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Chicago Wildflower Report & COVID-19 Nature Outings – 08/06/2020

Posted by on 10:23 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Chicago Wildflower Report & COVID-19 Nature Outings – 08/06/2020

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
August 6, 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:

 

We’re experiencing another dramatic week of blooming in our prairies, savannas, woodlands, and wetlands. The summer is exploding with gold, purple, lavender, and white. Our Plant of the Week is woodland sunflower which you can find at many savannas across the region. The best is at Somme Prairie Grove, where you can find the yellow sunflower is exploding in the woodland with tons of sweet Joe-Pye weed in the background.  You can also find all kinds of goldenrod over there.  Last week’s floral stars, prairie blazing star and marsh blazing star, are beginning to fade in some places. When flowering in great numbers, the experience is the highlight of the summer season. Spears Woods is usually the best place to find them in great densities, though it varies from year to year.  While last year it had the best show, this year you barely find any blazing star over there.  That’s nature for you.  But hey, there is always something new that comes up after others pass by.  Cylindrical blazing star is now blooming, It maybe a little early. This plant has the deepest root of any prairie plant.  Experience it now at Bluff Spring Fen.

Our famous pioneer species, wild bergamot and yellow coneflower, are reaching the end of their fragrant run.  You can see them blooming almost everywhere at this time of year, even along the road. Experience good displays of both flowers at Somme Prairie Grove and Bluff Spring Fen.  Big bluestem is starting to bloom, but their tiny flowers are easy to miss when more conspicuous flowers attract our attention. Look for this iconic prairie grass at most, if not every, prairie on our list. And finally, the dramatic aquatic American lotus should still be flowering. The pale yellow blossoms resemble those of a water lily, but they’re much larger—up to eight inches wide atop stems that can reach six feet high. And that isn’t all. The circular leaf is gorgeous and enormous, up to two and a half feet in diameter! See the Picture Section below for images of American lotus (and where to find it) along with the many flowers featured in this report.

 

TIP: I recommend visiting grasslands at the beginning or the end of the day when it’s much cooler and the sunlight is beautiful. Prairies are treeless expanses with no escape from the sun. It’s a challenge to appreciate the prairie in the blinding light of ninety-degree afternoon.

 

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!”):

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (8/4+): This preserve still tops our list because of the many plant species that provide a vibrant mix of color. The major new bloom is the spectacular legions of bright and happy woodland sunflowers and the fluffy mauve blooms of sweet Joe-Pye weed.  The two supplement each other very well under the trees.  You can also find many smooth ironweed in the woodland.  The whimsical Tinker-Toy blooms of rattlesnake master are coming to an end, but many kinds of goldenrod are coming up nicely and all over the open savanna area.  Under the sun, you can still find many mountain mint, wild quinine, flowering spurge, compass plantyellow coneflower, wild bergamot, prairie blazing star, brown-eyed Susan, nodding wild onion, blue vervain, flowering big bluestem grass , and the gorgeous emerald mop hairdos of prairie dropseed.  And keep an eye out for the iconic bottlebrush grass.

NOTE: I suggest donning rainwear to avoid getting drenched in morning dew.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (8/1+): There is so much beauty this week! Still more than twenty flower species are blooming across the preserve, which is why it is the top of this week’s “Go!” list. As you enter the preserve, you’ll find yourself protected within the embrace of majestic oaks in the savanna. Quickly, you’ll see the fluffy, tall sweet Joe-Pye weed, pale Indian plantain, bottlebrush grass, starry campion, and some remaining American bellflower. The stand of sweet Joe-Pye weed upon the kame is absolutely stunning. At the troll bridge, where friendly trolls have helped to restore the adjacent wetland habitat, look to your right for a grand expanse of spotted Joe-Pye weed. Continuing under the protection of oaks, take the narrow out-and-back trail on your left to the top of the large kame. On your way up, look for a whimsical display of sprawling and whimsical bottlebrush grass. Once at the gravelly peak, you’ll experience a unique view of the preserve and the blooming cylindrical blazing starwild quinine, hoary vervain. As you pass the savanna, I recommend making a right turn into the open prairie and moving counter-clockwise around the preserve back to this spot. Along the counter-clockwise route, you’ll experience the wonderful bristled heads of Canada wild rye, which will soak you with dew in the mornings. You’ll also find a glorious “forest” of tall compass plant to the west. Take the trail at the “Y” to see them up close. Returning to the main trail, you’ll head east through a dense stand of big bluestem grass, which was giving off fragrant plumes of pollen as we passed through it.  The next dramatic display along your way happens at the main seep in the center of the bowl. (Turn left at the end of the “transplant kame,” and carefully traverse the narrow trail over the boardwalk. Soon, you’ll arrive at the main seep.) You should be able to find nice patches of pale Indian plantain mixed in with wild quinine, wild bergamot and yellow coneflower just outside the bowl.  In and around the alkaline water of the seep you’ll find the yellow blooms of shrubby cinquefoil. The plant looks like a low bush. As you continue to the north, there’s a narrow boardwalk that’s hard to see. Take care and continue up the brae of the “switchback” kame where you’ll see an beautiful display of cylindrical blazing star. This plant has the deepest root of any prairie plant. (See an illustration of root depth at the very bottom of this article.) On the kame, you’ll also notice a plant with white balls dotting the vertical stems. That’s rough blazing star which will start blooming in a couple of weeks. At the top of the kame, head west towards the savanna. Soon, you’ll reach an intersection that you’ll take to the left and across a small creek with stepping stones. Continue along, staying left when you reach the kame. You’ll come around the kame to your right and you’ll find yourself where you began your journey into the sun.

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

Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest: Due to the lack of volunteers, we did not scout this preserve, but nature tends to repeat itself pretty well, so we copied last year’s report (8/7/2019) here as a reference.  “Many dramatic plants are all blooming in large quantities. Our scout, Karen, counted twenty-one native plants in bloom! The most conspicuous and widespread are wild bergamot, cup plant, yellow coneflower, rattlesnake master, and rosinweed. Dramatic purples of prairie blazing star and ironweed add visual excitement. Skyward sawtooth sunflower and pale Indian plantain make an impression. And there’s much more to see: mountain mint, blue vervain, obedient plant, Culver’s root, prairie sundrop, nodding wild onion, and the gloriously red cardinal flower. In the wetter areas, you’ll find the gorgeous pink blooms of swamp milkweed, the bright pink blooms of spotted Joe-Pye weed, the spectacular purple spikes of pickerel weed, and the large pink blossoms of swamp rose mallow.”

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham: Due to the lack of volunteers, we did not scout this preserve, but nature tends to repeat itself pretty well, so we copied last year’s report (8/5/2019) here as a reference.  “Blooms of marsh blazing star are still looking good, while early goldenrod has reached peak color to add wonderful golden highlights to the dominant mixture of green and white. After entering the gate with the “dummy lock” (see preserve page for details), take the trail that goes to the left. You’re immediately greeted by yellow coneflower, nodding wild onion. some remaining wild bergamot, and a little bit of marsh phlox. After a few seconds, you’ll find a delicate display of prairie dock foliage mixed with prairie dropseed, yellow coneflower, and rattlesnake master. Soon following, you’ll discover stunning dense stands of rattlesnake master and wild quinine. As you hike around the preserve, you’ll see blooms of partridge pea, compass plant, along with a tall forest of the white-flowered pale Indian plantain located about fifty yards from the trail. The texture of the grasses look great. And the tassels of big bluestem are blooming. If you like to smell stuff. then this is the a good week for you.” 

NOTE: Under the summer sun, this prairie can feel hot and bright. For a more enjoyable time, visit in the morning or late-afternoon.

 

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:

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (8/1=): The floral color and diversity of the preserve is wonderful. Our directions for the preserve have you parking at the south end along 31st Street. From there, hike the sidewalk trails to the north. The preserve extends north for one-half mile, terminating at the newly renovated prairie house. The savanna is now putting on a performance of sweet Joe-Pye weed, woodland sunflower, and bottlebrush grass. In the open south prairie, you can still see purple torches of prairie blazing star rise beautifully above the alabaster tones of Culver’s root, rattlesnake master, wild quinine, and flowering spurge, and early goldenrod. The yellow coneflower and wild bergamot are mostly gone.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs (8/3=): This is one of the most beautiful preserves in the region. And right now, most of the blooming is happening in the woodlands where feathery mauve blossoms of sweet Joe-Pye weed (our Plant of the Week) loom alongside golden rays of woodland sunflower, blue American bellflower, and the gorgeous bottlebrush grass. Adding to the bloom in the open Savanna area is flowering spurge.  Halfway between the eastern prairie trailhead and the shore of Hogwash Slough, there’s a beautiful view of Hogwash Slough and the colony of American lotus. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to see the lotus through the sedges and cattails that tower above the shoreline. Normally, the prairies teem with prairie blazing star to the point that it stuns the senses, but there are rarely any this year. Nature is mysterious, which is why we need to scout these preserves for every report. Consider giving your financial support to help you find peace during this trying time.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (7/23=): Help us scout this jewel of a preserve. You’ll find the floating white blooms of flowering spurge across the preserve, and maybe some other species.
NOTE: Trust me when I tell you to GO EARLY IN THE DAY to avoid the noisy beachgoers and COVID-19 spreaders without masks. Also, the trail that extends along the Dead River may be covered with water and prohibit your journey. Consider bringing along some high boots if you intend to hike that section.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park (Unscouted. Last scouted on 7/11): This is the usual time to see some potentially dramatic displays of partridge pea and flowering spurge. We need help scouting the southern preserves. Consider joining our elite group of volunteer scouts.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK: WOODLAND SUNFLOWER

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

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

 

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

American Bellflower

Sweet Joe-Pye weed, American bellflower, and woodland sunflower put on a show in the woodland at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.*

The beautiful blue American bellflower blooms alongside sweet Joe-Pye weed and woodland sunflower, here at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook and other local woodlands.*

Cylindrical Blazing Star

In August, cylindrical Blazingstar blooms in the sand savanna at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.*

Cylindrical blazing star blooms in the sand savanna, here at Indiana Dunes National Park, and at other preserves that include Bluff Spring Fen and Shoe Factory Road Prairie.*

