms,” each with its own personality. At one moment you’re in a prairie. The next, you’re overlooking a serene wetland through an open woodland. There’s no place like Spears Woods.

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake In The Hills (9/7=): After nearly 6 months of wildflower blooms throughout the region, “The Lake” is finally elevated to “GO” status. One of the most alluring qualities of this preserve is it endlessness. And right now, the wildflower blooms are on par with the grandeur. Goldenrods (including tall grass-leaved, field, and white, which looks just like an aster) are exploding throughout the fen, frequently intermixed with the off-white blooms of tall boneset. In addition, the maroon waves of Indian grass serve as a dramatic backdrop. In the soggy sections to the west, you’ll find the fading blooms of fragrant spotted Joe-Pye weed. And to the south, don’t miss the towering yellow blossoms of sawtooth sunflower. When you enter the preserve through the maze-like fencing, I suggest first taking a left and hiking the short looping trail that ends right back at the entrance. If you’re adventurous, take the longer trail (making a right at the entrance) leading into the southern section of the fen, and walk all the way to “Barbara’s Bench,” a resting stop paying tribute to the late Barbara Wilson, who dedicated much of her life to the stewardship and protection of this preserve. On your journey, you’ll encounter multiple dense patches of tall goldenrod and boneset, sawtooth sunflower, and the occasional flowering stalks of rough blazing star. If you visit in the early morning, there’s a good chance you’ll experience rolling fog hovering over the bowl of the fen, and possibly other magic. On Jim Yassick’s recent visit, he experienced a discussion between two owls on the trail between the parking lot and the main entrance! Please let us know about your own personal miracles from here at “The Lake” or any other preserve on our list.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (9/5=): This preserve is the richest and most biologically diverse preserve in the state, but we love it because it fills our hearts with joy. Be on the lookout for omnipresent displays of western sunflower, rough blazing star, white goldenrod, the butter-colored blooms of large flowered false foxglove, and the aging but still beautiful flowering spurge. Our intrepid scout Charlie recommends casually walking the trails during the cool morning hours to avoid the rowdy beachgoers and COVID-19 spreaders without masks.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (9/5+): Somme Prairie Grove is known for the simultaneous blooms of many species, and that’s what you’ll find right now, including many golden blooms consistent with September’s theme. Sawtooth sunflower will blow your mind. Other notable golden bloomers are  stiff and grass-leaved goldenrod, and tall coreopsis. Look for the glorious fringed, cream,and bottle gentians hiding at ground level in the sunny areas. In addition, red and brown hues from big bluestem and Indian grass help to augment the colors from the asters and gentians. On occasion, you’ll run into purple stalks of rough blazing star and the much rarer savanna blazing star. The stalks between flower head and stem are longer on the savanna version. You’ll also find the hinged pink blooms of obedient plant, the buttery trumpet-shaped blooms of large flowered false foxglove, and the bushy green flower heads of round-headed bush clover. Under the trees, there are pleasing numbers of the anise-scented sweet coneflower. Finally, don’t miss the dramatic rising of rattlesnake master “skeletons” in the open prairie. During the summer, it’s safe to touch their prickly flower heads. But right now, they’re extremely sharp and will probably leave one of its bony seeds in your finger.

NOTE: If you visit Somme in the early morning, we suggest donning rainwear to avoid getting drenched in morning dew.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (9/5-): There’s a lot to see across the preserve, from savanna and kames to prairie and seep. GO for the rich yellows of sunflowers and goldenrods along with the autumn tones and splashes of pink. As you enter the fen from the kiosk and hike the short trail to the curving creek, take note of the captivating sea of spotted Joe-Pye weed. While no longer in peak condition, the fragrant purple blossoms are still gorgeous. Also in this area are touches of gold from assorted sunflowers. Under the trees of the oak savanna, you’ll find fading, but still dramatic, displays of cutleaf coneflower and wingstem, cup plant, and good numbers of brown-eyed Susan. Atop the big kame, you’ll find rough blazing star. As you emerge from the savanna, you’ll have a great view of the bowl that contains the prairie, the seep of the fen, and distant kames. Stop here, and soak up the purple hues of the grasses and golden sparkles of flowers. The grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass provide beautiful tones of reds, rusts, and browns. The seep in the bottom of the bowl is also a glorious place, and features beautiful displays of shrubby cinquefoil, grass-leaved goldenrod, assorted sunflowers, and gentians, including cream, bottle, and fringed. As you emerge north from the bowl, you’ll climb up the “switchback” kame. Once there, you’ll see a few new blooms of rough blazing star contrasted with the aging remains of cylindrical blazing star. Following the trail to the east a few hundred feet will lead to a nice patch of western sunflower, but if you descend westward instead and turn left towards the flowing stream, you’ll find a nice patch of goldenrods overlooking the curvy creek. Finally, keep an eye out for the beautiful great blue lobelia, which is scattered across the preserve,

