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ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
09-16-2021

Posted by on 1:30 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT09-16-2021

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 16, 2021
(Fall Color Preview & Final Report for 2021)

Weekly Wildflower Report

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

 

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The 2021 Wildflower Scouting Season Has Come To An End

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

As for our followers, please share with us how our service has contributed to your life. We’d love to hear about your adventures! You can write a comment by in this blog post, our ChicagoNatureNOW Explorers Facebook group, or send me an email. And please share this website with others, and ask them to subscribe. Now that autumn is only days away, the blooming season has effectively ended in terms of new dramatic wildflower shows. Therefore, this post will be our final wildflower alert for the 2021 growing season. Below, I suggest where to find any remaining blooms and kaleidoscopic fall color in the weeks to come.


 

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

Even though the goldenrods and sunflowers are fading, the prairie is already displaying autumn colors in its foliage. And with the many asters and gentians that flower into October, the prairie becomes a beautiful mosaic of oranges, golds, reds, maroons, cyans, browns, and tans. In one small patch of prairie, it’s common to see more color than any autumn woodland. You’ll experience towering waves of red-stemmed grasses and the tawny, fluffy spikes of gayfeather glowing in the sunlight. Here’s a preview of what you can find in the scenic preserves and woodlands as they change into their autumn wardrobes: PRAIRIES TO VISIT THIS FALL:

  • Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois: Visit the golden sand prairie close to the lake using the trail to the east. I love this place, which is why it tops the list.
  • Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois: This preserve offers open expanses of woodland, wetland, and prairie that is my personal favorite preserve of the fall season. Click here for the location of the trailhead that goes west into the prairies.
  • Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois: This preserve is really a savanna, but it features many prairie plants that offer rich autumn color and texture. The many flowers and grasses that have brought us joy throughout the growing season are now performing their final show of the year.
  • Lake in the Hills Fen: Visit this vast preserve to experience the grand grassland expanse that runs to a distant horizon. Wow!
  • Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois: This prairie offers hundreds of species with a wonderful combination of color and texture. Walk (or drive) to the prairie house at the north end and view the prairie expanse from the deck.
  • Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin: This large prairie offers an array of changing colors, including blooms of fringed and prairie gentians that last through the end of September.
  • Theodore Stone Preserve: The seas of grasses are beautiful. There are two different prairies here: a mesic prairie on the west side of the preserve (near the main entrance) and a dolomite (limestone) prairie on the east side. There is also a woodland trail that offers some canopy color.
  • Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale, Illinois: This is a beautiful prairie very close to Chicago’s city limits with a sea of grasses.
  • Powderhorn Prairie: Experience the fall color of the prairie at the most biodiverse natural area within the city limits of Chicago.
  • Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Visit the prairie for tall expanses of grasses and colorful foliage from the forbs. And while you’re on your way in, stop under the trees to receive a hug from the gallant oaks.
  • Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest, Illinois: Contrary to the name, the preserve offers an expanse of prairie that looks great in the fall.
  • Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates, Illinois: Hike this hill prairie and the large grassland at its base.
  • Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois: This intimate remnant prairie is beautiful throughout the year. And because it’s quite small, your visits may be quite short, but always quite memorable.
  • Lockport Prairie in Lockport, Illinois: This prairie features a wonderful expanse of tall, waving grasses on a short out-and-back trail.

WOODLANDS TO VISIT THIS FALL:

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

 

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS:

HUMMINGBIRDS! The hummingbirds are here! You can find them buzzing about at many nature centers including: Sagawau CanyonPilcher Park (at the nature center and south of the greenhouse), and Little Red Schoolhouse.

ACROBATIC FERNS Miller Woods, Tolleston Dunes, Cowles Bog Trail, and Hoosier Prairie (all in northwestern Indiana) are leaping with gymnastic ferns that are beginning to change into their autumn color

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

Asters come in a variety of colors: white, pink, purple, and blue. The name comes from an Ancient Greek word for "star." You can find them in most prairies and savannas, and in some wetlands around the region. This is an image of New England aster, which is just one of the many species of aster that bloom at this time of year. Click here for a complete (pdf) list of local asters and goldenrods.

Asters come in a variety of colors: white, pink, purple, and blue. The name comes from an Ancient Greek word for “star.” You can find them in most prairies and savannas, and in some wetlands around the region. This is an image of New England aster, which is just one of the many species of aster that bloom at this time of year. Click here for a complete (pdf) list of local asters and goldenrods.

