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Best Nature Hikes & Chicago Outdoor Getaways

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
08-04-2021

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ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT08-04-2021

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
August 4, 2021

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

 

Chicago’s Best Weekend Walks & Outdoor Getaways!

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INSPIRING UPDATE: Since just last week, Vic & Ann Berardi have joined our scouting group and have already scouted Illinois Beach Nature Preserve! They love that preserve and visit it frequently. We’re so excited to have them aboard.

 

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

This is another memorable week with flower shows happening in woodlands, wetlands, and prairies. It’s hard to go wrong when picking a preserve to visit because they all have some exciting to offer.

Spears Woods is again the frontrunner for floral beauty with blooming in the prairies, woodlands, and wetlands. This preserve also provides great trails far away from traffic, varied habitats, and dramatic vistas. And while you’re there, catch a glimpse of the aquatic American lotus in Hogwash Slough. 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.

NOTE: It’s August. But I sometimes call it Foggust because August is the foggiest month of the year. So, if visit a preserve in the morning, wear gear because you could end up soaked to the skin from the dew.

Wolf Road Prairie has grown in beauty over the last week, as flowering has increased in both the savanna and prairie. The experience should blow you away. In the prairie, the purple spikes of prairie blazing star and marsh blazing star add beautifully to the stunning array of gold and white blooms, including the kooky rattlesnake master with its ivory Tinker Toy shaped molecular shaped flower heads.

Somme Prairie Grove is putting on shows in the woodland and the savanna! Belmont Prairie is a beautiful little dream. Nodding wild onion (our Plant of the Week) is blooming across the vast grassland of Lockport Prairie, and also at Shoe Factory Road Prairie and Bluff Spring Fen. And Shoe Factory Road Prairie is also blooming strong with many different species to experience.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve (and probably Pembroke Savanna, which was not scouted) is overflowing with sparkling florets of flowering spurge according to our newest scouts, Vic and Ann Berardi. Bluff Spring Fen is offering two dozen species that are now aflower. And Theodore Stone Preserve is providing a great prairie show that stars yellow coneflower and many others plants that share the stage.

Here is my most profound recommendation for enjoying your time in nature. If the preserve allows, arrive before first light. A morning rendezvous with nature is a magical experience that vastly transcends what’s possible at other times of day. In the early bright, the world expands beyond the usual three dimensions, as the transformation from darkness into light excites more than just the visual sense. As night gives birth to dawn, and the landscape gently turns from azure to gold, the soft and changing light is a spectacle for the eyes. A moist fog or a splash of crisp dew against your skin affirms your existence. The still atmosphere concentrates the fragrances floating in the air and provides a tranquil stage for birds to project their crystal melodies. In the morning, you’ll find all of this, along with the promise of a new day.

If you’re looking for longer walks, try our larger preserves: Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Lake in the Hills Fen, Spears Woods, and Somme Prairie Grove.

 

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

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

THIS WEEK’S BEST (“GO!”):

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

Spears Woods in Willow Springs (8/1=): Wow! This preserve is wonderful. The flashiest shows are taking place in the prairies where expanses of flowers flow across the landscape. Dense colonies of alabaster wild quinine and the ivory Tinker Toy shapes of rattlesnake master are beautifully breathtaking on their own. But you may need to catch your breath when they blend with purple prairie blazing star and ironweed, drooping heads of early goldenrod, lavender puffs of wild bergamot, and white spikes of Culver’s root. Again, “Wow!” Along your way, you’ll experience the golden blooms at all levels: black-eyed Susan near your feet, rosinweed and flowering spurge at your belly button, and the large sunflowers of compass plant above your head. Notice the pink filigree of showy tick trefoil that can look like a purple mist mingling amongst the other flowers. And turkey-footed heads of big bluestem grass are beginning to flower. If you stand at a high spot, scan the prairie below for the orange Silly String of parasitic field dodder draped over and around the plants that it’s feeding on. The woodland has now come alive with the fluffy mauve heads of sweet Joe-Pye weed and golden rays of woodland sunflower. And the magnificent aquatic American lotus flower is blooming at the north end of Hogwash Slough. 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. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Wolf Road Prairie is not too far away.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (8/4=): “GOrgeous!” puns our scout, Amanda, in her report about today’s scouting mission. The information can’t be fresher than that. The flowering is tremendous, again, in the southmost portion of preserve, which includes both prairie and oak savanna. The savanna is alive with dense blooms of woodland sunflower alongside pink plumes of sweet Joe-Pye weed and bristly sprays of bottlebrush grass. And the prairie is overflowing with all manner of flowers, including incredible forests of golden flowering prairie dock and compass plant. Rosinweedearly goldenrod, yellow coneflower, and black-eyed Susan also add a range of yellows to the palette. The shimmering and exploding whites of wild quinine, rattlesnake master, and Culver’s root are joined by purple torches of prairie blazing star , touches of lavender wild bergamot, early puffs of ironweed, balls of nodding wild onion, and a pink haze of showy tick trefoil. White flowering spurge and the occasional splashes of mountain mint add additional sparkle amidst the tall big bluestem grass. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Spears Woods are not too far away.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (8/2+): Many species are now aflower across the preserve, which is why it’s near the top of this week’s “Go!” list. The best show is being performed by marsh blazing star in the center of the the main wetland known as a fen. 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 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, starry campion, wild bergamot, yellow coneflower, 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 trail on your left to the top of the large kame. On your way up, look for a 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, fading purple prairie clover, wild quinine, and hoary vervain. Go back down the 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 its 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 sitchback 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. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (7/31=): This is one of the finest preserves in the region, yet we don’t have enough people to scout it for you. Please help us scout or donate. The woodland surrounding the savanna is making a strong statement with a glorious display of woodland sunflower and many more flowers and grasses that include the pink-plumed sweet Joe-Pye weed, blue American bellflower, alabaster starry campion and towering pale Indian plantain, yellow sweet coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and large flowered false foxglove, the purple buttons of ironweed, and the perfectly named bottlebrush grass. Under the open sky, golden rays of prairie dock and compass plant stretch for the clouds. Closer to the ground, you’ll find scores of other flowers that will take your breath away with sparkling textures and colors that include the following species: yellow coneflower, swamp milkweed, spiked Culver’s rootrattlesnake master, white filigrees of flowering spurge and mountain mint. early goldenrod, nodding wild onion, and possibly some obedient plant since we last scouted it four days ago. If you run into the yellow-flowered rosinweed, run your fingers over the foliage and you’ll instantly understand the name. The floppy stringy hairdos of prairie dropseed is growing everywhere under the sun, but watch your step. No kidding. It’s easy to trip over. NOTE: If you visit in the morning, wear waterproof pants and shoes, otherwise you’ll probably get soaked from the dew. 