NOTE: If you visit early in the morning, wear rain gear or you’ll end up soaked to the skin from dew.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park (9/5+): Go for the fine displays of field goldenrod and sweet everlasting. Rough blazing star is also blooming, though much subdued this year.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham (9/6=): The foliage of the prairie is beginning to don autumn’s warm tones of reds, rusts, and browns as a backdrop to the vibrant yellow blooms of the many goldenrods alongside rays of tall coreopsis, long-bracted tickseed sunflower sawtooth sunflower, and sneezeweed. Copious amounts of the pearly tall boneset can be seen in many locations, while slender false foxglove, pasture thistle, ironweed, rough blazing star, big bluestem, and blue vervain add splashes of white, pink, purple and blue to the prairie canvas.

 

We need scouts, especially Southsiders!
Click here to learn about how you can help us share the beauty.

 

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie Wisconsin (Unscouted. Last scouted on 8/29.): This gorgeous preserve-by-the-lake is predicted to be “Go, if in the neighborhood,” right now. We predict that you’ll see the golden Kalm’s St. John’s wort alongside the purples of prairie and fringed gentian. In addition, goldenrods, western sunflower, sawtooth sunflower, a smattering of rough blazing star should still be blooming.

Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest (Unscouted. Last scouted on 9/2 with the following report.): Middlefork Savanna is named after the rare tallgrass savanna along the middle fork of the Chicago River, but the prairie is the reason to go this weekend.  Our dedicated scout Zeke reported that, while there are abundant blooms of sawtooth sunflower and black-eyed Susan growing in the prairie at the moment, it was the tubular, crimson blooms of cardinal flower, the deep purple blossoms of ironweed, and the delicate pink petals of obedient plant that stole his heart.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (9/7+): The golden hues of sunflowers and goldenrods beautifully combine with the reds and browns tones of the grasses. However, much of the floral color can only be seen from a distance where sawtooth sunflowers blanket the far western portion of the preserve. Along your hike, look carefully at your feet for cream and bottle gentian.

 

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
Miller Woods is leaping with gymnastic ferns that are beginning to change into their autumn colors.

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.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK: BOTTLE GENTIAN

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.*

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.*

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.*

Here at Powderhorn Prairie in Chicago, bottle gentian survive under the shadow of the dense late-summer prairie, where plants, like this sawtooth sunflower, can tower twelve feet into the air.*

 

 

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.*

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

Obedient Plant

Obedient plant can be found at many local preserves, like here at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, and Wolf Road Prairie. Use your finger to pivot the flower on the stem and it will obediently remain in place, hence the name. Though, grow it in your garden, and it has a habit of spreading and not staying put.*

Obedient plant can be found at many local preserves, like here at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, and Wolf Road Prairie. Use your finger to pivot the flower on the stem and it will obediently remain in place, hence the name. Though, grow it in your garden, and it has a habit of spreading and not staying put.*

Rough Blazing Star

Rough blazing star glows in the morning light at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

Rough blazing star glows in the morning light at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

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. Click here for a complete (pdf) list of local asters and goldenrods.

Cardinal Flower and Great Blue Lobelia

Great blue lobelia and cardinal flower in the panne at Montrose Beach Dunes in Chicago, Illinois.*

Great blue lobelia and cardinal flower in the panne at Montrose Harbor in downtown Chicago.

Western Sunflower

Early late-summer light strikes the tops of indian grass, western sunflower, and rough blazing star at the sand prairie along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

Early late-summer light strikes the tops of Indian grass, western sunflower, and rough blazing star at the sand prairie along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion.

The Grasses of Big Bluestem & Indian Grass

Big bluestem grass gives the true meaning to the term "tallgrass prairie."*

The towering height of big bluestem gives true meaning to the term “tallgrass prairie.”*

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