PHOTO SECTION

Bottle Gentians (through late September, possibly into October)

Bottle gentian (or closed gentian) is fully dependent on bumblebees for its survival. The petals of this unusual flower are effectively closed to other insects, but the strong bumblebee is able to muscle its way in through the tip. Late in the season, when fewer plants are blooming, bottle gentian relies on the slim pickings for pollination, hoping bumblebees won’t mind the extra effort.*

Bottle gentian (or closed gentian) is fully dependent on bumblebees for its survival. The petals of this unusual flower are effectively closed to other insects, but the strong bumblebee is able to muscle its way in through the tip. Late in the season, when fewer plants are blooming, bottle gentian relies on the slim pickings for pollination, hoping bumblebees won’t mind the extra effort.*

These are not flowers that fill the landscape, but they are sublime. Look closely and you’ll find them at Lake in the Hills FenWolf Road PrairieSomme Prairie Grove, Powderhorn Prairie, and Belmont Prairie. When I first set eyes upon these fading blooms of bottle gentian, I was taken aback, struck by an arrow through my heart. Instantly, I fell in love with the prettiest flowers I had ever seen. Maybe I was just having one of those days, but I was close to tears.*

Fringed Gentian (through late September, possibly into October)

Gorgeous fringed gentians bloom in September. However, the flowers are diurnal, meaning that the the blooms only open up with the sun and are closed at night and, sometimes, on cloudy days.*

Gorgeous fringed gentian blooms in September. However, the flowers are diurnal, meaning that the the blooms only open up with the sun and are closed at night and, sometimes, on cloudy days. You can find them at preserves like Bluff Spring Fen, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Chiwaukee Prairie.

The Tallgrass Prairie

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

Here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, big bluestem grass gives true meaning to the term “tallgrass prairie.” Find big bluestem at Belmont PrairieSomme Prairie GroveShoe Factory Road PrairieWolf Road PrairieFermilab PrairieGensburg Markham PrairieKickapoo PrairieSpears WoodsTheodore Stone Preserve, and other local prairies over the next several weeks.*

Grasses sparkle with dew in the morning prairie Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

The grasses of Canada wild rye and big bluestem sparkle with dew in the morning prairie at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

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

As a photographer, the grass called Canada wild rye is a favorite of mine. The flower heads resemble those of wheat or rye. Rabbits and deer like this plant for the taste of its young foliage. But the seed heads are much less appetizing. Each seed head is a sharp awn, a little spear that can easily puncture the mouths of deer and cause problems as it travels through their digestive tracts. The drooping heads beautifully capture the morning dew for everyone to see  and to feel as they swoosh to-and-fro across your body. They are the paintbrushes of the prairie. I photographed this perfect plume of Canada wild rye with my clothes soaked from my trek through the dew-drenched prairie. On this day, the landscape painted the artist.

Acrobatic Ferns

Royal ferns in the light fog of the savanna at Hoosier Prairie in Highland, Indiana

Royal fern spread across in the light foggy savanna at Hoosier Prairie in Schererville, Indiana.*

A forest of royal ferns thrives in a wetland that has formed at the base of a high dune.*

In the Cowles Bog Trail area, you’ll find many species of fern. Here, a forest of royal fern thrives in a wetland that has formed at the base of a high dune. And you can find more ferns at Miller Woods.*

 

Get Outdoors and Discover What Autumn Can Bring:

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, where the prairie meets the woodland, late-September grasses turn to gold.*

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, where the prairie meets the woodland, late-September grasses turn to gold.*

At Spears Woods, with the warm evening light falling on this October prairie, the tubular tops of blazing star burned with a golden glow; but not two months earlier, they blazed with purple passion. Autumn transformed the cylindrical inflorescence of hundreds of feathery purple flowers into a column of invisible seeds—invisible because what we see is not the seed but the achene, a dry fruit with a single seed hidden inside. On this plant, also known as gayfeather, each achene, by design, forms a downy tan plume that takes to the air to be scattered by the wind.

At Spears Woods, with the warm evening light falling on this October prairie, the tubular tops of blazing star burned with a golden glow; but not two months earlier, they blazed with purple passion.
Autumn transformed the cylindrical inflorescence of hundreds of feathery purple flowers into a column of invisible seeds—invisible because what we see is not the seed but the achene, a dry fruit with a single seed hidden inside. On this plant, also known as gayfeather, each achene, by design, forms a downy tan plume that takes to the air to be scattered by the wind.*

At Spears Woods, this ephemeral pond becomes a portal into an afternoon of autumn splendor.

At Spears Woods, this ephemeral pond becomes a portal into an afternoon of autumn splendor.*

Rare marram grass dominates the foredune along the shore of Lake Michigan at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.

Rare marram grass dominates the flavescent foredune along the shore of Lake Michigan at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, this radiant bush reaching out into the sand prairie is shrubby cinquefoil. In the summer, the plant is undramatic. Like a long, drawnout fireworks display, it releases its arsenal of flowers over a two- to three-month period as one flower explodes over here and another over there. But, in the fall, with foliage burning bright, shrubby cinquefoil goes all out, putting on one of the finest finales of any plant. There’s a lesson here. This fall, spare yourself the stiff neck from staring up at the trees and visit the prairie where you’ll find more color than in any woodland.