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (8/3+): Thanks to our newest scouts, Vic and Ann Berardi for making their maiden scouting mission to this preserve. The floating white blooms of flowering spurge are aflower across the preserve, in both the savanna and sand prairie. It’s a beautiful sparkling scene. There are other flowers blooming here and there, but not many. However, there is a beautiful one that always makes me happy: the round trumpeted yellow blossom of large flowered false foxglove. Along your way, you’ll find a few remaining blooms of butterfly weed, plus purple prairie clover, early goldenrod, and shrubby cinquefoil. The tall golden rays of western sunflower are just starting to flower, but will soon be blooming throughout the site.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates (8/2+): This Illinois Nature Preserve is located inside the fence, where the color is dominated by yellow and white with patches of pink. Rosinweed is the main contributor to the yellows along with its cousins prairie dock and compass plant, plus yellow coneflower and early goldenrod. The whites come mainly from rattlesnake master and flowering spurge. And nice patches of obedient plant provide most of the pink and a smattering of nodding wild onion, cylindrical blazing star, and the final blooms of purple prairie clover. Outside the fence, you’ll experience a wider array of flowers, including a vast display of Tinker-Toy shaped rattlesnake master. Notice how they smell. I can’t put my nose on it, but it’s odd, bordering on unpleasantly sweet. Let me know how you’d describe it by writing a comment below. You’ll also find nodding wild onion and lots of yellow coneflower, flowering spurge, and wild bergamot. Just along the perimeter of the fence, you should see both white prairie clover and purple prairie clover. The latter has the best smell—a refreshing mix of lemons and carrots. But the white species has a traditional floral scent. Ordinary. Nothing special. Vanilla. Just as the color suggests. A fabulous show of prairie blazing star is purpling up the southern base of the hill. You’ll also see early goldenrod, wild quinine, rosinweed, compass plant, and round-headed bush clover. NOTE: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins (8/2=): The dramatic large expanse of yellow coneflower is the star of the show. But there are other flowers to be experienced, as well, including wild bergamot, early goldenrod, rosinweed, prairie blazing star, compass plant, and the new yellow flowers of partridge pea. The deep pinks of ironweed are  great addition to the panorama. And you’ll also find lots of rattlesnake master and wild quinine along with some mountain mint. Look for the beautiful pink swamp milkweed in the low or wet areas. The fragrant blooms of whorled milkweed and purple prairie clover can still be experienced in the eastern dolomite prairieNote: Spears Woods and Wolf Road Prairie are not too far away.

Lockport Prairie in Lockport (8/2=): The bloom of nodding wild onion is main reason that this prairie is on our list, and it’s putting on a big show right now amidst a jade haze of big bluestem grass. On your walk along the out-and-back trail that, for me, ends soon after the trees begin, you’ll find the wonderfully fragrant whorled milkweed and a sprinkling of blue vervain, hoary vervain, pale-spiked lobelia, and spotted Joe-Pye weed amidst the waves of grasses that dominate this dolomite prairie.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (8/2=): This remnant prairie is glorious and aglow with tones of mostly yellow and white. The most prominent shows are being staged by towering compass plant and the whimsical rattlesnake master. The golden blossoms of compass plant are joined in cameo appearances by yellow coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and rosinweed. The ivory balls of rattlesnake master are supported by sparkling sprays of flowering spurge, wild quinine, and the occasional mountain mint, which you really must smell. And long the way, you’ll also experience purple torches of prairie blazing star and beautiful orange highlights of butterfly weed.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham (Unscouted. Last scouted on 7/27.): 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. Last week, the most prominent flowers was wild quinine, rattlesnake master, and purple marsh blazing star. However, this week, I’m pretty sure that the yellow blossoms of partridge pea and the white-pink blooms of nodding wild onion have joined in. You should also find lavender wild bergamot, pink marsh phlox, and the deep pinks of swamp milkweed and spotted Joe-Pye weed. There are the whites of flowering spurge and Culver’s root alongside golden black-eyed Susan, yellow coneflower, rosinweed, and nice amounts of early goldenrod. And don’t forget to appreciate the oceans of grasses that wave in the warm summer winds.
NOTE: Under the summer sun, this prairie can feel hot and bright. For a more enjoyable time, visit in the morning or late-afternoon.

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills (Unscouted. Last scouted on 7/19+.): When last scouted, this preserve offered a beautiful expansive view that is best enjoyed at edges of daylight, when it’s not hot and sunny. Enjoy an array of flowers that flow along the vast rolling landscape of the prairie and fen, including the lavenders of wild bergamot, white and purple prairie clover, golden black-eyed Susan and yellow coneflower, pale purple coneflower, Culver’s root, blue vervain, spotted Joe-Pye weed, and mauve common milkweed that smells like a bunch of over-perfumed old ladies on Bingo night. And don’t forget to look for patches of the beautiful purple marsh blazing star.

 

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK: NODDING WILD ONION

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

On this sweltering and sticky August evening at Lockport Prairie, I returned to the car relieved to unload my nearly thirty pounds of camera gear and sweat-soaked photo vest. As I took my seat and started my Easy-Bake Oven of a car, the air conditioning suddenly circulated a cold breeze from below and I recognized a familiar scent, one that made me instinctively glance to the floor expecting to find a discarded Burger King bag baking in the heat. But there was no bag. Then it came to me. I was smelling exactly what I had been photographing: these pink, nodding wild onions that had transferred their sweet aroma to my boots. The pink blooms of nodding wild onion are the highlight of Lockport Prairie. But the sweetly stinky plant can also be found at many other prairies in our region and in our showcase preserves.*

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Wolf Road Prairie: A State of Glorious Chaos

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.*

A "forest" of compass plants reach for the sky at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

A “forest” of prairie dock reaches for the sky at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

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.*

 

Spears Woods is Exploding

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

Here in late July at Spears Woods, wildflowers float above the prairie like musical notes in a symphony of color and texture: rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, and early goldenrod *

The July prairie erupts with an array of wildflowers at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois.*

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, the July prairie erupts with an array of wildflowers like wild quinine, prairie blazing star, and early goldenrod.*

 

Bluff Spring Fen is Teeming with Blooms

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.*

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 grows tall in the oak savanna at the side of a kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin*

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 in Elgin.*

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

In August, cylindrical blazing star covers the northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

This is the main seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin. In July, marsh blazing star blooms in the high ground surrounding it.*

This is the main seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin. In July, marsh blazing star blooms in the high ground surrounding it.*

 

Shoe Factory Road Prairie

Atop this hill prairie called Shoe Factory Road Prairie, obedient plant and Indian grass take in the view.*

Atop this hill prairie called Shoe Factory Road Prairie, obedient plant andIndian grass take in the view.*

 

Lockport Prairie

Nodding wild onion blooms across the vast prairie at Lockport Prairie in Lockport.*

Nodding wild onion blooms across the vast prairie at Lockport Prairie in Lockport.*

 

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

Flowering spurge glows in the summer morning light on the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

Flowering spurge glows in the summer morning light on the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

 
At the end of this late-summer day, large-flowered false foxglove blooms across the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach State Park. You can also experience this plant in large numbers at Bluff Spring Fen, Indiana Dunes National Park, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, and Pembroke Savanna, and more.*

In late summer, large flowered false foxglove blooms in profusion in the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois. You can also experience this flower at Pembroke Savanna, Indiana Dunes National Park, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

 

The Blazing Stars of Prairie, Marsh, and Cylindrical

Prairie blazing star and rosinweed in July at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois.*

In late July and early August, the spectacular purple blooms of marsh blazing star 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 the 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 at Belmont Prairie, Spears Woods, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Wolf Road Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Middlefork Savanna, and many other prairies on our list of showcase preserves.