Nodding Wild Onion

In late July, pink blooms nodding wild onions are the highlight of Lockport Prairie.*

The drooping pink blossoms of nodding wild onion are just beginning to flower. The display is often quite dense at Lockport Prairie, but it depends on the year.*

 

Prairie & Marsh Blazing Star

Spears Woods’ finest show takes place in the August prairie, when blazing stars shoot toward the sky, leaving behind yellow flames of early goldenrod.*

In late July and early August, the spectacular purple blooms of marsh and prairie blazing star turns the prairie ablaze. They are the first of the blazing stars to flower in the summer, followed by cylindrical, savanna, and then rough blazing star. Both marsh and prairie blazing star can easily reach five feet tall The only way to differentiate them is to decipher this coded message from the Illinois Wildflowers website:, “Prairie blazingstar has floral bracts (phyllaries) that are strongly recurved, while the floral bracts of marsh blazingstar are appressed together and relatively smooth.” Huh? Even my magic decoder ring can’t decipher this message.
The flowers on these plants bloom from the top downward, which is helpful for photographers (and our scouts) to know if the flowers are coming or going. 
You can experience one or both of these magnificent plants in most of our prairies on our list of showcase preserves.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie is famous for its late July fanfare, when the fields ignite with white sparks of flowering spurge and purple torches of marsh blazing star.*

Gensburg-Markham Prairie is famous for its late July fanfare, when the fields ignite with white sparks of flowering spurge and purple torches of marsh blazing star. Right now, there aren’t nearly as many, but it’s still very nice.*

Canada Wild Rye

The plume of Canada wild rye covered drenched in morning dew at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

In the morning, this plume of Canada wild rye and all the plants of the prairie become drenched in morning dew. Wear your rain gear!

 

Big Bluestem Grass

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

The towering height of big bluestem grass 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.*

Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake master

Rattlesnake master is a whimsical Chicago prairie flower that resembles Tinker Toys, or molecular structures, or something you might find in Arizona or Texas. The plant gets its name because some Native Americans brewed a tea from the root as an antidote for rattlesnake venom. To prevent bites, some chewed on the root, then spat on their hands before handling a rattlesnake. Of course, I’m interested to know if this really works. What’s more, the research may not even require a flight to the desert. That’s because, believe it or not, the rare and endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnake lives right here in the Chicago area. So, if you perform the experiment, please get back to me with the results, either you or next of kin. To experience rattlesnake master, visit Belmont Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road PrairieWolf Road PrairieFermilab PrairieGensburg Markham PrairieKickapoo Woods and PrairieSpears WoodsTheodore Stone Preserve, and other local prairies over the next few weeks.*

Culver’s Root

Culver's root blooms en masse at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

Culver’s root is blooming en masse at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester and at other prairies across the Chicago area.*

Mountain Mint 

Mountain mint and prairie blazing star flower in the July prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs.*

Inhale the invigorating white flowers of mountain mint that grow here at Spears Woods and at many other preserves on our list.*

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs.

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois teeming with American lotus.

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs teems with the grand American Lotus. You an reach the wetland by first parking at the far end of Pulaski Woods parking lot and then walking a short distance along the trails.

 

Compass Plant

Compass plant towers into the sky.*

The golden flowers of compass plant beginning to blooming atop a stalk that reaches for the sky.*

Landscape of compass plants at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Illinois.*

Landscape of compass plant at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville.*

Compass Plant, Prairie Dock, and the Glorious Green Glow

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

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

Light shines through a translucent leaf of prairie dock, as golden Alexander casts their shadows.*

Green glow describes leaves that glow a bright green from sunlight shining through them. Here, we see a special kind of green glow that results in a shadow play, as sunlight shines through a translucent leaf of prairie dock, as golden Alexander casts its distinctive silhouette.*

Gensburg-Markham Prairie

The summer sun goes down on wild quinine and marsh phlox as nonstop tollway traffic rolls past its eastern border. Each hour of each day, people drive by, unaware of the natural treasures they’d discover by taking the West 159th Street exit.*

The summer sun goes down on wild quinine and marsh phlox  as nonstop tollway traffic rolls past the eastern border of Gensburg-Markham Prairie. Each hour of each day, people drive by, unaware of the natural treasures they’d discover by taking the West 159th Street exit.*

Wolf Road Prairie

The July prairie explodes with diversity here at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.

This image is fairly representative of what you’ll see, right now, at Wolf Road Prairie: wild bergamot, wild quinine, rattlesnake master, rosinweed, Culver’s root, and prairie blazing star, and early goldenrod.*

On this mysterious summer morning at Wolf Road Prairie, white spikes of Culver’s root extend into the outer reaches and, like a dream, disappear into the fog.

On this mysterious summer morning at Wolf Road Prairie, white spikes of Culver’s root extend into the outer reaches and, like a dream, disappear into the fog.

Bluff Spring Fen

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

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

Bottlebrush grass and wild bergamot glow in the morning light in the oak savanna at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Bottlebrush grass and wild bergamot glow in the morning light in the oak savanna at Bluff Spring Fen.*

Blazing star blooms at the seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

Marsh blazing star blooms at the seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

In August, cylindircal blazingstar covers the northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Cylindrical blazing star is now blooming on the big kame and northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

Somme Prairie Grove

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

At Somme Prairie Grove, woodland sunflower surrounds this majestic bur oak in the savanna.

Here, at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois , we see the large, deeply lobed leaf of compass plant among a sea of purple prairie clover.*

Here at Somme Prairie Grove we see the deeply lobed leaves of compass plant splash above a sea of purple prairie clover.*

Spears Woods

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

In the open woodland at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, summer brings tall blooms of sweet Joe-Pye weed. You can also experience this towering plant at Bluff Spring Fen, Somme Prairie Grove,, and other woodland habitats.*

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 – 07/30/2020

Posted by on 4:23 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Chicago Wildflower Report & COVID-19 Nature Outings – 07/30/2020

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
July 30, 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:

Again, the best flower shows are happening at Somme Prairie Grove and Bluff Spring Fen, where you’ll find a fanfare of color from myriad flowering species, including the newest bloomers of nodding wild onion and cylindrical blazing star, and sweet Joe-Pye weed (our Plant of the Week).

In our prairies, purple torches of prairie blazing star and marsh blazing star are at their peaks accompanied by lavender wild bergamot, white blooms of Culver’s root, rattlesnake master, flowering spurge, and mountain mint, and golden early goldenrod, rosinweed, compass plant, and yellow coneflower. In our woodlands, brilliant woodland sunflower can be found blooming alongside sweet Joe-Pye weed (our Plant of the Week).

Wolf Road Prairie, located not too far from the city, is teaching a class in biodiversity, as it features a colorful array of prairie flowers.

For those in the southern section of Chicagoland, consider a trip to Gensburg-Markham Prairie with its wide variety of flowers, color, and texture. This is considered one of the finest prairies in the world. Spears Woods is another southern preserve with beautiful flowers in the woodland. I love the varied habitats, the rolling terrain, and Hogwash Slough—the prettiest wetland around here.

The dramatic aquatic American lotus is now flowering. The pale yellow blossoms resemble those of a water lily, but they’re much larger—up to eight inches wide atop stems that can reach six feet high. And that isn’t all. The circular leaf is gorgeous and enormous, up to two and a half feet in diameter! See the Photo Section below for images of American lotus (and where to find it) along with the many flowers featured in this report.

The scent of the flowers are especially invigorating right now. Experience the eye-opening minty freshness of wild bergamot and mountain mint, the licorice scent of yellow coneflower, and the wonderful lemon-carrot scent of purple prairie clover

Summer is a wonderful time to experience green glow in the prairie. Green glow is a term that I recently invented that describes the foliage when it glows bright-green from sunlight through. The green glow of compass plant and prairie dock is spectacular. Prairie dock is especially delightful when its large heart-shaped leaf is transformed into a projection screen, as plants that fall between the sun and the screen cast their silhouettes in a kind of prairie shadow play.

TIP: I recommend visiting grasslands at the beginning or the end of the day when it’s much cooler and the sunlight is beautiful. Prairies are treeless expanses with no escape from the sun. It’s a challenge to appreciate the prairie in the blinding light of ninety-degree afternoon.

 

WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A SPRING 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!”):

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (7/28+): This preserve again tops our list because of the many plant species that provide a vibrant mix of color. The whimsical Tinker-Toy blooms of rattlesnake master are putting on a breathtaking show—currently, the finest of any preserve. And there’s so much more to see. Under the sun, you’ll discover fragrant mountain mint alongside early goldenrod, wild quinine, flowering spurge, Culver’s root, compass plantyellow coneflower, prairie blazing star, brown-eyed Susan, nodding wild onion, smooth ironweed, tuberous Indian plantain, blue vervain, flowering big bluestem grass , and the gorgeous emerald mop hairdos of prairie dropseed. A wonderful performance is commencing under the trees with the fluffy mauve blooms of sweet Joe-Pye weed and spectacular legions of bright and happy woodland sunflowers. And keep an eye out for the iconic bottlebrush grass.