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, this radiant bush reaching out into the sand prairie is shrubby cinquefoil. In the summer, the plant is undramatic. Like a long, drawn-out fireworks display, it releases its arsenal of flowers over a two- to three-month period as one flower explodes over here and another over there. But, in the fall, with foliage burning bright, shrubby cinquefoil goes all out, putting on one of the finest finales of any plant. There’s a lesson here. This fall, spare yourself the stiff neck from staring up at the trees and visit the prairie where you’ll find more color than in any woodland.*

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, wise oaks in this savanna spread their branches wide to allow the sun’s rays to nourish the diverse community of plants below. These enlightened trees have learned that sharing the light with life at the bottom ensures not only their survival but also the prospect of reaching new heights.

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve , wise oaks in this savanna spread their branches wide to allow the sun’s rays to nourish the diverse community of plants below. These enlightened trees have learned that sharing the light with life at the bottom ensures not only their survival but also the prospect of reaching new heights.*

In the fall at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, don’t just stare up at the trees. Look down. There’s a bounty of color at your feet. Here, a black oak leaf landed amidst a bed of pasture rose with leaves more vibrant than any tree in this savanna.

In the fall at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve , don’t just stare up at the trees. Look down. There’s a bounty of color at your feet. Here, a black oak leaf landed amidst a bed of pasture rose with leaves more vibrant than any tree in this savanna.*

Acrobatic cinnamon ferns take hold in the soggy ground of Cowles Bog, which is not a bog at all but, rather, a wetland known as a fen.

Acrobatic cinnamon fern take hold in the soggy ground of Cowles Bog Trail, which is not a bog at all but, rather, a wetland known as a fen.*

As you hike the boardwalk and the narrow sections of the Cowles Bog Trail, you may find yourself glancing down to watch your step. But in the fall, remember to raise your eyes to view the scenery in the skies.*

As you hike the boardwalk and the narrow sections of the Cowles Bog Trail, you may find yourself glancing down to watch your step. But in the fall, remember to raise your eyes to view the scenery in the skies.*

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, the glorious autumn canopy of white oak bring dramatic color to the open woodland.

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, the glorious autumn *canopy of white oak bring dramatic color to the open woodland.

In the fall at Black Partridge Woods, I head to the high vantage point of these bluffs to immerse myself in the intoxicating colors and textures of the tiered foliage. Down below, the creek bed is dry. But when the flow returns, fallen leaves will ride the colorful currents that reflect the radiant dome.*

In the fall at Black Partridge Woods, I head to the high vantage point of these bluffs to immerse myself in the intoxicating colors and textures of the tiered foliage. Down below, the creek bed is dry. But when the flow returns, fallen leaves will ride the colorful currents that reflect the radiant dome.*

Compared to the golden maples of autumn, oaks can be a bit understated. Here, at Bluff Spring Fen, this bur oak, when placed in the spotlight, certainly puts on a show.

Compared to the golden maples of autumn, oaks can be a bit understated. Here at Bluff Spring Fen, this bur oak, when placed in the spotlight, certainly puts on a show.*

Visit Raccoon Grove in the fall for its golden maples and picturesque stream.

Visit Raccoon Grove in the fall for its golden maples and picturesque stream.*

At Waterfall Glen in Darien, Illinois, autumn is spectacular along Sawmill Creek.

Every October, I am drawn to the banks of Sawmill Creek at Waterfall Glen for the annual celebration of golden maples. On this particular day, the stream turned to a trickle, its rocky bed transformed into the staging area for a colorful, yet peculiar, parade—one that waits for rainfall in order to proceed.*

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

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—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
09-09-2021

Posted by on 2:38 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT09-09-2021

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
September 9, 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

 

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

September is The Month of Gold. The final glorious flower show of the growing season is at peak bloom with brilliant goldenrods and smiling sunflowers, including the sky-high blooms of sawtooth sunflower. Last year, I found a thirteen-footer at Wolf Road Prairie. So bring your tape measure!

The grasses are beautiful, too, as they begin to don their fall colors, including the tall grasses of Indian and big bluestem, chest-high Canada wild rye, waist-high little bluestem, and knee-high prairie dropseed with plumes that smell like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. While we’re on the topic of smelling things, this is when the rich, brown teardrop seeds of foxglove beardtongue are at their finest. They smell exactly like barf! But do not fear, not far along the trail you can chase it down with a wonderful life-affirming whiff of the leaves and seeds of mountain mint or wild bergamot.

IMPORTANT NOTE: When visiting a preserve before ten o’clock in the morning, wear rain gear or you could end up soaked to the skin from the dew. A pioneer of the prairie once remarked, “Walking through a dewy stand of big bluestem is like jumpin’ in the creek.” And I can vouch for that.