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

The midsummer prairie at Spears Woods often explodes with prairie blazing star and myriad other species. Here, early goldenrod joins the party.*

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.*

At Gensburg-Markham Prairie can be famous for its late July fanfare, when the fields ignite with white sparks of flowering spurge and purple torches of marsh blazing star. This year, the show isn’t as dramatic, but still nice.*

This is the main seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin. In July, marsh blazing star blooms in the high ground surrounding it.*

This is the main seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin. In July, marsh blazing star blooms in the high ground surrounding it.*

In August, cylindrical blazingstar blooms in the sand savanna at Indiana Dunes National Park. You can also find it Illinois Beach Nature Preserve and, in large numbers, at Shoe Factory Road Prairie and Bluff Spring Fen.*

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.*

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

Cylindrical blazing star blooms covers the northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

 

Nodding Wild Onion

Nodding wild onion blooms across the vast prairie at Lockport Prairie in Lockport.*

Nodding wild onion blooms across the vast prairie at Lockport Prairie in Lockport and in lesser amounts at many prairies on our list.*

 

Rattlesnake Master

In my prairie garden, amidst lavender blooms of butterfly-loving wild bergamot, are the strange spherical flower heads of rattlesnake master, a neighbor you can find living in Chicago’s prairies and savannas. Rattlesnake master gets its name because some Native Americans brewed a tea from the rootas 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.

Rattlesnake master is a whimsical Chicago prairie flower with heads that resemble Tinker Toys, or molecular structures, plants you might find in Arizona or Texas. The plant gets its name because 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.*

 

The prairie at Spears Woods teems with midsummer plant life: rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, ironweed, early goldenrod, and sawtooth sunflower.*

The prairie at Spears Woods teems with midsummer plant life: rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, ironweed, early goldenrod, and sawtooth sunflower.*

 

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 in the redolent 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.*

 

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.*

 

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.*

 

Woodland Sunflower

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

At Somme Prairie Grove, masses of woodland sunflower take over the grove to envelope this majestic bur oak.*

 

Flowering Spurge

In August, the white blooms of flowering spurge erupts across the sand savanna at Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve in Hopkins Park, Illinois.*

The floating white blooms of flowering spurge erupts across the sand savanna at Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve in Hopkins Park, Illinois. And you can find this flower at many other of our showcase sites, including Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Wolf Road Prairie.*

 

Wild Quinine Can Be Found in Many Prairies

At Bluff Spring Fen, 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, which was miraculously transplanted here from six miles down the road.*

This is a common scene at Elgin’s Bluff Spring Fen. Here in the golden light of morning, wild quinine, prairie coreopsis, and leadplant overlook the foggy fen.*

 

Culver’s Root Still Shines

Culver's root glow in the morning light at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

Culver’s root glow in the morning light at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

 

Compass Plant

This bloom of compass plant reaches for the sky.

The golden flowers of compass plant begin to bloom atop a stalk that reaches for the sky. They’re an iconic species that can be found in most of our mesic prairies. *

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

Landscape of compass plant at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville.*

 

Mountain Mint

Summer storm clouds brew at Kickapoo Prairie where rattlesnake master, Indian grass, and compass plant glow in the sun.

Summer storm clouds brew at Kickapoo Prairie where mountain mint, rattlesnake masterIndian grass, and compass plant glow in the sun.*

 

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.*

 

Butterfly Weed is Ending

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.*

Here at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, the bright orange flowers of butterfly weed makes a colorful statement.*

Here at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, the bright orange flowers of butterfly weed makes a colorful statement. You can find this plant at several high-quality preserves, including Bluff Spring Fen, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and Somme Prairie Grove.*

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

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, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

 

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough & Hogwash Slough

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs fills with American Lotus. You can also see it from a distance at Hogwash Slough in Spears Woods.*

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.*

 

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.” It can be found at every black soil prairie on our list.*

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

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

 

 

Side-Oats Grama is Soon to Bloom

Side-oats Grama grass blooms with delicate red flowers in the tallgrass prairie at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Side-oats Grama grass blooms with delicate red flowers in the tallgrass prairie at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

 

Marram Grass

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

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

 

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.
 

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

—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
07-29-2021

Posted by on 1:56 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT07-29-2021

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
July 29, 2021

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

 

Chicago’s Best Weekend Walks & Outdoor Getaways!

Don’t miss one beautiful moment.
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WILDFLOWER HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR OUTDOOR ADVENTURES INTO CHICAGO’S WOODLANDS:

No matter how much I write or photograph, it’s difficult to fully convey the overwhelming experience of being immersed in the breathtaking beauty of a real Chicago-area flower show. So get out there. It doesn’t cost a penny to visit any of our showcase preserves.

Spears Woods is the new frontrunner for floral beauty with blooming in the prairies, woodlands, and wetlands. This preserve also provides great trails far away from traffic, varied habitats, and dramatic vistas. And while you’re there, catch a glimpse of the aquatic American lotus in Hogwash Slough. 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.

NOTE: If you visit early in the morning, you may wish to wear rain gear because you could end up soaked to the skin from the dew.

Wolf Road Prairie has grown in beauty over the last week, as flowering has also moved into the woodland. The experience should blow you away. In the prairie, the purple spikes of prairie blazing star and marsh blazing star (our Plant of the Week) add beautifully to the stunning array of gold and white blooms, including the kooky rattlesnake master with its ivory Tinker Toy molecular shaped flower heads.

Somme Prairie Grove is still looking fantastic. Belmont Prairie is a beautiful little dream. Nodding wild onion is blooming across the vast grassland of Lockport Prairie. And the prairie outside the fence of Shoe Factory Road Prairie is also blooming strong with many different species to experience.

Here is my most profound recommendation for enjoying your time in nature. If the preserve allows, arrive before first light. A morning rendezvous with nature is a magical experience that vastly transcends what’s possible at other times of day. In the early bright, the world expands beyond the usual three dimensions, as the transformation from darkness into light excites more than just the visual sense. As night gives birth to dawn, and the landscape gently turns from azure to gold, the soft and changing light is a spectacle for the eyes. A moist fog or a splash of crisp dew against your skin affirms your existence. The still atmosphere concentrates the fragrances floating in the air and provides a tranquil stage for birds to project their crystal melodies. In the morning, you’ll find all of this, along with the promise of a new day.

If you’re looking for longer walks, try our larger preserves: Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Lake in the Hills Fen, Spears Woods, and Somme Prairie Grove.