NOTE: I suggest donning rainwear to avoid getting drenched in morning dew.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (7/28+): More than twenty flower species are blooming across the preserve, which is why it’s near the top of this week’s “Go!” list. Begin your hike at the main trailhead that winds you under the trees and along the kames of the oak savanna, around the sunny prairie, and through the main wetland known as a fen. Enter the oak savanna from the kiosk to find beautiful patches of sweet Joe-Pye weed and American bellflower, along with pale Indian plantain, nodding wild onion, starry campion, woodland agrimony, wild bergamot, yellow coneflower, brown-eyed Susan, and whimsical bottlebrush grass. At the troll bridge, where friendly trolls have helped to restore the adjacent wetland habitat, look to your right for a grand expanse of spotted Joe-Pye weed. Continuing under the protection of oaks, take the narrow out-and-back trail on your left to the top of the large kame. On your way up, look for a whimsical display of sprawling and whimsical bottlebrush grass. Once at the gravelly peak, you’ll experience a unique view of the preserve and newly blooming cylindrical blazing star, purple prairie clover, wild quinine, hoary vervain, and the wonderfully fragrant whorled milkweed. Go back down same way you entered, turn left on the main trail, and then make a right as you reach the end of the kame. Once under the sun, you’ll find marsh blazing star, blue vervain, lots of wild bergamot, creamy tuberous Indian plantain, pearly flowering spurge, wild quinine, and rattlesnake master, plus flowering big bluestem, beautiful flourishes of Canada wild rye, and a “forest” of compass plant in the southwest corner. As the trail veers left to the east, you’ll again pass through stands of blooming big bluestem and into a gravelly area with hoary vervain, named for it’s soft hairy leaves, and some remaining blooms of purple prairie clover. Ahead to your right is what we call the “transplant kame.” We call it that because Healy Road Prairie, located six miles away, was being mined for its gravel, and a community of hundreds of volunteers dug it up and transplanted it here. Years before, the transplant kame was also mined to the ground, but it was reconstructed to become the new home of Healy Road Prairie. Blossoming on the kame, you’ll find many blooms of compass plant, wild quinine, and yellow coneflower. Make a left at the end of the kame to descend into the bowl of the fen. Move slowly and watch your step as you pass through dense willows (which desperately need trimming). Be careful not to trip on the narrow boardwalk that immediately awaits you after the willows! Cross the boardwalk to find mountain mint, lance-leaved loosestrife, a nice patch of purple marsh blazing star, black-eyed Susan, early goldenrod, Illinois tick trefoil, spotted Joe-Pye weed, and shrubby cinquefoil. After you cross the second boardwalk, stay straight (don’t veer left), as the trail ducks under a low tree so that you can scale up the side of the transplant kame where cylindrical blazing star and a little purple prairie clover awaits you. As the trails steers left and down, you’ll see some of the same species as before, with especially nice stands of American bellflower. Continue left across the creek and to the left of the big kame that winds right and takes you back to the trailhead.
NOTE: If you visit early in the morning, wear rain gear or you’ll end up soaked to the skin from dew.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham (7/29+): First of all, the preserve is NOT LOCKED. It only looks that way. The chain is just draped over the top of the gate. Just move the chain and enter. Once inside, I suggest walking all of the trails to enjoy the many flowers that vary along the way. Two dozen species are currently blooming, and the textures of the grasses and sedges add to the experience. As you enter, take the path to your left where you’re immediately greeted with a caboodle of color coming from compass plant, nodding wild onion, marsh phlox, flowering spurge, marsh phlox, and purple torches of marsh blazing star. The trail is square. And this northbound leg has the most floral color and diversity, with dramatic blooms of marsh blazing star, blue vervain, wild quinine, and early goldenrod. You’ll also see Culver’s root, rattlesnake master, wild bergamot, rosinweed, and partridge pea. As you approach the north end, there’s a beautiful spot to your left that’s composed of a complementary mix of pink marsh blazing star, pearly wild quinine, and the golds of early goldenrod. As the trail turns to the right (east), you’ll find rattlesnake master, swamp milkweed, marsh phlox, and ironweed. Looking south, oceans of prairie cordgrass rise and fall as waves in the wind. And as the trail turns back to the south, you’ll sail into seas of sedges and a small fleet of flowers that includes mountain mint. I highly suggest that you stop for a moment to smell this invigorating plant. For that short time, your mind will sail away from the worries of the world. As you circle right (and to the west) on the returning leg of the trail, the scenery turns to shrubs and royal ferns. Along the way, look for a pretty stand of wild senna to your left. Finally, your journey ends with a flourish of color that incorporates the lavenders of wild bergamot.

NOTE: Under the summer sun, this prairie can feel hot and bright. For a more enjoyable time, visit in the morning or late-afternoon.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (7/28+): The floral color and diversity of the preserve is wonderful. Our directions for the preserve have you parking at the south end along 31st Street. From there, hike the sidewalk trails to the north. The preserve extends north for one-half mile, terminating at the newly renovated prairie house. The savanna is now putting on a performance of sweet Joe-Pye weed, woodland sunflower, and bottlebrush grass. But the best show is in south prairie as purple torches of prairie blazing star rise beautifully above the alabaster tones of Culver’s root, rattlesnake master, wild quinine, and flowering spurge, the golden hues of yellow coneflower and early goldenrod, the lavender bursts of wild bergamot, and more.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs (7/29+): This is one of the most beautiful preserves in the region. And right now, most of the blooming is happening in the woodlands where feathery mauve blossoms of sweet Joe-Pye weed (our Plant of the Week) loom alongside golden rays of woodland sunflower, blue American bellflower, and the gorgeous bottlebrush grass. Halfway between the eastern prairie trailhead and the shore of Hogwash Slough, there’s a beautiful view of Hogwash Slough and the colony of American lotus. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to see the lotus through the sedges and cattails that tower above the shoreline. The prairies are somewhat understated, right now. The most prominent flowers in the prairie come from the white blooms of mountain mint and flowering spurge along with the yellow plumes of early goldenrod. Normally, the prairies teem with prairie blazing star to the point that it stuns the senses, But I only found a handful. Nature is mysterious, which is why we need to scout these preserves for every report. Consider giving your financial support to help you find peace during this trying time.

We need scouts, especially Southsiders!
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GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins (Unscouted. Last scouted 7/22=): The trail on the eastern half of the preserve takes you to a prairie built on porous rock known as dolomite limestone. Some plants cannot establish themselves there. Those that can won’t grow nearly as tall. However, the heartiest plants enjoy living between a rock and a hard place. This is true for the fantastically fragrant whorled milkweed. I can usually smell them before I can see their off-white flower heads. Right now, there isn’t that much blooming on the east side, but it offers beautiful textures and a clean garden-like feel.

As you approach the western mesic soil prairie, the difference is striking. Gradually, the heights of the plants rise from ankle- and knee-high to chest- and eye-level. On this half, the blossoms of yellow coneflower and wild bergamot play vibrant roles in the company of prairie blazing star, rattlesnake master, wild quinine, Culver’s root, false sunflower, partridge pea, and mountain mint.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (7/23=): Help us scout this jewel of a preserve. You’ll find the floating white blooms of flowering spurge across the preserve, remaining blooms of butterfly weed, and some marsh phlox.
NOTE: Trust me when I tell you to GO EARLY IN THE DAY to avoid the noisy beachgoers and COVID-19 spreaders without masks. Also, the trail that extends along the Dead River may be covered with water and prohibit your journey. Consider bringing along some high boots if you intend to hike that section.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park (Unscouted. Last scouted on 7/11): This is the usual time to see some potentially dramatic displays of partridge pea and flowering spurge. We need help scouting the southern preserves. Consider joining our elite group of volunteer scouts.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK: SWEET JOE-PYE WEED

Sweet Joe-Pye weed grows tall in the oak savanna at the side of a kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

Sweet Joe-Pye weed is a tall woodland plant that can easily grow seven feet tall with dense balls of pale-pink flowers at the top. So, who’s this Joe Pye guy? He was an Indian herb doctor from New England in the late 1700’s who used the plant as a medicine to reduce fevers and maladies of the kidney. You can find the plant looming at several woodlands on our list, including here at Bluff Spring Fen where it grows spectacularly on the kames of the oak savanna.*

 

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

American Bellflower

Sweet Joe-Pye weed, American bellflower, and woodland sunflower put on a show in the woodland at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.*

The beautiful blue American bellflower blooms alongside sweet Joe-Pye weed and woodland sunflower, here at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook and other local woodlands.*

Cylindrical Blazing Star

In August, cylindrical Blazingstar blooms in the sand savanna at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.*

Cylindrical blazing star blooms in the sand savanna, here at Indiana Dunes National Park, and at other preserves that include Bluff Spring Fen and Shoe Factory Road Prairie.*

Nodding Wild Onion

In late July, pink blooms nodding wild onions are the highlight of Lockport Prairie.*

The drooping pink blossoms of nodding wild onion are just beginning to flower. The display is often quite dense at Lockport Prairie, but it depends on the year.*

 

Prairie & Marsh Blazing Star

Spears Woods’ finest show takes place in the August prairie, when blazing stars shoot toward the sky, leaving behind yellow flames of early goldenrod.*

In late July and early August, the spectacular purple blooms of marsh and prairie blazing star turns the prairie ablaze. They are the first of the blazing stars to flower in the summer, followed by cylindrical, savanna, and then rough blazing star. Both marsh and prairie blazing star can easily reach five feet tall The only way to differentiate them is to decipher this coded message from the Illinois Wildflowers website:, “Prairie blazingstar has floral bracts (phyllaries) that are strongly recurved, while the floral bracts of marsh blazingstar are appressed together and relatively smooth.” Huh? Even my magic decoder ring can’t decipher this message.
The flowers on these plants bloom from the top downward, which is helpful for photographers (and our scouts) to know if the flowers are coming or going. 
You can experience one or both of these magnificent plants in most of our prairies on our list of showcase preserves.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie is famous for its late July fanfare, when the fields ignite with white sparks of flowering spurge and purple torches of marsh blazing star.*

Gensburg-Markham Prairie is famous for its late July fanfare, when the fields ignite with white sparks of flowering spurge and purple torches of marsh blazing star. Right now, there aren’t nearly as many, but it’s still very nice.*

 

Yellow Coneflower & Wild Bergamot

Yellow coneflowers bloom in the mesic prairie in the western half of Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins.*

Yellow coneflower (aka, gray-headed coneflower) is a pioneer species of the prairie. It colonizes disturbed or degraded habitats until conditions improve, when it allows other plants to move in, leading to a more stable and biodiverse ecosystem. The flowers perch atop slender stems that rise to four feet tall. At that height, it’s easy to take a licorice scented brown cones. Yellow coneflowers bloom throughout the region’s prairies including here in the mesic prairie in the western half of Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins.*

“Lavender in color and mint in fragrance” describes wild bergamot. “Whimsical with an aroma of anise” describes yellow coneflower. Both are native to the prairie, and both are healers. Known as pioneer species, they are among the first plants to colonize disturbed or degraded areas. Their presence improves soil quality while allowing other plants to move in, leading to greater biodiversity.*

“Lavender in color and mint in fragrance” describes wild bergamot. “Whimsical with an aroma of anise” describes yellow coneflower. Both are native to the prairie, and both are healers. Known as pioneer species, they are among the first plants to colonize disturbed or degraded areas. Their presence improves soil quality while allowing other plants to move in, leading to greater biodiversity. You can see and smell these plants at most prairies, including here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

Canada Wild Rye

The plume of Canada wild rye covered drenched in morning dew at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

In the morning, this plume of Canada wild rye and all the plants of the prairie become drenched in morning dew. Wear your rain gear!