Goldenrod is blooming everywhere, right now, but don’t worry about your allergies because goldenrod is NOT responsible for triggering them. Yes, you read that right. The pollen of goldenrod is so heavy that it drops to the ground. Therefore, it can’t float through air to be inhaled. The real culprit is common ragweed that blooms at the same time. This is also when many of the asters begin to flower, which marks the end of the blooming season. There are so many asters and goldenrods that it’s hard to identify them all. Click here for a complete (pdf) list of local asters and goldenrods. And, right now, you can see white snakeroot, the deadly plant that killed thousands in the 1800’s. You can smell it and touch it, BUT DON’T EAT IT! Watch this video to learn more:

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

SUMMARY OF THE BEST WILDFLOWER SHOWS:

Lake in the Hills Fen is a wonder, right now, with its grand panoramic vistas of gold.

Wolf Road Prairie is putting on its spectacular annual show of sawtooth sunflower. And on Saturday, September 11, the Save the Prairie Society is holding its Annual Old Fashioned Prairie Fest. Bring the kids! And if I’m lucky (and you are not), I may see you there.

Spears Woods is providing fantastic experiences with lots of sawtooth sunflower, long-bracted tickseed sunflower, and goldenrod. The walk through the prairies, woodlands, and wetlands is probably the finest in the region.

Somme Prairie Grove is aflower in gold and in the gentians of cream, stiff, prairie, and bottle.

Bluff Spring Fen is featuring a vast array of wildflowers in a serene and magical setting.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie is bursting with showy goldenrod and flavescent tall dropseed grass.

Middlefork Savanna is blooming in colorful abundance with over twenty native species.

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

 

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.

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills (9/5=): Panoramic Beauty! This preserve offers a dramatic panoramic view that is best appreciated at edges of daylight, when it’s not hot and sunny. Enjoy an array of flowers that flow along the vast rolling terrain of the prairie and fen. The landscape is awash in the golden hues of late summer combined with a great show of rough blazing star and oceans of tall grasses that wave in the warm prairie winds. Along your journey, you’ll experience the goldenrods of showy goldenrod, stiff, tall, and field along with throngs of skyward sawtooth sunflower and the occasional sprays of tall coreopsis and rosinweed. You’ll also find the pinks of obedient plant, spotted Joe-Pye weed, pasture thistle. And along the fens you may find grass-of-Parnassus, great blue lobelia, and swamp betony. White goldenrod is blooming on a gravelly kame near the entrance. However, it looks nothing like goldenrod and more like an aster. NOTE: If you visit in the morning, wear waterproof pants and shoes, otherwise you’ll probably get soaked from the dew.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs (9/8=): An adventure! I love this preserve for its varied habitats, topography, and personalities. And it’s big enough to fill a good part of your day with hiking. The golds of September are now on display in the prairies as sawtooth sunflower and its shorter counterpart, long-bracted tickseed sunflower, are joined by tall coreopsis, stiff goldenrod, and others of that ilk. There’s a beautiful display of ivory long-bracted tickseed sunflower and false aster along the trail in a low section of the westmost prairie. The latter likes its roots a little wet. There are some other flowers that should catch your eye along the way, including the ivories of tall boneset and the purplish hues of pasture thistle, ironweed, New England aster, and slender false foxglove. The most prominent grasses are big bluestem and Indian grass. They sway in the prairie winds amongst a subtle color palette of plants that have exited the main stage. The woodlands have a bit of a sparkle, with elm-leaved goldenrod, white snakeroot, and a variety of asters. But soon, when the cool autumn air fully ignites their foliage, they will return for an encore performance. NOTE: Theodore Stone Preserve and Wolf Road Prairie are not far away.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (8/30+): Golden! On Saturday, September 11, the Save the Prairie Society is holding its Annual Old Fashioned Prairie Fest. The prairie is at peak bloom, aflame with gold thanks to a sparkling show of sawtooth sunflower and goldenrods, like tall and stiff goldenrod. You’ll find a variety of silvery bonesets, yellow tall coreopsis and rosinweed, pink obedient plant, and the purples of ironweed. You’ll also find a smattering of multi-colored asters and gentians. The late-summer grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass soften the sharp textures and add to the mix of gold and silver. NOTE: Theodore Stone Preserve and Spears Woods are not far away.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (9/7=): Peaceful! There are many species of flowers across the preserve, which is why I think it’ll be among the top preserves to visit. Begin your hike at the main trailhead that winds you under the trees and along the kames of the oak savanna, around the sunny prairie, and through the main fen. Enter the oak savanna from the kiosk to find white snakeroot, various asters and goldenrods, tall boneset, and large flowered false foxglove, and the whimsical bottlebrush grass. At the troll bridge, where friendly trolls have helped to restore the adjacent wetland habitat, look to your right for a fading expanse of purple spotted Joe-Pye weed, great blue lobelia, swamp thistlesawtooth sunflower, New England and other asters. Continuing under the protection of oaks, on your right at the base of the kame, you’ll see another wonderful show of golden wingstem and a little bit of cutleaf coneflower. When you reach the big kame, take the narrow trail on your left to the top. 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. Go back down from whence you “kame,” turn left on the main trail, and then make a right as you reach the end of the wooded savanna. Once under the sun, you’ll find fading spindly tall coreopsis, stiff goldenrod, lots of tall goldenrod, and the flowering tassels of big bluestem, and beautiful flourishes of Canada wild rye, As the trail veers left to the east, you’ll again pass through sprawling stands of blooming big bluestem and into a gravelly area. (This is exactly the kind of place where you’ll get drenched to the skin in morning dew, so wear your rain gear.) Ahead to your right is the “transplant kame.” In 1990, 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. (Read more about it here and 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. On that kame, you’ll find some showy goldenrod and stiff goldenrod alongside many plants changing into their autumn wardrobes. Make a left at the end of the kame to descend into the beautiful bowl of the fen where you’ll discover goldenrods, swamp betonyflat-topped aster, swamp thistle, Kalm’s lobelia, fringed gentian, and great blue lobelia. 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 by the willows! Cross the boardwalk to find some spotted Joe-Pye weed and late boneset. 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 switchback kame where a small bloom of purple rough blazing star awaits. As the trails steers left and down, you’ll see some of the same species as before. Continue left across the creek where you’ll find goldenrod and fringed gentian. And finally, follow the path to the left of the big kame and back around to the right where you’ll be led back to the parking lot.
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.

Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest (Unscouted. Last scouted on 8/30.): We didn’t scout here this week, but it should still be looking great because last week, there were more than twenty blooming species. This is a large preserve with wide trails made for hiking and biking. Many plants are blooming gold, including the goldenrods (grass-leaved, stiff, tall, etc.) alongside the composite blooms of rosinweedcup plant, sawtooth sunflower, compass plant, tall coreopsis, and prairie dock. Highlights of pearl can be seen in tall boneset. The fluffy tops of ironweed add some purple. And there’s much more to see: obedient plant, lots of wild bergamot, and New England aster. In the wetter areas, you’ll find the deep-pink blooms of spotted Joe-Pye weed and the spectacular blossoms of halberd-leaved rose mallow.

 

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates (9/9=): A gem! This Illinois Nature Preserve is located inside the fence, where the color is dominated by a large display of the flamboyant showy goldenrod. Atop the hill, amidst a sea of short flavescent grass known as tall dropseed, you’ll find some remaining pink blooms of obedient plant, a smattering of purple rough blazing star, and the start of New England aster. As you pan across the landscape, you also find the golden blooms tall coreopsis and the goldenrods of stiff and field. The woodland is overflowing with yellow and whites, mostly comprised of tall goldenrod and tall boneset along with cup plant and tall coreopsis. Outside the fence, you’ll also find an abundance of blooms and seas of late-summer-toned grasses. NOTE: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (9/1=): Resplendent! The woodland surrounding the savanna is alive with yellow-petaled sweet coneflower, sneezeweed, and large flowered false foxglove alongside alabaster blooms of boneset, browning plumes of sweet Joe-Pye weed, purple buttons of ironweed, and the perfectly named bottlebrush grass. Under the open sky, golden rays of towering sawtooth sunflower steal the show, costarring prairie dock and tall coreopsis. Closer to the ground are dozens of other flowers that may take your breath away with their sparkling textures and colors. These include the elegant cream gentian, the blues of bottle, stiff and prairie gentian, various goldenrods, the pinks of obedient plant, the purples of pasture thistle and rough and savanna blazing star, in addition to multi-colored asters. You’ll find waves of tall grasses that will douse you with early morning dew. Then there’s prairie dropseed, with its floppy stringy hairdos and fragrant plumes that smell like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. But watch your step. They’re very 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 (8/30=): Always pretty! Even though the annual show of the purple rough blazing star did not arrive this year, this is still the best preserve around. Period. Go to appreciate the beautiful and varied scenery, a stroll along the sandy lakeshore, and the many late-season flowers and grasses, including western sunflowershowy goldenrod, large flowered false foxglove, and the feathery Indian grass.

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins (Unscouted. Last scouted on 8/18.): The preserve wasn’t scouted, so I’ll expect you’ll find fading rough blazing star blooming in the gravel on the eastern prairie. And I also expect a sea of grasses and a prominent mix of yellow and white flowers. The beautiful flowing grasses include Indian grass, big bluestem, little bluestem, switch grass, Canada wild rye, and side-oats grama. The yellow hues are made up of the dainty blooms of sawtooth sunflower, tall coreopsisrosinweed, and a few different goldenrods. And you’re bound to find lots of white boneset. There are probably some asters blooming in the western prairie. NOTE: Spears Woods and Wolf Road Prairie are not too far away.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham (Unscouted.) NOTE: 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. We didn’t scout this preserve, but we’d expect to find golden displays of stiff and , tall coreopsis, long-bracted tickseed sunflower, sawtooth sunflower, and sneezeweed. Alabaster displays of tall boneset should be growing in several locations, while slender false foxglove, pasture thistle, ironweed, rough blazing star, and big bluestem add splashes of color and texture to the prairie canvas. NOTE: Under the summer sun, this prairie can feel hot and bright. For a more enjoyable time, visit in the morning or late-afternoon.