 

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

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

THIS WEEK’S BEST (“GO!”):

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

Spears Woods in Willow Springs (7/27+): Wow! This preserve is wonderful. The flashiest shows are taking place in the prairies where expanses of flowers flow across the landscape. Dense colonies of alabaster wild quinine and the ivory Tinker Toys of rattlesnake master are beautifully breathtaking on their own. But you may need to catch your breath when they blend with purple prairie blazing star and ironweed, drooping heads of early goldenrod, lavender balls of wild bergamot, and white spikes of Culver’s root. Again, “Wow!” Along your way, you’ll experience the golden blooms at all levels: black-eyed Susan near your feet, rosinweed and flowering spurge at your belly button, and the large sunflowers of compass plant above your head. Notice the pink filigree of showy tick trefoil that can look like a purple mist mingling amongst the other flowers. And turkey-footed heads of big bluestem grass are beginning to flower. If you stand at a high spot, scan the prairie below for the orange Silly String of parasitic field dodder draped over and around the plants that it’s feeding on. The woodland is coming alive as the fluffy mauve heads of sweet Joe-Pye weed and golden rays of woodland sunflower are nearing peak. And the magnificent aquatic American lotus flower is blooming at the north end of Hogwash Slough. 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. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Wolf Road Prairie is not too far away.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (7/27+): The flowering is tremendous in the southmost portion of prairie. The shimmering and exploding whites of wild quinine, rattlesnake master, and fading Culver’s root are joined by an array of colors ranging from yellow to lavender to purple. It’s a glorious sight. The yellow blossoms come from rosinweedearly goldenrod, yellow coneflower, black-eyed Susan, plus forests of compass plant and newly flowering prairie dock. Wild bergamot provides flashes of lavender alongside dramatic purple torches of prairie blazing star and a pink haze of showy tick trefoil. White flowering spurge and occasional splashes of mountain mint add additional sparkle. In the woodland, you’ll find whimsical sprays of bottlebrush grass, pink plumes of sweet Joe-Pye weed, and an exciting performance by woodland sunflower. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Spears Woods are not too far away.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (Unscouted. Last scouted on 7/13.) : I know. This is one of the finest preserves in the region, yet we don’t have enough people to scout it for you. Please help us scout or donate. From what we saw two weeks ago, I predict that you’ll have a wonderful experience. You should find purple prairie clover and white filigrees of mountain mint. Early goldenrod should be quite prominent alongside wild quinine, butterfly weed, black-eyed Susan, rattlesnake master, wild bergamot, prairie dock, and prairie dropseed. I love the towering forests of compass plant. Along the path, you’ll find several more plants in bloom: yellow coneflower, ironweed, swamp milkweed, Culver’s root, and flowering spurge. Also take this time to appreciate the beautiful textures from the foliage of sedges, grasses, and bloomers-to-be, including the floppy hairdos of prairie dropseed, heart-shaped leaves of prairie dock, desert-looking rattlesnake master, and fern-looking leadplant. Under the trees, you’ll find the perfectly named bottlebrush grass, the pink plumes sweet Joe-Pye weed, and the start of blue American bellflower and woodland sunflower.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (7/27+): Many species are now aflower across the preserve, which is why it’s near the top of this week’s “Go!” list. The best show is being performed by marsh blazing star in the center of the the main wetland known as a fen. 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 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, starry campion, wild bergamot, yellow coneflower, 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 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, fading purple prairie clover, wild quinine, and hoary vervain. 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 its 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.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates (7/28=): The best blooming is taking place outside the fence of the official Illinois Nature Preserve, where you’ll experience a vast amount of prairie blazing star and whimsical rattlesnake master. You’ll also see golden blooms of early goldenrod , yellow coneflower, and compass plant along with lavender wild bergamot. The rare hill prairie inside the fence offers some of the same flowers, but fewer in number and less variety. However, you will see new pink blooms of cylindrical blazing star that are beginning to replace the fading purples of prairie clover. NOTE: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (7/27+): This remnant prairie is glorious and aglow with tones of mostly yellow and white, with sparkles of purple and orange. The most prominent show is being staged by golden-flowered compass plant that looms above the prairie. Prairie blazing star and wild bergamot are responsible for the purplish tones. The golds come from yellow coneflower, black-eyed Susan, rosinweed, and towering compass plant. Rattlesnake master, wild quinine, mountain mint, and flowering spurge account for the whites. And long the way, you’ll also experience beautiful orange highlights of butterfly weed.

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins (7/27+): The dramatic large expanse of yellow coneflower is the star of the show. But there are other flowers to be experienced, as well, including wild bergamot, early goldenrod, rosinweed, prairie blazing star, and compass plant. And you’ll also find lots of rattlesnake master and wild quinine along with the occasional mountain mint. Look for the deep pinks of swamp milkweed in the low or wet areas. Note: Spears Woods and Wolf Road Prairie are not too far away.

Lockport Prairie in Lockport (7/27=): The bloom of nodding wild onion is main reason that this prairie is on our list, and it’s putting on a nice show right now amidst a jade haze of big bluestem grass. Along your walk along the out-and-back trail that, for me, ends soon after the trees begin, you’ll find the wonderfully fragrant whorled milkweed and a sprinkling of blue vervain, hoary vervain, pale-spiked lobelia, and spotted Joe-Pye weed amidst the waves of grasses that dominate this dolomite prairie.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham (7/27+): 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 prominent flowers are wild quinine, rattlesnake master, and purple marsh blazing star. The latter is joined by other purplish plants: lavender wild bergamot, mauve common milkweed, pink marsh phlox, and the deep pinks of swamp milkweed and spotted Joe-Pye weed. There are the whites of flowering spurge and Culver’s root alongside golden black-eyed Susan, yellow coneflower, rosinweed, and nice amounts of early goldenrod. And don’t forget to appreciate the oceans of grasses that wave in the warm summer winds.
NOTE: Under the summer sun, this prairie can feel hot and bright. For a more enjoyable time, visit in the morning or late-afternoon.

 

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills (Unscouted. Last scouted on 7/19+.): Last week, this preserve offers a beautiful expansive view that is best enjoyed at edges of daylight, when it’s not hot and sunny. Enjoy an array of flowers that flow along the vast rolling landscape of the prairie and fen, including the lavenders of wild bergamot, white and purple prairie clover, golden black-eyed Susan and yellow coneflower, pale purple coneflower, Culver’s root, blue vervain, spotted Joe-Pye weed, and mauve common milkweed that smells like a bunch of over-perfumed old ladies on Bingo night. And don’t forget to look for patches of the beautiful purple marsh blazing star.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (Unscouted): Help us scout this jewel of a preserve. You’ll probably find the floating white blooms of flowering spurge across the preserve, remaining blooms of butterfly weed, and some marsh phlox.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK: MARSH & PRAIRIE BLAZING STAR

Prairie blazing star and rosinweed in July at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois.*

In late July and early August, the spectacular purple blooms of marsh blazing star 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 the 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 at Belmont Prairie, Spears Woods, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Wolf Road Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Middlefork Savanna, and many other prairies on our list of showcase preserves.