 

Big Bluestem Grass

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

The towering height of big bluestem grass 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.*

Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake master

Rattlesnake master is a whimsical Chicago prairie flower that resembles Tinker Toys, or molecular structures, or something you might find in Arizona or Texas. The plant gets its name because some Native Americans brewed a tea from the root as an antidote for rattlesnake venom. To prevent bites, some chewed on the root, then spat on their hands before handling a rattlesnake. Of course, I’m interested to know if this really works. What’s more, the research may not even require a flight to the desert. That’s because, believe it or not, the rare and endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnake lives right here in the Chicago area. So, if you perform the experiment, please get back to me with the results, either you or next of kin. To experience rattlesnake master, visit Belmont Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road PrairieWolf Road PrairieFermilab PrairieGensburg Markham PrairieKickapoo Woods and PrairieSpears WoodsTheodore Stone Preserve, and other local prairies over the next few weeks.*

Culver’s Root

Culver's root blooms en masse at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

Culver’s root is blooming en masse at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester and at other prairies across the Chicago area.*

Mountain Mint 

Mountain mint and prairie blazing star flower in the July prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs.*

Inhale the invigorating white flowers of mountain mint that grow here at Spears Woods and at many other preserves on our list.*

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs.

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois teeming with American lotus.

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs teems with the grand American Lotus. You an reach the wetland by first parking at the far end of Pulaski Woods parking lot and then walking a short distance along the trails.

 

Compass Plant

Compass plant towers into the sky.*

The golden flowers of compass plant beginning to blooming atop a stalk that reaches for the sky.*

Landscape of compass plants at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Illinois.*

Landscape of compass plant at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville.*

Compass Plant, Prairie Dock, and the Glorious Green Glow

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

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

Light shines through a translucent leaf of prairie dock, as golden Alexander casts their shadows.*

Green glow describes leaves that glow a bright green from sunlight shining through them. Here, we see a special kind of green glow that results in a shadow play, as sunlight shines through a translucent leaf of prairie dock, as golden Alexander casts its distinctive silhouette.*

Gensburg-Markham Prairie

The summer sun goes down on wild quinine and marsh phlox as nonstop tollway traffic rolls past its eastern border. Each hour of each day, people drive by, unaware of the natural treasures they’d discover by taking the West 159th Street exit.*

The summer sun goes down on wild quinine and marsh phlox  as nonstop tollway traffic rolls past the eastern border of Gensburg-Markham Prairie. Each hour of each day, people drive by, unaware of the natural treasures they’d discover by taking the West 159th Street exit.*

Wolf Road Prairie

The July prairie explodes with diversity here at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.

This image is fairly representative of what you’ll see, right now, at Wolf Road Prairie: wild bergamot, wild quinine, rattlesnake master, rosinweed, Culver’s root, and prairie blazing star, and early goldenrod.*

On this mysterious summer morning at Wolf Road Prairie, white spikes of Culver’s root extend into the outer reaches and, like a dream, disappear into the fog.

On this mysterious summer morning at Wolf Road Prairie, white spikes of Culver’s root extend into the outer reaches and, like a dream, disappear into the fog.

Bluff Spring Fen

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

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

Bottlebrush grass and wild bergamot glow in the morning light in the oak savanna at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Bottlebrush grass and wild bergamot glow in the morning light in the oak savanna at Bluff Spring Fen.*

Blazing star blooms at the seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

Marsh blazing star blooms at the seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

In August, cylindircal blazingstar covers the northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Cylindrical blazing star is now blooming on the big kame and northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

Somme Prairie Grove

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

At Somme Prairie Grove, woodland sunflower surrounds this majestic bur oak in the savanna.

Here, at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois , we see the large, deeply lobed leaf of compass plant among a sea of purple prairie clover.*

Here at Somme Prairie Grove we see the deeply lobed leaves of compass plant splash above a sea of purple prairie clover.*

Myriad species bloom in the mid-July savanna at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.*

In July, myriad species bloom in the sunny savanna at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook. This includes black-eyed Susan, mountain mint, purple prairie clover, rattlesnake master, wild quinine, yellow coneflower, and early goldenrod.*

Spears Woods

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

In the open woodland at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, summer brings tall blooms of sweet Joe-Pye weed. You can also experience this towering plant at Bluff Spring Fen, Somme Prairie Grove,, and other woodland habitats.*

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 & Nature Outings – 07/23/2020

Posted by on 4:17 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Chicago Wildflower Report & Nature Outings – 07/23/2020

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
July 23, 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.

THANK YOU TO THOSE WHO HAVE GIVEN THEIR FINANCIAL SUPPORT, THIS YEAR!


WE NEED MORE SCOUTS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU LIVE SOUTH.
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:

Again, the best flower shows are happening at Somme Prairie Grove and Bluff Spring Fen, where you’ll find a fanfare of color from myriad flowering species, including the purple torches of prairie blazing star and marsh blazing star (our Plants of the Week). Lavender wild bergamot, white blooms of Culver’s root, rattlesnake master, flowering spurge, and mountain mint, and golden rays of rosinweed, compass plant, and yellow coneflower are blooming across the region.

Wolf Road Prairie, located not too far from the city, is teaching a class in biodiversity, right now, featuring a colorful array of prairie flowers.

For those in the southern section of Chicagoland, consider a trip to Gensburg-Markham Prairie with its wide variety of flowers, color, and texture. This is considered one of the finest prairies in the world. Spears Woods is another southern preserve and one of the most beautiful in the region. Right now, the blooming is decent. And I love the varied habitats, the rolling terrain, and Hogwash Slough—the prettiest wetland around here.

The dramatic aquatic American lotus is now flowering. The pale yellow blossoms resemble those of a water lily, but they’re much larger—up to eight inches wide atop stems that can reach six feet high. And that isn’t all. The circular leaf is gorgeous and enormous, up to two and a half feet in diameter! See the Photo Section below for images of American lotus (and where to find it) along with the many flowers featured in this report.

The scent of the flowers are especially invigorating right now. Experience the eye-opening minty freshness of wild bergamot and mountain mint, the licorice scent of yellow coneflower, and the wonderful lemon-carrot scent of purple prairie clover

Summer is a wonderful time to experience green glow in the prairie. Green glow is a term that I recently invented that describes the foliage when it glows bright-green from sunlight through. The green glow of compass plant and prairie dock is spectacular. Prairie dock is especially delightful when its large heart-shaped leaf is transformed into a projection screen, as plants that fall between the sun and the screen cast their silhouettes in a kind of prairie shadow play.

TIP: I recommend visiting grasslands at the beginning or the end of the day when it’s much cooler and the sunlight is beautiful. Prairies are treeless expanses with no escape from the sun. It’s a challenge to appreciate the prairie in the blinding light of ninety-degree afternoon.

WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A SPRING 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!”):

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (7/20+): This preserve again tops our list because of the many plant species that provide a vibrant mix of color. The most abundant blooms include mountain mint, rattlesnake master, flowering spurge, purple prairie clover, and Culver’s root. Other notable flowers include spotted Joe-Pye weed, wild quinine, black-eyed Susan, yellow coneflower, prairie blazing star, compass plant, daisy fleabane, Michigan lily, and tuberous Indian plantain. Under the trees, look for the beautiful blue American bellflower and fluffy sweet Joe-Pye weed. The preserve was recently burned, which cleared away the brambly dead growth from last year, leaving behind verdant emerging sprouts that pop out against a backdrop of bare black soil. It’s quite pleasing to the eye. I especially like the many bright-emerald tufts of prairie dropseed. Come early or late in the day to experience green glow from compass plant and prairie dock.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (7/17+): More than twenty flower species are blooming across the preserve, which is why it’s near the top of this week’s “Go!” list. Begin your hike at the main trailhead that winds you under the trees and along the kames of the oak savanna, around the sunny prairie, and through the main wetland known as a fen. Before the path leaves the savanna, take the out-and-back trail on your left to the top of the large kame, where you’ll experience a unique view of the preserve. The most conspicuous flowers in the preserve are marsh blazing star, compass plant, false sunflower, black-eyed Susan, pale Indian plantain, cup plant, wild quinine, fading pale purple coneflower, and purple prairie clover—my favorite smelling flower that thrives in the gravel left behind by ancient glaciers. Aside from pale Indian plantain, most of these can be found under the sun along with many others: rattlesnake master, rosinweed, prairie loosestrife, Culver’s root, mountain mint, daisy fleabane, St. John’s wort, spotted Joe-Pye weed, and a few white prairie clover. In the woodland, look for aptly named bottlebrush grass, the white blooms of starry campion, and the tall plants of blue American bellflower, golden cup plant, pale Indian plantain, and the mauve plumes of sweet Joe-Pye weed.
NOTE: Go in the morning. Later on, the parking lot fills up with people coming to swim illegally in the water-filled quarry. You probably won’t see these people on your hike. Unfortunately, they trample across the sensitive habitat to reach the swimming at the back. As you’re leaving, feel free to report the activity to the forest preserve police at (708) 771-1000.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham (7/22+): First of all, the preserve is NOT LOCKED. It only looks that way. The chain is just draped over the top of the gate. Just move the chain and enter. Once inside, I suggest walking all of the trails to enjoy the many flowers that vary along the way. Two dozen species are currently blooming, and the textures of the grasses and sedges add to the experience. As you enter, take the path to your left where you’re immediately greeted with a caboodle of color coming from compass plant, yellow coneflower, flowering spurge, white prairie clover, marsh phlox, wild bergamot, and marsh blazing star. The trail is square. And this northbound leg has the most floral color and diversity, with blooms of blue vervain, Culver’s root, rattlesnake master, wild quinine, wild bergamot, purple prairie clover, tall green milkweed, rosinweed, partridge pea, marsh blazing star, and the very start of early goldenrod. As you approach the north end, there’s a beautiful spot to your left that’s composed of a complementary mix of pink marsh blazing star, pearly wild quinine, and the golds of early goldenrod and brown-eyed Susan. As the trail turns to the right (east), you’ll find rattlesnake master, swamp milkweed, marsh phlox, and ironweed. Looking south, oceans of prairie cordgrass rise and fall as waves in the wind. And as the trail turns back to the south, you’ll sail into seas of sedges and a small fleet of flowers that includes mountain mint. I highly suggest that you stop for a moment to smell this invigorating plant. For that short time, your mind will sail away from the worries of the world. As you circle right (and to the west) on the returning leg of the trail, the scenery turns to shrubs and royal ferns. Along the way, look for a pretty stand of wild senna to your left. Finally, your journey ends with a flourish of color that incorporates the lavenders of wild bergamot.