 

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS:

HUMMINGBIRDS!
The hummingbirds are here! You can find them buzzing about at many nature centers including: Sagawau CanyonPilcher Park (at the nature center and south of the greenhouse), and Little Red Schoolhouse.

ACROBATIC FERNS
Miller Woods, Tolleston Dunes, Cowles Bog Trail, and Hoosier Prairie (all in northwestern Indiana) are leaping with gymnastic ferns that are beginning to change into their autumn colors. 

SEE A SUMMER SUNSET
Saganashkee Slough in Palos Hills: Sensational for sunsets, as our celestial star—a bright, burning brass ball—slowly sinks in the sky to start a sultry summer eve.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK: SAWTOOTH SUNFLOWER

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

At Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois, towering sawtooth sunflower blooms in fields of endless gold in one of the last dramatic displays of the summer season You can also discover this impressive plant an most of our prairies.

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Wolf Road Prairie

At Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois, golden rays of sawtooth sunflowers tower above the September grassland.

At Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois, golden rays of sawtooth sunflowers tower above the September grassland.*

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

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

 

Bluff Spring Fen

Morning arrives at the flowery seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve in Elgin, Illinois.

At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, the morning light arrives at the edge of a flowery seep where spotted Joe-Pye weed thrives.*

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.*

 

Shoe Factory Road Prairie

Atop this gravel hill prairie, a late-summer bloom of showy goldenrod overlooks the grassland below.

Just the other day, I made this picture from atop the hill at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, where a late-summer bloom of showy goldenrod overlooked the grassland below.

Rough blazing star colors the foggy hill prairie at Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.*

Rough blazing star colors the foggy hill prairie at Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.*

 

Lake in the Hills Fen

This expansive landscape features showy goldenrod as it glows in the morning light at Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills, Illinois.

This expansive landscape features showy goldenrod as it glows in the morning light at Lake in the Hills Fen.

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

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

 

Stiff Goldenrod

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

 

Fringed Gentian

Gorgeous fringed gentians bloom in September. However, the flowers are diurnal, meaning that the the blooms only open up with the sun and are closed at night and, sometimes, on cloudy days.*

Gorgeous fringed gentian blooms in September. However, the flowers are diurnal, meaning that the the blooms only open up with the sun and are closed at night and, sometimes, on cloudy days. You can find them at preserves like Bluff Spring Fen, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Chiwaukee Prairie, and Lake in the Hills Fen.

 

Bottle Gentian

 

Bottle gentian (or closed gentian) is fully dependent on bumblebees for its survival. The petals of this unusual flower are effectively closed to other insects, but the strong bumblebee is able to muscle its way in through the tip. Late in the season, when fewer plants are blooming, bottle gentian relies on the slim pickings for pollination, hoping bumblebees won’t mind the extra effort.*

Bottle gentian (or closed gentian) is fully dependent on bumblebees for its survival. The petals of this unusual flower are effectively closed to other insects, but the strong bumblebee is able to muscle its way in through the tip. Late in the season, when fewer plants are blooming, bottle gentian relies on the slim pickings for pollination, hoping bumblebees won’t mind the extra effort.*

In September at Powderhorn Marsh & Prairie, sawtooth sunflowers rise up to 12 feet into the air while rare bottle gentians are just fine growing near the ground.*

Blue bottle gentian survives under the shadow of the dense late-summer prairie, where plants like this sawtooth sunflower can tower twelve feet into the air.*

 

 

Asters, Asters, Asters!

New England asters

Asters come in a variety of colors: white, pink, purple, and blue. The name comes from an Ancient Greek word for “star.” You can find them in most prairies and savannas, and in some wetlands around the region. This is an image of New England aster, which is just one of the many species of aster that bloom at this time of year. Click here for a complete (pdf) list of local asters and goldenrods.

 

Western Sunflower

In a shining spot under the open canopy of the black oaks, western sunflowers smile in the late-summer sun at Pembroke Savanna.*

The beautiful western sunflower likes dry sandy or gravelly soil and sunny skies. The stems display a beautiful shade of red, while the flowers are a bit diminutive, unlike the picture above where the lens magnified the flower a bit much. On this shining spot under the open canopy of the black oaks, western sunflowers smile in the September sun at Pembroke Savanna. You can also find them at Shoe Factory Road Prairie and Illinois Beach Nature Preserve.