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Wolf Road Prairie: A State of Glorious Chaos

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.*

 

Spears Woods is Exploding

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

Here in late July at Spears Woods, wildflowers float above the prairie like musical notes in a symphony of color and texture: rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, and early goldenrod *

The July prairie erupts with an array of wildflowers at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois.*

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, the July prairie erupts with an array of wildflowers like wild quinine, prairie blazing star, and early goldenrod.*

 

The Blazing Stars of Prairie, Marsh, and Cylindrical

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

The midsummer prairie at Spears Woods often explodes with prairie blazing star and myriad other species. Here, early goldenrod joins the party.*

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.*

At Gensburg-Markham Prairie can be famous for its late July fanfare, when the fields ignite with white sparks of flowering spurge and purple torches of marsh blazing star. This year, the show isn’t as dramatic, but still nice.*

This is the main seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin. In July, marsh blazing star blooms in the high ground surrounding it.*

This is the main seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin. In July, marsh blazing star blooms in the high ground surrounding it.*

In August, cylindrical blazingstar blooms in the sand savanna at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. You can also find it Illinois Beach Nature Preserve and, in large numbers, at Shoe Factory Road Prairie and Bluff Spring Fen.*

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.*

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

Cylindrical blazing star blooms covers the northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

 

Nodding Wild Onion

Nodding wild onion blooms across the vast prairie at Lockport Prairie in Lockport.*

Nodding wild onion blooms across the vast prairie at Lockport Prairie in Lockport and in lesser amounts at many prairies on our list.*

 

Rattlesnake Master

In my prairie garden, amidst lavender blooms of butterfly-loving wild bergamot, are the strange spherical flower heads of rattlesnake master, a neighbor you can find living in Chicago’s prairies and savannas. Rattlesnake master gets its name because some Native Americans brewed a tea from the rootas 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.

Rattlesnake master is a whimsical Chicago prairie flower with heads that resemble Tinker Toys, or molecular structures, plants you might find in Arizona or Texas. The plant gets its name because 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.*

The prairie at Spears Woods teems with midsummer plant life: rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, ironweed, early goldenrod, and sawtooth sunflower.*

The prairie at Spears Woods teems with midsummer plant life: rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, ironweed, early goldenrod, and sawtooth sunflower.*

 

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.*

 

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 in the redolent 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.*

 

 

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough & Hogwash Slough

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs fills with American Lotus. You can also see it from a distance at Hogwash Slough in Spears Woods.*

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.

 

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.*

 

Flowering Spurge

In August, the white blooms of flowering spurge erupts across the sand savanna at Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve in Hopkins Park, Illinois.*

The floating white blooms of flowering spurge erupts across the sand savanna at Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve in Hopkins Park, Illinois.*

 

Wild Quinine Can Be Found in Many Prairies

At Bluff Spring Fen, 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, which was miraculously transplanted here from six miles down the road.*

This is a common scene at Elgin’s Bluff Spring Fen. Here in the golden light of morning, wild quinine, prairie coreopsis, and leadplant overlook the foggy fen.*

 

Compass Plant

This bloom of compass plant reaches for the sky.

The golden flowers of compass plant begin to bloom atop a stalk that reaches for the sky. They’re an iconic species that can be found in most of our mesic prairies. *

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

Landscape of compass plant at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville.*

 

Culver’s Root

Culver's root glow in the morning light at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

Culver’s root glows in the morning light at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

 

Mountain Mint

Summer storm clouds brew at Kickapoo Prairie where rattlesnake master, Indian grass, and compass plant glow in the sun.

Summer storm clouds brew at Kickapoo Prairie where mountain mint, rattlesnake masterIndian grass, and compass plant glow in the sun.*

 

Wild Bergamot & Yellow Coneflower are at Peak Bloom

“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.*

 

Butterfly Weed is Ending

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.*

Here at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, the bright orange flowers of butterfly weed makes a colorful statement.*

Here at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, the bright orange flowers of butterfly weed makes a colorful statement. You can find this plant at several high-quality preserves, including Bluff Spring Fen, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and Somme Prairie Grove.*

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

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, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

 

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.” It can be found at every black soil prairie on our list.*

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

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

 

 

Marram Grass

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

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

 

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.
 

Donate to Our GoFundMe Campaign

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

—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
07-22-2021

Posted by on 5:23 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT07-22-2021

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
July 22, 2021

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

 

Chicago’s Best Weekend Walks & Outdoor Getaways!

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

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

Donate to Our GoFundMe Campaign

 

WE URGENTLY NEED SCOUTS TO CONTINUE THIS VALUABLE FREE SERVICE!

Click here to learn how you can help share Chicago’s natural beauty with others and to expand the region’s nature volunteer base. We have 1,300 followers. There should be enough people out there who’d love to pitch in.

 

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

The midsummer flower shows are in full swing, and boy is it exciting! There is so much to see (and smell).

Wolf Road Prairie tops this week’s list due to its dramatic variety of flowers, colors, and textures. It’ll blow you away. For example, the show of rattlesnake master (our Plant of the Week) is both spectacular and kooky with its Tinker Toy molecular shaped flower heads. The prairie at Spears Woods comes in a close second, while also providing you with a better hike away from the traffic, varied habitats, and wonderful vistas. And while you’re there, you can catch a glimpse of the aquatic American lotus in Hogwash Slough. 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.

Somme Prairie Grove is still looking fantastic. Belmont Prairie is a beautiful little dream. And the prairie outside the fence of Shoe Factory Road Prairie is also blooming strong with many different species to experience.

Here is my most profound recommendation for enjoying your time in nature. If the preserve allows, arrive before first light. A morning rendezvous with nature is a magical experience that vastly transcends what’s possible at other times of day. In the early bright, the world expands beyond the usual three dimensions, as the transformation from darkness into light excites more than just the visual sense. As night gives birth to dawn, and the landscape gently turns from azure to gold, the soft and changing light is a spectacle for the eyes. A moist fog or a splash of crisp dew against your skin affirms your existence. The still atmosphere concentrates the fragrances floating in the air and provides a tranquil stage for birds to project their crystal melodies. In the morning, you’ll find all this, along with the promise of a new day.

If you’re looking for longer walks, try our larger preserves: Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Lake in the Hills Fen, Spears Woods, and Somme Prairie Grove.

 

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

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

THIS WEEK’S BEST (“GO!”):