NOTE: Under the summer sun, this prairie can feel hot and bright. For a more enjoyable time, visit in the morning or late-afternoon.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (7/22+): Thanks to E.J. Neafsey for spending so much time and sweat clearing the trails in the summer heat so that people have the opportunity to experience nature’s wonder! The floral color and diversity of the prairie is wonderful. Our directions for the preserve have you parking at the south end along 31st Street. From there, hike the sidewalk trails to the north. The preserve extends north for one-half mile, terminating at the newly renovated prairie house. But the best blooms are on the south half. The purple torches of prairie blazing star rise beautifully above the alabaster tones of Culver’s root, rattlesnake master, wild quinine, and flowering spurge, the golden hues of black-eyed Susan, rosinweed, false sunflower, yellow coneflower, and early goldenrod, and the lavender explosions of wild bergamot. During the late and early hours of the day, the sun stages a dramatic green glow show with prairie dock and compass plant.

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:

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins (7/22+): NOTE: I changed parking location for this preserve to the northeast corner because the official trailhead into the prairie is unmarked and overgrown. The trail takes you into the eastern half of the preserve, home to a prairie built on porous rock known as dolomite limestone. Some plants cannot establish themselves there. Those that can won’t grow nearly as tall. However, the heartiest plants enjoy living between a rock and a hard place. This is true for the fantastically fragrant whorled milkweed. I can usually smell them before I can see their off-white flower heads. You’ll also find the glorious hairy wild petunia, here. This is great plant for any prairie garden, no matter the soil, because of how it spreads to prevent weeds. And I just adore the fuzzy touch of the leaves. To find these species growing together, look for a sentinel of faded pale purple coneflowers. Right now, there isn’t that much blooming on the east side, but it offers beautiful textures and a clean garden-like feel.

As you approach the western mesic soil prairie, the difference is striking. Gradually, the heights of the plants rise from ankle- and knee-high to chest- and eye-level. On this half, the blossoms of yellow coneflower and wild bergamot play vibrant roles alongside rattlesnake masterdaisy fleabane, wild quinine, Culver’s root, false sunflower, partridge pea, and mountain mint.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs (7/22+): This preserve is on our “Go, if you’re in the neighborhood” list because it’s one of the most beautiful sites in the region. Usually, at this time of year, this preserve is teeming with prairie blazing star. But I only found a handful. Nature is mysterious, which is why we need to scout these preserves for every report. Consider giving your financial support to help you find peace during this trying time. The most prominent flowers in the prairie come from the white blooms of mountain mint and flowering spurge. And the yellows are just starting to pop from early goldenrod and woodland sunflower. You’ll also see some rattlesnake master, Culver’s root, wild quinine, and wild bergamot. Towering sweet Joe-Pye weed is flowering under the trees alongside soon-to-bloom woodland sunflower and the gorgeous bottlebrush grass. Halfway between the eastern prairie trailhead and the shore of Hogwash Slough, there’s a beautiful view of Hogwash Slough and the colony of American lotus. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to see the lotus through the towering sedges and cattails along the shoreline.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (Unscouted. Last scouted on 7/12): Help us scout this jewel of a preserve. My prediction is that you’ll find the floating white blooms of flowering spurge across the preserve and possibly western sunflower. You’ll also see the remaining blooms of butterfly weed and some marsh phlox.
NOTE: Trust me when I tell you to GO EARLY IN THE DAY to avoid the noisy beachgoers and COVID-19 spreaders without masks. Also, the trail that extends along the Dead River may be covered with water and prohibit your journey. Consider bringing along some high boots if you intend to hike that section.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park (Unscouted. Last scouted on 7/11): This is the usual time to see some potentially dramatic displays of partridge pea and flowering spurge. It could be amazing. Let us know! You should still find pink spotted bee balm and maybe some new blooms of western sunflower. We need help scouting the southern preserves. Consider joining our elite group of volunteer scouts.

PLANTS OF THE WEEK: PRAIRIE & MARSH BLAZING STAR

Spears Woods’ finest show takes place in the August prairie, when blazing stars shoot toward the sky, leaving behind yellow flames of early goldenrod.*

In late July and early August, the spectacular purple blooms of marsh and prairie blazing star turns the prairie ablaze. They are the first of the blazing stars to flower in the summer, followed by cylindrical, savanna, and then rough blazing star. Both marsh and prairie blazing star can easily reach five feet tall The only way to differentiate them is to decipher this coded message from the Illinois Wildflowers website:, “Prairie blazingstar has floral bracts (phyllaries) that are strongly recurved, while the floral bracts of marsh blazingstar are appressed together and relatively smooth.” Huh? Even my magic decoder ring can’t decipher this message.
The flowers on these plants bloom from the top downward, which is helpful for photographers (and our scouts) to know if the flowers are coming or going. 
You can experience one or both of these magnificent plants in most of our prairies on our list of showcase preserves.

PHOTO SECTION

Yellow Coneflower

Yellow coneflowers bloom in the mesic prairie in the western half of Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins.*

Yellow coneflower (aka, gray-headed coneflower) is a pioneer species of the prairie. It colonizes disturbed or degraded habitats until conditions improve, when it allows other plants to move in, leading to a more stable and biodiverse ecosystem. The flowers perch atop slender stems that rise to four feet tall. At that height, it’s easy to take a licorice scented brown cones. Yellow coneflowers bloom throughout the region’s prairies including here in the mesic prairie in the western half of Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins.*

Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake master

Rattlesnake master is a whimsical Chicago prairie flower that resembles Tinker Toys, or molecular structures, or something you might find in Arizona or Texas. The plant gets its name because some Native Americans brewed a tea from the root as an antidote for rattlesnake venom. To prevent bites, some chewed on the root, then spat on their hands before handling a rattlesnake. Of course, I’m interested to know if this really works. What’s more, the research may not even require a flight to the desert. That’s because, believe it or not, the rare and endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnake lives right here in the Chicago area. So, if you perform the experiment, please get back to me with the results, either you or next of kin. To experience rattlesnake master, visit Belmont Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road PrairieWolf Road PrairieFermilab PrairieGensburg Markham PrairieKickapoo Woods and PrairieSpears WoodsTheodore Stone Preserve, and other local prairies over the next few weeks.*

Purple Prairie Clover and its Remarkably Fresh Scent

A bee flies over to purple prairie clover at Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve in Elgin, Illinois.*

The flowers of purple prairie clover emanate my favorite (nice) smell in Chicago nature, giving off the fresh scent of carrots and lemon. Here, a bee flies over to purple prairie clover at Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve in Elgin You can also find it at Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Wolf Road Prairie, Gensburg Markham Prairie, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and others.*

Culver’s Root

Culver's root blooms en masse at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

Culver’s root is beginning to bloom en masse at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

Mountain Mint 

Mountain mint and prairie blazing star flower in the July prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs.*

Inhale the invigorating white flowers of mountain mint that grow here at Spears Woods and at many other preserves on our list.*

Wild Bergamot & Yellow Coneflower

“Lavender in color and mint in fragrance” describes wild bergamot. “Whimsical with an aroma of anise” describes yellow coneflower. Both are native to the prairie, and both are healers. Known as pioneer species, they are among the first plants to colonize disturbed or degraded areas. Their presence improves soil quality while allowing other plants to move in, leading to greater biodiversity.*

“Lavender in color and mint in fragrance” describes wild bergamot. “Whimsical with an aroma of anise” describes yellow coneflower. Both are native to the prairie, and both are healers. Known as pioneer species, they are among the first plants to colonize disturbed or degraded areas. Their presence improves soil quality while allowing other plants to move in, leading to greater biodiversity. You can see and smell these plants at most prairies, including here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

Sweet Joe-Pye Weed

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

In the open woodland at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, summer brings tall blooms of sweet Joe-Pye weed. You can also experience this towering plant at Bluff Spring Fen, Somme Prairie Grove,, and other woodland habitats.*

Michigan Lily

Michigan lily can be found at a handful of our showcase preserves.*

Michigan lily can be found at a handful of our showcase preserves, including Spears Woods and Wolf Road Prairie.*

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs.

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois teeming with American lotus.

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs teems with the grand American Lotus. You an reach the wetland by first parking at the far end of Pulaski Woods parking lot and then walking a short distance along the trails.

Compass Plant

Compass plant towers into the sky.*

The golden flowers of compass plant beginning to blooming atop a stalk that reaches for the sky.*

Landscape of compass plants at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Illinois.*

Landscape of compass plant at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville.*

Compass Plant, Prairie Dock, and the Glorious Green Glow

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

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

Light shines through a translucent leaf of prairie dock, as golden Alexander casts their shadows.*

Green glow describes leaves that glow a bright green from sunlight shining through them. Here, we see a special kind of green glow that results in a shadow play, as sunlight shines through a translucent leaf of prairie dock, as golden Alexander casts its distinctive silhouette.*

Gensburg-Markham Prairie

The summer sun goes down on wild quinine and marsh phlox as nonstop tollway traffic rolls past its eastern border. Each hour of each day, people drive by, unaware of the natural treasures they’d discover by taking the West 159th Street exit.*

The summer sun goes down on wild quinine and marsh phlox  as nonstop tollway traffic rolls past the eastern border of Gensburg-Markham Prairie. Each hour of each day, people drive by, unaware of the natural treasures they’d discover by taking the West 159th Street exit.*

Wolf Road Prairie

The July prairie explodes with diversity here at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.