 

Swamp & Halberd-Leaved Rose Mallow

The beautiful blooms of swamp rose mallow is a plant that can be found in August around some of Chicago's wetlands.*

This is the big beautiful bloom of swamp rose mallow. It can be found in August around some of Chicago’s wetlands along with its cousin halberd-leaved rose mallow.*

 

Rough Blazing Star

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

This year, rough blazing star doesn’t seem to be putting on shows like this. But it does during most years. In this picture, rough blazing star glows in the morning light at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

 

Grasses of the Season

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

As a photographer, the grass called Canada wild rye is a favorite of mine. The flower heads resemble those of wheat or rye. Rabbits and deer like this plant for the taste of its young foliage. But the seed heads are much less appetizing. Each seed head is a sharp awn, a little spear that can easily puncture the mouths of deer and cause problems as it travels through their digestive tracts. The drooping heads beautifully capture the morning dew for everyone to see  and to feel as they swoosh to-and-fro across your body. They are the paintbrushes of the prairie. I photographed this perfect plume of Canada wild rye with my clothes soaked from my trek through the dew-drenched prairie. On this day, the landscape painted the artist.

Grasses sparkle with dew in the morning prairie Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

The grasses of Canada wild rye and big bluestem sparkle with dew in the morning prairie Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

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 yellow flowers of big bluestem grass.

Miniature flowers delicately hang from the turkey-footed tassels of big bluestem grass.*

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

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

In the dolomite prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois, a single stalk of prairie dock rises above the fog and the purples of rough blazing star and little bluestem grass.*

A single stalk of prairie dock rises above the fog and sea of little bluestem and rough blazing star at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois *

 

Marram Grass

Rare marram grass dominates the foredune along the shore of Lake Michigan at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

Rare marram grass dominates the flavescent foredune along the shore of Lake Michigan at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

 

Acrobatic Ferns

Royal ferns in the light fog of the savanna at Hoosier Prairie in Highland, Indiana

Royal fern spread across in the light foggy savanna at Hoosier Prairie in Schererville, Indiana.*

A forest of royal ferns thrives in a wetland that has formed at the base of a high dune.*

In the Cowles Bog Trail area, you’ll find many species of fern. Here, a forest of royal fern thrives in a wetland that has formed at the base of a high dune. And you can find more ferns at Miller Woods.*

 

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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ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
09-02-2021

Posted by on 9:29 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT09-02-2021

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
September 2, 2021
Labor Day Edition

“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:

September is The Month of Gold. And it’s living up to its moniker at the many prairies and savannas that are ablaze with various goldenrods and sunflowers, including the understated western sunflower (our Plant of the Week). The biggest show across the region is being staged by skyward stands of sawtooth sunflower. And when I say “biggest,” I mean, both abundant and very tall. Last year, I found a thirteen-footer at Wolf Road Prairie. So bring your tape measure!

The grasses are beautiful, too, right now, including the tall grasses of Indian and big bluestem, chest-high Canada wild rye, waste-high little bluestem, and knee-high prairie dropseed with plumes that smell like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. While we’re on the topic of smelling things, this is when the rich, brown teardrop seeds of foxglove beardtongue are at their finest. They smell exactly like barf! But do not fear, not far along the trail you can chase it down with a wonderful life-affirming whiff of mountain mint or wild bergamot.

IMPORTANT NOTE: When visiting a preserve before ten o’clock in the morning, wear rain gear or could end up soaked to the skin from the dew. A pioneer of the prairie once remarked, “Walking through a dewy stand of big bluestem is like jumpin’ in the creek.” And I can vouch for that.

This is also the time when purple torches of rough blazing star set the prairie aflame, but this is an unusual year for the plant. Based on my proprietary phenological database, without which ChicagoNatureNOW! could not exist, the numbers of this blazing star species are way down. This means that the big shows at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Pembroke Savanna, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, and Bluff Spring Fen will have to wait until next year (or the year after that).

Wolf Road Prairie is putting on its spectacular annual show of sawtooth sunflower. And on Saturday, September 11, the Save the Prairie Society is holding its Annual Old Fashioned Prairie Fest. Bring the kids! And if I’m lucky (and you are not), I may see you there.

Spears Woods is providing fantastic experiences with lots of sawtooth sunflower, long-bracted tickseed sunflower, and goldenrod. The walk through the prairies, woodlands, and wetlands is probably the finest in the region.

Somme Prairie Grove is aflower in gold and in the gentians of cream, stiff, prairie, and bottle.

Bluff Spring Fen is featuring a vast array of wildflowers in a serene and magical setting.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie is bursting with showy goldenrod and flavescent tall dropseed grass.

Middlefork Savanna is blooming in colorful abundance with over twenty native species.

And if you’re up in McHenry County, consider experiencing the golden panoramic vistas at Lake in the Hills Fen.