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

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (7/21+): The flowering is tremendous in the southmost portion of prairie. The shimmering and exploding whites of wild quinine, rattlesnake master, and Culver’s root are joined by an array of colors ranging from yellow to lavender to purple. It’s a glorious sight. The yellow blossoms come from rosinweedearly goldenrod, yellow coneflower, black-eyed Susan, plus forests of compass plant and newly flowering prairie dock. Wild bergamot provides flashes of lavender alongside purple stalks of prairie blazing star and a pink haze of showy tick trefoil. And the occasional white mountain mint and flowering spurge add some additional sparkle. In the woodland, you’ll find whimsical sprays of bottlebrush grass, pink plumes of sweet Joe-Pye weed, and the start of woodland sunflower. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Spears Woods are not too far away.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs (7/20+): Wow! This preserve is cooking, and it’s just getting started. The flashiest shows are taking place in the prairies where expanses of flowers flow across the landscape. Dense colonies of alabaster wild quinine and the ivory Tinker Toys of rattlesnake master are beautifully breathtaking on their own. But you may need to catch your breath when they blend with purple prairie blazing star, drooping heads of early goldenrod, lavender balls of wild bergamot, and white spikes of Culver’s root. Again, “Wow!” Along your way, you’ll experience the golden blooms at all levels: black-eyed Susan near your feet, rosinweed at your waist, and the large sunflowers of compass plant above your head. Notice the pink filigree of showy tick trefoil that can look like a purple mist mingling amongst the other flowers. And turkey-footed heads of big bluestem grass are beginning to flower. If you stand at a high spot, scan the prairie below for the orange Silly String of parasitic field dodder draped over and around the plants that it’s feeding on. The woodland is coming alive as the fluffy mauve heads of sweet Joe-Pye weed and golden rays of woodland sunflower are beginning to flower. And the magnificent aquatic American lotus flower is blooming at the north end of Hogwash Slough. 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. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Wolf Road Prairie is not too far away.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (Unscouted. Last scouted on 7/13.) : From what we saw last week, the number and variety of flowers has only increased. I predict that it remains a must-see event. The knobs located under the open skies to the north are home to scenes filled with an amalgam of color, texture, joy, inspiration, and life. Passionate purples and pinks mix with sparking whites and startling explosions of orange. Glorious golds begin at your feet and rise toward the clouds. And all this upon a flowing canvas shaped by emerald hearts, mops and bottlebrushes. You’ll find purple prairie clover and fading leadplant, fabulous filigrees of mountain mintearly goldenrod, wild quinine, butterfly weed, black-eyed Susan, compass plant, rattlesnake master, wild bergamot, prairie dock, and prairie dropseed. Blooms of purple prairie clover have now spread to put on vibrant shows in other parts of the savanna. And on your way to the knobs, you’ll find these same flowers, like towering forests of compass plant, plus several more: yellow coneflower, swamp milkweed, Culver’s root, and flowering spurge. Also take this time to appreciate the beautiful textures from the foliage of sedges, grasses, and bloomers-to-be, including the floppy hairdos of prairie dropseed, heart-shaped leaves of prairie dock, desert-looking rattlesnake master, and fern-looking leadplant. Under the trees, you’ll find the perfectly named bottlebrush grass, the pink plumes sweet Joe-Pye weed, and possibly the start of blue American bellflower.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (7/21+): This remnant prairie is glorious and aglow with many colors. Peering across the prairie, you’ll see a story of white, gold, and lavender. Wild bergamot is responsible for the lavenders. The golds come from yellow coneflower, black-eyed Susan, hairy sunflower, rosinweed, and towering compass plantRattlesnake master, and wild quinine provide the majority of the white. Along the way, you’ll also experience beautiful orange highlights of butterfly weed, inconspicuous yellows of tall agrimony, the occasional mountain mint, and scurfy pea‘s beautiful floating filigree of foliage.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates (7/18=): The best blooming is taking place outside the fence of the official Illinois Nature Preserve, where you’ll experience a vast amount of wild quinine, whimsical rattlesnake master, yellow coneflower, wild bergamot, and daisy fleabane, along with compass plant, prairie blazing star, mountain mint, black-eyed Susan, and purple prairie clover. The rare hill prairie inside the fence offers some of the same flowers, but fewer in number and less variety. NOTE: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins (Unscouted. Last scouted on 7/14+): I predict that the flowering will be a better than last week with large expanses of yellow coneflower and wild bergamot alongside many more blooms of early goldenrod, rosinweed, prairie blazing star, and compass plant. You should still find black-eyed Susan,, mountain mint, and lots of wild quinine. Look for the deep pinks of swamp milkweed in the low or wet areas. Note: Spears Woods and Wolf Road Prairie are not too far away.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham (7/18+): 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 prominent flowers are wild quinine and rattlesnake master with a great show of purple marsh blazing star on the way. There’s also some Culver’s root, golden black-eyed Susan, yellow coneflower, and rosinweed, lavender wild bergamot, mauve common milkweed, and pink marsh phlox. In the water, look for the deep pinks of swamp milkweed and the gorgeous purple spikes of pickerel weed. And don’t forget to appreciate the oceans of grasses that wave in the warm summer winds.
NOTE: Under the summer sun, this prairie can feel hot and bright. For a more enjoyable time, visit in the morning or late-afternoon.

 

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills (7/19+): This preserve offers a beautiful expansive view that is best enjoyed at edges of daylight, when it’s not hot and sunny. Enjoy an array of flowers that flow along the vast rolling landscape of the prairie and fen, including the lavenders of wild bergamot, white and purple prairie clover, golden black-eyed Susan and yellow coneflower, pale purple coneflower, Culver’s root, blue vervain, spotted Joe-Pye weed, and mauve common milkweed that smells like a bunch of over-perfumed old ladies on Bingo night. And don’t forget to look for patches of the beautiful purple marsh blazing star.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (Unscouted. Last scouted on 7/12.): The preserve has its share of flowers, but not nearly as many as the big shows further south. However, there were lots of monarch butterflies! The brilliant orange blossoms of butterfly weed are the highlight of the black oak savanna while flowering spurge with its floating white sprays is the star of the sand prairie. Along the way, you should see black-eyed Susan, common milkweed, purple prairie clover, shrubby cinquefoil, and the occasional Cleland’s evening primrose.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (Unscouted. Last scouted on 7/13.): We didn’t scout it, so we’re not rating it a “Go.” But it should be pretty good and the preserve is only ten minutes from Shoe Factory Road Prairie, which has “GO” status. Last week, we reported the performance around the transplant kame located east along the southern border. The show featured many flowers: clans of tall and handsome compass plant, cliques of dainty yellow coneflower and aloof vervain, clubs of quinine, and bashes of bergamot. But the best are the celebrations of prairie clover, where bees become giddy with excitement. However, I predict that the clover have mostly faded by now. However, the purple spikes of marsh blazing star should be looking very nice along with the deep pinks of spotted Joe-Pye weed in the wetter spots.

 

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK: RATTLESNAKE MASTER 

 
In my prairie garden, amidst lavender blooms of butterfly-loving wild bergamot, are the strange spherical flower heads of rattlesnake master, a neighbor you can find living in Chicago’s prairies and savannas. Rattlesnake master gets its name because some Native Americans brewed a tea from the rootas 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.

Rattlesnake master is a whimsical Chicago prairie flower with heads that resemble Tinker Toys, or molecular structures, plants you might find in Arizona or Texas. The plant gets its name because 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.*

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Rattlesnake Master

The prairie at Spears Woods teems with midsummer plant life: rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, ironweed, early goldenrod, and sawtooth sunflower.*

The prairie at Spears Woods teems with midsummer plant life: rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, ironweed, early goldenrod, and sawtooth sunflower.*

 

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 in the redolent 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.*

 

 

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough & Hogwash Slough

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs fills with American Lotus. You can also see it from a distance at Hogwash Slough in Spears Woods.*

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.

 

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.*

 

Purple Prairie Clover and its Remarkably Fresh Scent

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 honey bee flies over to purple prairie clover at Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve in Elgin. You can also find an abundance at Somme Prairie Grove and Shoe Factory Road Prairie, and in fewer numbers at Wolf Road Prairie, Gensburg Markham Prairie, and Illinois Beach Nature Preserve.*

Come to Bluff Spring Fen early on a July morning and you might experience a chromatic expanse of purple prairie clover.