This image is fairly representative of what you’ll see, right now, at Wolf Road Prairie: wild bergamot, wild quinine, rattlesnake master, rosinweed, Culver’s root, and prairie blazing star, and early goldenrod.*

In July, Wolf Road Prairie gives a lesson in biodiversity. Pictured are prairie blazing star, wild quinine, rattlesnake master, flowering spurge, rosinweed, and yellow coneflower.*

Wolf Road Prairie puts on a lesson in biodiversity. Pictured are prairie blazing star, wild quinine, rattlesnake master, flowering spurge, Culver’s root, rosinweed, and yellow coneflower.*

On this mysterious summer morning at Wolf Road Prairie, white spikes of Culver’s root extend into the outer reaches and, like a dream, disappear into the fog.

On this mysterious summer morning at Wolf Road Prairie, white spikes of Culver’s root extend into the outer reaches and, like a dream, disappear into the fog.

Bluff Spring Fen

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

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

Bottlebrush grass and wild bergamot glow in the morning light in the oak savanna at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Bottlebrush grass and wild bergamot glow in the morning light in the oak savanna at Bluff Spring Fen.*

Blazing star blooms at the seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

Marsh blazing star blooms at the seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

There’s hardly a dull moment in Bluff Spring Fen’s prairie. Just as blooms of leadplant and coreopsis fade, purple prairie clover rises to take their place.*

This is a view that’s forming in the prairie at Bluff Spring Fen. Just as blooms of leadplant and coreopsis fade, purple prairie clover rises to take their place.*

Somme Prairie Grove

Here, at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois , we see the large, deeply lobed leaf of compass plant among a sea of purple prairie clover.*

Here at Somme Prairie Grove we see the deeply lobed leaves of compass plant splash above a sea of purple prairie clover.*

Myriad species bloom in the mid-July savanna at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.*

In July, myriad species bloom in the sunny savanna at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook. This includes black-eyed Susan, mountain mint, purple prairie clover, rattlesnake master, wild quinine, yellow coneflower, and early goldenrod.*

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 & Nature Outings – 07/16/2020

Posted by on 5:00 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Chicago Wildflower Report & Nature Outings – 07/16/2020

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
July 16, 2020

“Weekly Wildflower Report
Featuring Chicago’s Best Nature Outings & Outdoor Getaways”

Best Wildflower Walks & Weekend Getaways!

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

Even during the COVD-19 pandemic,
we are working hard to bring you opportunities to find peace!
PLEASE DONATE TO HELP US CONTINUE OUR MISSION.

THANK YOU TO THOSE WHO HAVE GIVEN THEIR FINANCIAL SUPPORT, THIS YEAR!

WE NEED MORE SCOUTS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU LIVE SOUTH.
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:

The best flower shows are happening at Somme Prairie Grove and Bluff Spring Fen, where you’ll find a fanfare of color from myriad flowering species, including purple prairie clover and yellow coneflower (our Plant of the Week). Lavender wild bergamot, white blooms of Culver’s root, rattlesnake master, and mountain mint, and golden rays of rosinweed, compass plant, and yellow coneflower are blooming across the region.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve is also offering a diverse wildflower display, starring the orange butterfly weed. And wildflowers also abound at Gensburg-Markham Prairie, Belmont Prairie, Theodore Stone Preserve, and Wolf Road Prairie.

The dramatic aquatic American lotus is now flowering. The pale yellow blossoms resemble those of a water lily, but they’re much larger—up to eight inches wide atop stems that can reach six feet high. And that isn’t all. The circular leaf is gorgeous and enormous, up to two and a half feet in diameter! See the Photo Section below for images of American lotus (and where to find it) along with the many flowers featured in this report.

The scent of the flowers are especially invigorating right now. Experience the eyeopening minty freshness of wild bergamot and mountain mint, the licorice scent of yellow coneflower, the rosy aroma fragrance of pasture rose, and the wonderful lemon-carrot scent of purple prairie clover

And now is also a wonderful time to experience green glow in the prairie. Green glow is a term that I recently invented. It describes leaves that glow bright-green from sunlight shining through them. The green glow of compass plant and prairie dock is spectacular. Prairie dock is especially delightful when its large heart-shaped leaf is transformed into a projection screen, as plants that fall between the sun and the screen cast their silhouettes in a kind of prairie shadow play.

TIP: I recommend visiting grasslands at the beginning or the end of the day when it’s much cooler and the sunlight is beautiful. Prairies are treeless expanses with no escape from the sun. It’s a challenge to appreciate the prairie in the blinding light of ninety-degree afternoon.

WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A SPRING 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!”):

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (7/11+): This preserve tops our list because of the many plant species that provide a vibrant mix of color. Blooms include purple prairie clover, black-eyed Susan, leadplant, rattlesnake mastermarsh phlox, butterfly weed, Michigan lily, black-eyed Susan, yellow coneflower compass plant, mountain mint, the tall tuberous Indian plantain, and lots of wild quinine, daisy fleabane, and rattlesnake master. The preserve was recently burned, which cleared away the brambly dead growth from last year, leaving behind verdant emerging sprouts that pop out against a backdrop of bare black soil. It’s quite pleasing to the eye. I especially like the many bright-emerald tufts of prairie dropseed. Come early or late in the day to experience green glow from compass plant and prairie dock.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (7/15+): More than twenty flower species are blooming across the preserve, which is why it’s near the top of this week’s “Go!” list. Begin your hike at the main trailhead that winds you under the trees and along the kames of the oak savanna, around the sunny prairie, and through the main wetland known as a fen. Before the path leaves the savanna, take the out-and-back trail on your left to the top of the large kame, where you’ll experience a unique view of the preserve. Among the most conspicuous flowers, this week, are yellow coneflower, wild bergamot, pale Indian plantain, cup plant, false sunflower, black-eyed Susan, wild quinine, compass plant, marsh blazing star, and purple prairie clover—my favorite smelling flower that thrives in the gravel left behind by ancient glaciers. Aside from pale Indian plantain, most of these can be found under the sun along with many others: Illinois tick trefoil, rattlesnake master, rosinweed, prairie loosestrife, Culver’s root, mountain mint, daisy fleabane, St. John’s wort, spotted Joe-Pye weed, fading pale purple coneflower, a few white prairie clover, and the mauve and white blooms of common milkweed that fill the air with a scent reminiscent of overly perfumed old Bingo ladies who’ve lost the sense of smell. In the woodland, look for aptly named bottlebrush grass, the white blooms of starry campion and the tall plants of blue American bellflower, golden cup plant, pale Indian plantain, and the fluffy sweet Joe-Pye weed.
NOTE: Go in the morning. Later on, the parking lot fills up with people coming to swim illegally in the water-filled quarry. You probably won’t see these people on your hike. Unfortunately, they trample across the sensitive habitat to reach the swimming at the back. As you’re leaving, feel free to report the activity to the forest preserve police at (708) 771-1000.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (7/12+): Most of the color can be found in the black oak savanna, where you’ll be treated to many bright orange blooms of butterfly weed, pink marsh phlox, pearly blooms of flowering spurge, and the blue morning blossoms of Ohio spiderwort. Other milkweeds are blooming under the trees, as well: purple milkweed, common milkweed, and short green milkweed. This is also your last chance to smell the pink blossoms of pasture rose. In the sand prairie, you’ll find flowering spurge and shrubby cinquefoil. And if you’re lucky, you might find the spectacular yellow blossom of a late-blooming eastern prickly pear cactus.
NOTE: Trust me when I tell you to GO EARLY IN THE DAY to avoid the noisy beachgoers and COVID-19 spreaders without masks. Also, the trail that extends along the Dead River has lots of water that may prohibit your journey unless you wear high boots.

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins (7/13+): Our Plant of the Week, yellow coneflower, is playing the leading role throughout the western mesic prairie alongside other flowers that include wild bergamot, daisy fleabane, rattlesnake master, wild quinine, Culver’s root, false sunflower, and mountain mint. In the dry dolomite prairie to the east, you’ll find a much different landscape with a very open feel. It’s my favorite part of the preserve. Unlike the mesic soil of the western prairie with its tall, dense communities of plants, the soil here is rock—a porous limestone called “dolomite”—which makes it harder for plants to establish themselves. Some can’t. Many that can will probably not grow as tall. And then there are the hearty plants that enjoy being between a rock and a hard place, like the purple prairie clover with a scent that’s a cross between carrots and lemons—my favorite “good” scent in nature. (My favorite “bad” scent comes from foxglove beardtongue seeds that smell exactly like vomit. Be still my heart!) You’ll also find another of my favorite plants that seems to love sand, gravel, and rock: whorled milkweed. The smell is great, too. I also found the glorious hairy wild petunia. It’s a wonderful plant for any prairie garden, no matter the soil, because of how much it spreads to prevent weeds. And I just adore the fuzzy touch of the leaves. To find these three species growing together, look for a sentinel of pale purple coneflowers. There aren’t as many flowers blooming there, but there’s a lot of texture and a clean, beautiful garden-like feel.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham (7/13+): First of all, the preserve is NOT LOCKED. It only looks that way. The chain is just draped over the top of the gate. Just move the chain and enter. Once inside, I suggest walking all of the trails because of how much the flowers vary along the way. I usually begin with the trail that leads left from the gate. This preserve is a “Go” because of the various textures and at least two dozen species in bloom, including many that are just beginning to flower. Here’s an abbreviated list of the many flowers that you’ll find that range from white to yellow to pink: compass plant, purple prairie clover, white prairie clover, yellow coneflower, rattlesnake master, wild quinine, wild bergamot, wild senna, tuberous Indian plantain, tall green milkweed, swamp milkweed, and Culver’s root.
NOTE: Under the summer sun, this prairie can feel hot and bright. For a more enjoyable time, visit in the morning or late-afternoon.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (7/14+): At the moment, the floral color of the prairie is building to a crescendo. As instructed on this website, park at the south end along 31st Street, and then hike the sidewalk trails to the north. The preserve extends north for one-half mile, terminating at the newly renovated prairie house. Many plants with white or yellow flowers cover the prairie, this week. The ivory flowers include daisy fleabane, Culver’s root, wild quinine, tuberous Indian plantain, white wild indigo, the flower heads of rattlesnake master, and very early blooms of flowering spurge. The golden hues are brought to you by black-eyed Susan, rosinweed, false sunflower, and the many fresh blooms of yellow coneflower. And there is the sublime orange Michigan lily, many miniature lavender explosions of wild bergamot, and the inflorescence of prairie blazing star is just starting to turn purple. During the late and early hours of the day, the sun stages a dramatic green glow show with prairie dock and compass plant.
NOTE: In the evening, you might experience a natural fireworks display from the deck of the prairie house, thanks to fireflies searching for mates. See a firefly photo from July 6. 