As you can see here, a show of purple prairie clover at Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve can be dramatic. But not this year. Instead, head over to Somme Prairie Grove for a glorious display.*

 

Butterfly Weed is Ending

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.*

Here at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, the bright orange flowers of butterfly weed makes a colorful statement.*

Here at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, the bright orange flowers of butterfly weed makes a colorful statement. You can find this plant at several high-quality preserves, including Bluff Spring Fen, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and Somme Prairie Grove.*

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

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, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

 

Wolf Road Prairie: A State of Glorious Chaos

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.*

 

Spears Woods is Exploding

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

Here in late July at Spears Woods, wildflowers float above the prairie like musical notes in a symphony of color and texture: rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, and early goldenrod *

The July prairie erupts with an array of wildflowers at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois.*

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, the July prairie erupts with an array of wildflowers like wild quinine, prairie blazing star, and early goldenrod.*

 

Somme Prairie Grove is Overflowing with Beauty and Biodiversity

The many flowers of oak savanna at Somme Prairie Grove sparkle brilliantly in the last light of day.*

On Wednesday, July 14, the many flowers of the oak savanna at Somme Prairie Grove sparkled brilliantly in the last light of day.*

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.*

 

Wild Quinine Can Be Found in Many Prairies

At Bluff Spring Fen, 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, which was miraculously transplanted here from six miles down the road.*

This is a common scene at Elgin’s Bluff Spring Fen. Here in the golden light of morning, wild quinine, prairie coreopsis, and leadplant overlook the foggy fen.*

 

Compass Plant

This bloom of compass plant reaches for the sky.

The golden flowers of compass plant begin to bloom atop a stalk that reaches for the sky. They’re an iconic species that can be found in most of our mesic prairies. *

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

Landscape of compass plant at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville.*

 

Culver’s Root

Culver's root glow in the morning light at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

Culver’s root glows in the morning light at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

 

Mountain Mint

Summer storm clouds brew at Kickapoo Prairie where rattlesnake master, Indian grass, and compass plant glow in the sun.

Summer storm clouds brew at Kickapoo Prairie where mountain mint, rattlesnake masterIndian grass, and compass plant glow in the sun.*

 

Wild Bergamot & Yellow Coneflower are Reaching Peak

“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.*

 

 

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.*

 

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.” It can be found at every black soil prairie on our list.*

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

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

 

 

Marram Grass

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

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

 

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.
 

Donate to Our GoFundMe Campaign

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

—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
07-16-2021

Posted by on 5:22 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT07-16-2021

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
July 16, 2021

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

 

Chicago’s Best Weekend Walks & Outdoor Getaways!

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

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

Donate to Our GoFundMe Campaign

 

WE URGENTLY NEED SCOUTS TO CONTINUE THIS VALUABLE FREE SERVICE!

Click here to learn how you can help share Chicago’s natural beauty with others and to expand the region’s nature volunteer base. We have 1,300 followers. There should be enough people out there who’d love to pitch in.

 

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

This is an exciting time to visit the prairies and savannas, as many beautiful flower shows are simultaneously taking place throughout the region. Again, the best flower show is being held in the oak savanna at Somme Prairie Grove. It is a must-see event! Last week, deep purple leadplant was the star, but it has now faded to mauve. However, as leadplant’s understudy, purple prairie clover (our Plant of the Week) has taken over the leading role and has spread to theaters across the preserve. And don’t get me started on the spectacular shows of mountain mint, wild quinine, and compass plant. So much is happening here! See my shot Wednesday, July 14 under Photo Section.

The gravelly prairies at Shoe Factory Road Prairie and Bluff Spring Fen are also featuring purple prairie clover and many other blooms. Spears Woods and Wolf Road Prairie are also aflower with many species, including the omnipresent cauliflower heads of wild quinine, which can be found at any of our mesic prairies. Belmont Prairie is producing blasts of orange butterfly weed and a variety of colors, including the lavenders of wild bergamot and mountain mint (both members of the mint family). While we’re on the subject of scents, check out the yellow coneflower seed heads that smell of licorice. And definitely push your nose into purple prairie clover. Speaking of clover, that reminds me of the true story of a rabbit that was running across the yard with a confiscated carrot when it collided with a young entrepreneur squeezing lemons into a pitcher for his lemonade stand. In addition to the hilarious explosion of bunny and child, orange and yellow also collided. The rabbit screamed, “You got lemons on my carrot.” And the kid yelled, “Well, you got carrot on my lemons. And I think you broke my nose!” The kid was taken to the emergency room and fitted with a full head cast with four holes. Upon his return from the hospital, the kid and the bunny became fast friends. Well, at least we can agree that the bunny was fast. It was the bunny’s speed that started this whole mess. When the kid’s face healed after several months of physical therapy and grueling nose-bending exercises to help him learn how to use both nostrils again, the bunny and the kid started a business. They gave it the unlikely name of “Bunny and The Kid.” They sold billions and billions of picoliters of their new refreshing concoction made with the flavors and scents from carrots and lemons. But they only charged a fiftieth-of-a-dollar per glass. And at that price, their business went under. What were they thinking? Any bunny would have charged more. But that’s what you get when you create a business plan off of a bad pun, “Two scents for two cents.” And those are my two cents.

Here is my most profound recommendation for enjoying your time in nature. If the preserve allows, arrive before first light. A morning rendezvous with nature is a magical experience that vastly transcends what’s possible at other times of day. In the early bright, the world expands beyond the usual three dimensions, as the transformation from darkness into light excites more than just the visual sense. As night gives birth to dawn, and the landscape gently turns from azure to gold, the soft and changing light is a spectacle for the eyes. A moist fog or a splash of crisp dew against your skin affirms your existence. The still atmosphere concentrates the fragrances floating in the air and provides a tranquil stage for birds to project their crystal melodies. In the morning, you’ll find all this, along with the promise of a new day.

This is the time when a dramatic wetland plant begins to flower, the aquatic American lotus. 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.

If you’re looking for longer walks, try our larger preserves: Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Lake in the Hills Fen, Spears Woods, and Somme Prairie Grove.

 

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

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

THIS WEEK’S BEST (“GO!”):

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

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (7/13+): The beauty of the preserve is indescribable. It’s a must see moment. The knobs located under the open skies to the north are home to scenes filled with an amalgam of color, texture, joy, inspiration, and life. Passionate purples and pinks mix with sparking whites and startling explosions of orange. Glorious golds begin at your feet and rise toward the clouds. And all this upon a flowing canvas shaped by emerald hearts, mops and bottlebrushes. You’ll find purple prairie clover, leadplant, fabulous filigrees of mountain mintearly goldenrod, wild quinine, butterfly weed, black-eyed Susan, compass plant, rattlesnake master, wild bergamot, prairie dock, and prairie dropseed. Blooms of purple prairie clover have now spread to put on vibrant shows in other parts of the savanna. And on your way to the knobs, you’ll find these same flowers, like towering forests of compass plant, plus several more: yellow coneflower, swamp milkweed, Culver’s root, and flowering spurge. Also take this time to appreciate the beautiful textures from the foliage of sedges, grasses, and bloomers-to-be, including the floppy hairdos of prairie dropseed, heart-shaped leaves of prairie dock, desert-looking rattlesnake master, and fern-looking leadplant. In the woodland, you’ll find sweet Joe-Pye weed.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (7/14+): The flower show is happening in the southmost portion of the prairie with the most dramatic performance coming from wild quinine. New plants are starting to bloom and the color is getting better by the day. White, lavender, and yellow make up the color palette. Along the way, you’ll also experience fresh stalks of Culver’s root, alongside rattlesnake master, yellow coneflower, rosinweed, wild bergamot, and the occasional flowering spurge. You’ll also find a smattering of yellow-petaled black-eyed Susan and towering stalks of compass plant. The purple spiked prairie blazing star is just starting to bloom. The textures and colors of the foliage adds to excitement, including the blue-greens of rattlesnake master and hundreds of prairie dock hearts that glow in the light of a low sun. 