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:

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (7/13+): This intimate remnant prairie is featuring some nice floral color. Our Plant of the Weekyellow coneflower, is blooming in large numbers alongside golden rays of black-eyed Susan, false sunflower, and rosinweed, and the alabaster blossoms of rattlesnake master, wild quinine, and New Jersey tea. Still, the many orange bushes of butterfly weed steal the show, while hues from purple to blue come from leadplant, wild bergamot, and the remaining floating filigree of scurfy pea. I suggest visiting early or late in the day to experience the glorious green glow—leaves that glow a bright green from the sunlight shining through them.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs (7/14+): This preserve is on our “Go, if you’re in the neighborhood” list because it’s one of the most beautiful sites in the region. Plus there’s a decent amount of flowers to see, most of which are just starting out. Along your walk through the prairie, you’ll find at least fifteen species in bloom, including pearly blossoms of mountain mint, daisy fleabane, rattlesnake master, Culver’s root, and wild quinine. Yellow coneflower and lavender wild bergamot are fairly abundant and just beginning to flower. And if you’re perspicacious, you may find the sublime orange blossom of Michigan lily.

Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin (7/9=): This prairie-by-the-lake features marsh phlox, butterfly weed, and black-eyed Susan. You’ll also find other flowers, like the yellows of Kalm’s St. John’s wort and rosinweed. To see a nice nice display of phlox, take the narrow dirt path located west of the gravel road. If you visit, then consider checking out Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in nearby Zion.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park (7/11+): The preserve is currently offering nice displays of daisy fleabane that sparkle bright throughout areas of the savanna. Along your way, you’ll also find pink spotted bee balm and newly emerging flowering spurge.

PLANT OF THE WEEK: YELLOW CONEFLOWER

Yellow coneflowers bloom in the mesic prairie in the western half of Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins.*

Yellow coneflower (aka, gray-headed coneflower) is a pioneer species of the prairie. It colonizes disturbed or degraded habitats until conditions improve, when it allows other plants to move in, leading to a more stable and biodiverse ecosystem. The flowers perch atop slender stems that rise to four feet tall. At that height, it’s easy to take a licorice scented brown cones. Yellow coneflowers bloom throughout the region’s prairies including here in the mesic prairie in the western half of Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins.*

PHOTO SECTION

Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake master

Rattlesnake master is a whimsical Chicago prairie flower that resembles Tinker Toys, or molecular structures, or something you might find in Arizona or Texas. The plant gets its name because some Native Americans brewed a tea from the root as an antidote for rattlesnake venom. To prevent bites, some chewed on the root, then spat on their hands before handling a rattlesnake. Of course, I’m interested to know if this really works. What’s more, the research may not even require a flight to the desert. That’s because, believe it or not, the rare and endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnake lives right here in the Chicago area. So, if you perform the experiment, please get back to me with the results, either you or next of kin. To experience rattlesnake master, visit Belmont Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road PrairieWolf Road PrairieFermilab PrairieGensburg Markham PrairieKickapoo Woods and PrairieSpears WoodsTheodore Stone Preserve, and other local prairies over the next few weeks.*

Purple Prairie Clover and its Remarkably Fresh Scent

A bee flies over to purple prairie clover at Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve in Elgin, Illinois.*

The flowers of purple prairie clover emanate my favorite (nice) smell in Chicago nature, giving off the fresh scent of carrots and lemon. Here, a bee flies over to purple prairie clover at Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve in Elgin You can also find it at Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Wolf Road Prairie, Gensburg Markham Prairie, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and others.*

Leadplant

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

The propagating purple plant in this panorama is leadplant, which uses its tap root to search for water as far down as fifteen feet. Hence, leadplant has one of the deepest roots in the prairie. See diagram below.*

Butterfly Weed

Coral hairstreak butterfly on butterfly milkweed at Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham, Illinois.

This is a coral hairstreak butterfly feeding on butterfly milkweed at Gensburg-Markham Prairie. But it is one of dozens of flying insects, beetles, and even hummingbirds that find this plant tasty. The flowers have no noticeable scent, unlike its cousin, common milkweed, that smells like a bunch of old ladies on Bingo night.

Great spangled fritillary butterflies (species Speyeria cybele) and butterfly weed in the prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois.

Great spangled fritillary butterflies (species Speyeria cybele) and butterfly weed in the prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs.

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

Butterfly weed (or butterfly milkweed) blooms across the oak savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. You can also find it at many other preserves including, Somme Prairie Grove, Belmont Prairie, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, Spears Woods, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

Michigan Lily

Michigan lily can be found at a handful of our showcase preserves.*

Michigan lily can be found at a handful of our showcase preserves, including Spears Woods and Wolf Road Prairie.*

Pasture Rose is a Flower that Must be Smelled

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

Pasture rose grows here in the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. But you can also find it at other preserves, including Bluff Spring Fen and Pembroke Savanna. The fragrance of pasture rose is transcendent—a spiritual experience.*

Leadplant, Prairie Coreopsis, and Wild Quinine

In the golden light of morning, wild quinine, stiff coreopsis, and leadplant overlook the foggy fen from atop the reconstructed kame and the remnants of Healy Road Prairie transplanted here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

In the golden sun of morning, prairie coreopsis, wild quinine, and leadplant overlook the foggy fen from atop the reconstructed kame and the remnants of Healy Road Prairie transplanted here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin. The typically purple leadplant is now maroon thanks to the golden light.*

Culver’s Root is Beginning to Flower

Culver's root blooms en masse at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

Culver’s root is beginning to bloom en masse at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

Mountain Mint 

Mountain mint and prairie blazing star flower in the July prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs.*

Inhale the invigorating white flowers of mountain mint that grow here at Spears Woods and at many other preserves on our list.*

Wild Bergamot & Yellow Coneflower are Just Beginning

“Lavender in color and mint in fragrance” describes wild bergamot. “Whimsical with an aroma of anise” describes yellow coneflower. Both are native to the prairie, and both are healers. Known as pioneer species, they are among the first plants to colonize disturbed or degraded areas. Their presence improves soil quality while allowing other plants to move in, leading to greater biodiversity.*

“Lavender in color and mint in fragrance” describes wild bergamot. “Whimsical with an aroma of anise” describes yellow coneflower. Both are native to the prairie, and both are healers. Known as pioneer species, they are among the first plants to colonize disturbed or degraded areas. Their presence improves soil quality while allowing other plants to move in, leading to greater biodiversity. You can see and smell these plants at most prairies, including here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

What?! Chicago Has a Cactus? Yes We Do!

Eastern prickly pear cactus blooms can be found in late June in sandy preserves around the Chicago area.*

Eastern prickly pear cactus blooms can be found beginning in late June in sandy preserves around the Chicago area, including Illinois Beach Nature PreserveMiller WoodsPowderhorn Marsh & Prairie, and Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve.*

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs.

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois teeming with American lotus.

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs teems with the grand American Lotus. You an reach the wetland by first parking at the far end of Pulaski Woods parking lot and then walking a short distance along the trails.

Compass Plant

Compass plant towers into the sky.*

The golden flowers of compass plant beginning to blooming atop a stalk that reaches for the sky.*

Landscape of compass plants at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Illinois.*

Landscape of compass plant at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville.*

Compass Plant, Prairie Dock, and the Glorious Green Glow

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

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

Light shines through a translucent leaf of prairie dock, as golden Alexander casts their shadows.*

Green glow describes leaves that glow a bright green from sunlight shining through them. Here, we see a special kind of green glow that results in a shadow play, as sunlight shines through a translucent leaf of prairie dock, as golden Alexander casts its distinctive silhouette.*

Bluff Spring Fen

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

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

Bottlebrush grass and wild bergamot glow in the morning light in the oak savanna at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Bottlebrush grass and wild bergamot glow in the morning light in the oak savanna at Bluff Spring Fen.*

There’s hardly a dull moment in Bluff Spring Fen’s prairie. Just as blooms of leadplant and coreopsis fade, purple prairie clover rises to take their place.*

This is a view that’s forming in the prairie at Bluff Spring Fen. Just as blooms of leadplant and coreopsis fade, purple prairie clover rises to take their place.*

Somme Prairie Grove

Here, at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois , we see the large, deeply lobed leaf of compass plant among a sea of purple prairie clover.*

Here at Somme Prairie Grove we see the large, deeply lobed leaf of compass plant among a sea of purple prairie clover.*

Purple prairie clover and mountain mint steal the show in this area of Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.

Purple prairie clover and mountain mint steal the show in this area of Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook.*

Fireflies at Wolf Road Prairie

fireflies lit up the nighttime prairie at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester. This image was recorded over an 87-second period from the deck of the Franzosenbusch prairie house. Fireflies flash their bulbs as they look for mates. Males fly around, while females perch on plants.*

On July 6, fireflies lit up the nighttime prairie at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester. This image was recorded over an 87-second period from the deck of the Franzosenbusch prairie house. Fireflies flash their bulbs as they look for mates. Males fly around, while females perch on plants.*

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 & Nature Outings – 07/10/2020

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Chicago Wildflower Report & Nature Outings – 07/10/2020

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
July 10, 2020

“Weekly Wildflower Report
Featuring Chicago’s Best Nature Outings & Outdoor Getaways”

Best Wildflower Walks & Weekend Getaways!