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (7/12+): This is good time to visit this remnant prairie where several colorful plants bloom at once. 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. The dramatic alabaster blooms of wild quinine instantly gets your attention alongside golden black-eyed Susan. But the shocking orange of butterfly weed steals the show with dramatic surges of vibrancy throughout the prairie. New lavender plumes of wild bergamot are beginning to fill the pink-and-blue void left by scurfy pea. Fading pale purple coneflower and leadplant are still looking pretty good. Yellow coneflower is staring to flower along with mountain mint and rattlesnake master. And I just love looming forests of blooming compass plant.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs (7/14+): The preserve’s prairies are looking very nice. “Sparkling white” describes the scene as alabaster inflorescences of wild quinine flower across the panorama, joined by glistening blossoms of mountain mint and the ivory Tinker Toy heads of rattlesnake master. You’ll discover a few explosions of the orange butterfly weed and Michigan lily along with the golds of skyward compass plant, black-eyed Susan, the start of early goldenrod, and some early blooming sawtooth sunflower. Lavender tones of wild bergamot are beginning to flower and some prairie blazing star are just starting to show off their purple spikes. If you stand at a high spot, scan the prairie below for the orange Silly String of parasitic field dodder draped over and around the plants that it’s feeding on. Thanks to spring’s prescribed fire, the prairie is green and clean, uncluttered by last year’s tan skeletons. Spears Woods is one of the most beautiful sites in the region, where various trails guide you through woodlands, prairies, and wetlands.

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins (7/14+): The big displays come from large expanse of yellow coneflower and wild bergamot in the western grassland, which outshines the purple prairie clover in the dolomite prairie to the east. Along your hike, you’ll come upon the whites of wild quinine, fragrant mountain mint, and whimsical rattlesnake master. And you’ll find yellows in the petals of compass plant, black-eyed Susan, and the heads of early goldenrod. In low or damp areas, look for the deep pinks of swamp milkweed.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates (7/10=): Several flowers are blooming at the official Illinois Nature Preserve inside the fence at the top of the hill, including a fantastic show of bee-loving purple prairie clover at peak bloom. Along the way you’ll find leadplant, early goldenrod, wild quinine, wild bergamot, and compass plant. There’s also a lot flowering along the slope outside the fence and the surrounding preserve. You’ll experience a vast amount of wild quinine growing with wild bergamot, yellow coneflower, muted leadplant, purple prairie clover, a sprinkling of black-eyed Susan, and big displays of rattlesnake master with its molecular flower heads. NOTE: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (7/13+): The preserve is a “Go!” thanks to the performance taking place around the transplant kame located east along the southern border. The show features a large cast of actors, including flirtatious bees that move from one flower to another. Flibbertigibbets, they crash and carouse each and every party, group, and gathering: clans of tall and handsome compass plant, cliques of dainty yellow coneflower and aloof vervain, clubs of quinine, and bashes of bergamot. But the best are the celebrations of prairie clover, where bees become giddy with excitement. After all, the purple flowers offers the region’s most refreshing fragrance. Imagine a pile of lemons and carrots. Now, while watching out for bunnies, run over it with an electric lawn mower. Ah, the sweet aroma.

The remainder of the preserve is predominantly green, yet features the aforementioned flowers and a handful of additions, including prairie coreopsis, butterfly weed, rattlesnake master, and the start of marsh blazing star and spotted Joe-Pye weed.

 

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (7/12=): The preserve has its share of flowers, but not nearly as many as the big shows further south. And there are lots of monarch butterflies! The brilliant orange blossoms of butterfly weed are the highlight of the black oak savanna while flowering spurge with its floating white sprays is the star of the sand prairie. Along the way, you should see black-eyed Susan, common milkweed, purple prairie clover, shrubby cinquefoil, the remaining Ohio spiderwort, and the occasional Cleland’s evening primrose.

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills (Unscouted. Last scouted on 7/9.): This preserve offers a beautiful expansive view that is best enjoyed at edges of daylight, when it’s now hot and sunny. Enjoy an array of flowers that flow along the vast rolling landscape of the prairie and fen, including the lavenders of wild bergamot, white and purple prairie clover, golden black-eyed Susan and yellow coneflower, pale purple coneflower, and mauve common milkweed that smells like a bunch of over-perfumed old ladies on Bingo night.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham (7/14+): 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. If you’re in the Markham area, it’s worth a trip into nature to clear your head. The most prominent flowers are wild quinine and rattlesnake master. There’s also some Culver’s root, golden black-eyed Susan and yellow coneflower, lavender wild bergamot, mauve common milkweed, pink marsh phlox, and ivory tuberous Indian plantain. In the water, look for the deep pinks of swamp milkweed and the gorgeous purple spikes of pickerel weed. And don’t forget to appreciate the oceans of grasses that wave in the warm summer winds.
NOTE: Under the summer sun, this prairie can feel hot and bright. For a more enjoyable time, visit in the morning or late-afternoon.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK: PURPLE PRAIRIE CLOVER 

 
 
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 honey bee flies over to purple prairie clover at Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve in Elgin. You can also find an abundance at Somme Prairie Grove and Shoe Factory Road Prairie, and in fewer numbers at Wolf Road Prairie, Gensburg Markham Prairie, and Illinois Beach Nature Preserve.*

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Purple Prairie Clover and its Remarkably Fresh Scent

Come to Bluff Spring Fen early on a July morning and you might experience a chromatic expanse of purple prairie clover.

As you can see here, a show of purple prairie clover at Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve can be dramatic. But not this year. Instead, head over to Somme Prairie Grove for a glorious display.*

 

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 with heads that resemble Tinker Toys, or molecular structures, plants you might find in Arizona or Texas. The plant gets its name because 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.*

 

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs fills with American Lotus. You can also see it from a distance at Hogwash Slough in Spears Woods.

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.

 

Butterfly Weed is Ending

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

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

Here at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, the bright orange flowers of butterfly weed makes a colorful statement.*

Here at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, the bright orange flowers of butterfly weed makes a colorful statement. You can find this plant at several high-quality preserves, including Bluff Spring Fen, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and Somme Prairie Grove.*

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

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, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

 

Leadplant is Fading

Here at Somme Prairie Grove, 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.*

Here at Somme Prairie Grove, 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.*

 

Somme Prairie Grove is Overflowing with Beauty and Biodiversity

The many flowers of oak savanna at Somme Prairie Grove sparkle brilliantly in the last light of day.*

On Wednesday, July 14, the many flowers of the oak savanna at Somme Prairie Grove sparkled brilliantly in the last light of day.*

 
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.*