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

Even during the COVD-19 pandemic,
we are working hard to bring you opportunities to find peace!
PLEASE DONATE TO HELP US CONTINUE OUR MISSION.

THANK YOU TO THOSE WHO HAVE GIVEN THEIR FINANCIAL SUPPORT, THIS YEAR!

WE NEED MORE SCOUTS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU LIVE SOUTH.
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 OUTDOOR GETAWAY INTO CHICAGO NATURE:

Like last week, the flower show is happening at Somme Prairie Grove, where you’ll experience a fanfare of color from myriad flowering species, including butterfly weed and purple leadplant (our Plant of the Week). Lavender wild bergamot, white Culver’s root and mountain mint, and yellow rosinweed and yellow coneflower are beginning to bloom across the region. The gorgeous goat’s rue is now flowering at Pembroke Savanna and Gensburg-Markham Prairie. And, this week, I found eastern prickly pear cactus blooming in the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. What?! Chicago has a cactus? Yes we do! And you can find also find it at Miller WoodsPowderhorn Marsh & Prairie, and Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve is also offering a diverse wildflower display in the oak savanna with the star being butterfly weed. And wildflowers also abound at Bluff Spring Fen, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, Belmont Prairie, Pembroke Savanna, and Wolf Road Prairie.

Now is also a wonderful time to experience green glow in the prairie. Green glow is a term that I recently invented. It describes leaves that glow bright-green from sunlight shining through them. The green glow of compass plant and prairie dock is spectacular. Prairie dock is especially delightful when its large heart-shaped leaf is transformed into a projection screen, as plants that fall between the sun and the screen cast their silhouettes in a kind of prairie shadow play.

TIP: I recommend visiting grasslands at the beginning or the end of the day when it’s much cooler and the sunlight is beautiful. Prairies are treeless expanses with no escape from the sun. It’s a challenge to appreciate the prairie in the blinding light of ninety-degree afternoon.

WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A SPRING 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!”):

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (7/6+): Many plant species are in flower, this week, representing an vibrant array of color. Blooms including leadplant, Ohio spiderwort, marsh phlox, butterfly weed, prairie lily, black-eyed Susan, prairie sundrop, compass plant, daisy fleabane, white wild indigo, New Jersey tea, mountain mint, the tall tuberous Indian plantain, numerous wild quinine, and the very start of purple prairie clover. The bald light-green flower heads of rattlesnake master are now showing, which means that they’ll soon be flowering. The preserve was recently burned, which cleared away the brambly dead growth from last year, leaving behind verdant emerging sprouts that pop out against a backdrop of bare black soil. It’s quite garden-like and pleasing to the eye. I especially like the many bright-emerald tufts of prairie dropseed. Come early or late in the day to experience green glow from compass plant and prairie dock.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park (7/3+): This oak savanna has a beautiful display of goat’s rue along with the buttery blooms of Cleland’s evening primrose, pink spotted bee balm, white daisy fleabane and some flowering spurge.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (7/7+): Most of color can be found in the black oak savanna, where you’ll be treated to many bright orange blooms of butterfly weed, golden hoary puccoon and prairie coreopsis, pearly blooms of flowering spurge, the blue morning blossoms of Ohio spiderwort, and the fragrant pink pasture rose. Under the sun of the sand prairie and the dunes to the east, flowering spurge and shrubby cinquefoil are blooming. And keep your eyes peeled for the spectacular yellow blossoms of eastern prickly pear cactus. I saw one on Tuesday. Each flower only lasts a day.
NOTE: Trust me when I tell you to GO EARLY IN THE DAY to avoid the noisy beachgoers and COVID-19 spreaders without masks. Also, the trail that extends along the Dead River has lots of water that may prohibit your journey unless you wear high boots.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (7/7+): Many flower species are blooming throughout the preserve. The “transplant kame” to the southeast hosts a wonderful array of flowering plants, including leadplant, prairie coreopsis, wild quinine., and compass plant. As you travel the trails, you’ll also find black-eyed Susan, yellow coneflower, wild bergamot, Illinois tick trefoil, spotted Joe-Pye weed, butterfly weed, the remaining pale purple coneflower, and the mauve and white blooms of common milkweed that fill the air with a scent reminiscent of overly perfumed old ladies who’ve lost the sense of smell.
NOTE: Go in the morning. Later on, the parking lot fills up with people coming to swim illegally in the water-filled quarry. You probably won’t see any swimmers on your hike. Unfortunately, they trample across the sensitive habitat to reach the swimming at the back. As you’re leaving, feel free to report the activity to the forest preserve police at (708) 771-1000.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (7/7+): This intimate remnant prairie is featuring some nice floral color. I suggest visiting early or late in the day when it’s cooler and when you can experience the glorious green glow—leaves that glow a bright green from the sunlight shining through them. On a recent late-day visit, the green glow of compass plant set my heart aloft. The main floral color comes from the startling orange bushes of butterfly weed and the many yellow blooms of black-eyed Susan, false sunflower, and newly blooming yellow coneflower. Hues from purple to blue come from leadplant, wild bergamot, and the remaining floating filigree of scurfy pea. And flashes of pearly wild quinine catch the eye.

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:

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham (7/2+): First of all, the preserve is NOT LOCKED. It only looks that way. The chain is just draped over the top of the gate. Just move the chain and enter. Once inside, I suggest walking all of the trails because of how the prairie and flowers vary along the way. The most abundant bloomers are marsh phlox, wild quinine, black-eyed Susan, common milkweed, and tuberous Indian plantain. I really love pink flowers of marsh phlox mixed with the big heart-shaped foliage of prairie dock. Along your route, you’ll also find the wonderfully orange butterfly milkweed, compass plant, fragrant pasture rose, flowering spurge, and expanses of prairie cordgrass.
NOTE: Under the summer sun, this prairie can feel hot and bright. For a more enjoyable time, visit in the morning or late-afternoon.

Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin (7/2+): There’s a very nice display of marsh phlox alongside tuberous Indian plantain, and Ohio spiderwort. And look for beautiful sprays of porcupine grass, ferns, prairie dropseed.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (7/9+): At the moment, the floral color of the prairie is building. Park, as instructed on this website, at the south end along 31st Street, and hike the sidewalk trails to the north. The preserve extends north for one-half mile, terminating at the newly renovated prairie house. In the evening, you can experience a natural fireworks display from the deck of the prairie house, thanks to fireflies searching for mates. See a firefly photo from July 6. The floral color is primarily white and gold with occasional splashes of orange butterfly milkweed and lavender wild bergamot. Tones of white are provided by daisy fleabane, flowering spurge, tuberous Indian plantain, white wild indigo, wild quinine, the flowerheads of rattlesnake master, and newly blooming Culver’s root. The yellows radiate from black-eyed Susan and the fresh blooms of yellow coneflower and rosinweed. During the late and early hours of the day, the sun stages a dramatic green glow show with prairie dock and compass plant.

Miller Woods in Indiana Dunes National Park (UNSCOUTED): Click here to help us scout this preserve. Come on southsiders! You have a lot of great southern preserves, but most of our scouts are from the north and western suburbs. Help us turn turn your neighbors into nature lovers.

PLANT OF THE WEEK: LEADPLANT

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

The propagating purple plant in this panorama is leadplant, which uses its tap root to search for water as far down as fifteen feet. Hence, leadplant has one of the deepest roots in the prairie. See diagram below.

PHOTO SECTION

Butterfly Weed

Coral hairstreak butterfly on butterfly milkweed at Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham, Illinois.

This is a coral hairstreak butterfly feeding on butterfly milkweed at Gensburg-Markham Prairie. But it is one of dozens of flying insects, beetles, and even hummingbirds that find this plant tasty. The flowers have no noticeable scent, unlike its cousin, common milkweed, that smells like a bunch of old ladies on Bingo night.

Great spangled fritillary butterflies (species Speyeria cybele) and butterfly weed in the prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois.

Great spangled fritillary butterflies (species Speyeria cybele) and butterfly weed in the prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs.

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

Butterfly milkweed (or butterfly weed) blooms across the oak savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. You can also find it at many other preserves including, Somme Prairie Grove, Belmont Prairie, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

What?! Chicago Has a Cactus? Yes We Do!

Eastern prickly pear cactus blooms can be found in late June in sandy preserves around the Chicago area.*

Eastern prickly pear cactus blooms can be found beginning in late June in sandy preserves around the Chicago area, including Illinois Beach Nature PreserveMiller WoodsPowderhorn Marsh & Prairie, and Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve.*

Evening Primrose

Evening primrose blooms in the purple morning light along the sandy Lake Michigan shore at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

Cleland’s evening primrose blooms in the purple morning light along the sandy Lake Michigan shore at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

Goat’s Rue

Goat's rue flourishes in a sandy black oak savanna at Indiana Dunes National Park.*

The beautiful goat’s rue flourishes in a sandy black oak savanna at Indiana Dunes National Park. It also grows at Gensburg-Markham Prairie.*

Pasture Rose is a Flower that Must be Smelled

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

Pasture rose grows here in the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. But you can also find it at other preserves, including Bluff Spring Fen and Pembroke Savanna. The fragrance of pasture rose is transcendent—a spiritual experience.*

Leadplant, Prairie Coreopsis, and Wild Quinine

In the golden light of morning, wild quinine, stiff coreopsis, and leadplant overlook the foggy fen from atop the reconstructed kame and the remnants of Healy Road Prairie transplanted here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

In the golden sun of morning, prairie coreopsis, wild quinine, and leadplant overlook the foggy fen from atop the reconstructed kame and the remnants of Healy Road Prairie transplanted here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin. The typically purple leadplant is now maroon thanks to the golden light.*

Culver’s Root is Beginning to Flower

Culver's root blooms en masse at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

Culver’s root is beginning to bloom en masse at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

Rattlesnake Master is Almost Blooming