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

 

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 (9/1): An adventure! I love this preserve for its varied habitats, topography, and personalities. And it’s big enough to fill a good part of your day with hiking. The golds of September are now on display in the prairies as sawtooth sunflower and its shorter counterpart, long-bracted tickseed sunflower, are joined by tall coreopsis, grass-leaved goldenrod and others of that ilk. There’s a beautiful display of ivory long-bracted tickseed sunflower and false aster along the trail in a low section of the westmost prairie. The latter likes its roots a little wet. There are some other flowers that should catch your eye along the way, including the ivories of tall boneset, the pinks of obedient plant, and the purplish hues of pasture thistle, ironweed, New England aster, and slender false foxglove. The most prominent grasses are big bluestem and Indian grass. They sway in the prairie winds amongst a subtle color palette of plants that have exited the main stage. But soon, when the cool autumn air fully ignites their foliage, they will return for an encore performance. NOTE: Theodore Stone Preserve and Wolf Road Prairie are not far away.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (8/30+): Golden! The prairie is aflame with gold thanks to a sparkling show of sawtooth sunflower and goldenrods, like tall and stiff goldenrod. You’ll find a variety of silvery bonesets, yellow tall coreopsis and rosinweed, pink obedient plant, and the purples of ironweed and rough blazing star. The late-summer grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass soften the sharp textures and add to the mix of gold and silver. NOTE: Theodore Stone Preserve and Spears Woods are not far away.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (9/1=): Resplendent! The woodland surrounding the savanna is alive with yellow-petaled sweet coneflower, sneezeweed, and large flowered false foxglove alongside alabaster blooms of boneset, browning plumes of sweet Joe-Pye weed, purple buttons of ironweed, and the perfectly named bottlebrush grass. Under the open sky, golden rays of towering sawtooth sunflower steal the show, costarring prairie dock and tall coreopsis. Closer to the ground are dozens of other flowers that may take your breath away with their sparkling textures and colors. These include the elegant cream gentian, the blues of bottle, stiff and prairie gentian, various goldenrods, the pinks of obedient plant, the purples of pasture thistle and rough and savanna blazing star, in addition to multi-colored asters. You’ll find waves of tall grasses that will douse you with early morning dew. Then there there’s prairie dropseed, with its floppy stringy hairdos and fragrant plumes that smell like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. But watch your step. They’re very 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. 

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (Unscouted. Last scouted on 8/21.): Peaceful! We did not scout this preserve, this week, but here are my predictions based on last week’s report: There are many species of flowers across the preserve, which is why I think it’ll be among the top preserves to visit. Begin your hike at the main trailhead that winds you under the trees and along the kames of the oak savanna, around the sunny prairie, and through the main fen. Enter the oak savanna from the kiosk to find browning mauve plumes of sweet Joe-Pye weed along with pale Indian plantain, 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 breathtaking expanse of purple spotted Joe-Pye weed with golden cutleaf coneflower and a sprinkling of tall ivory cowbane. Continuing under the protection of oaks, on your right at the base of the kame, you’ll see another wonderful show of golden cutleaf coneflower and wingstem. The two flowers can look the same, but the leaves are quite different. Like the name suggests, cutleaf coneflower has a deeply lobed or “clawed” shape, whereas wingstem features traditional foliage. I can usually identify them from a distance just by spying the leaves. Wingstem, as you can imagine, has a winged stem, with a ridge that extends along its length. But it’s hard to see unless you’re up close. When you reach the big kame, take the narrow trail on your left to the top. 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. Go back down from whence you “kame,” turn left on the main trail, and then make a right as you reach the end of the wooded savanna. Once under the sun, you’ll find fading wild bergamot, spindly tall coreopsis, creamy tuberous Indian plantain, golden rosinweed, stiff goldenrod, the flowering tassels of big bluestem, beautiful flourishes of Canada wild rye, and a “forest” of fading compass plant in the southwest corner. To experience the best skin exfoliation service that Chicago nature has to offer, twist and turn through a tangle of delightfully bristly compass plant stalks. Talk about the best arm-scratcher ever! As the trail veers left to the east, you’ll again pass through sprawling stands of blooming big bluestem and into a gravelly area. (This is exactly the kind of place where you’ll get drenched to the skin in morning dew, so wear your rain gear.) Ahead to your right is the “transplant kame.” In 1990, 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. (Read more about it here and 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. Make a left at the end of the kame to descend into the bowl of the fen where you’ll discover goldenrods, rosinweed, flat-topped aster, swamp thistle, and a few great blue lobelia. 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 by the willows! Cross the boardwalk to find some spotted Joe-Pye weed and late boneset. 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 switchback kame where a bloom of purple rough blazing star awaits. As the trails steers left and down, you’ll see some of the same species as before. 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.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates (8/31+): A gem! This Illinois Nature Preserve is located inside the fence, where the color is dominated by a large display of the flamboyant showy goldenrod. Atop the hill, amidst a sea of short flavescent grass known as tall dropseed, you’ll find pink blooms of obedient plant, some remaining pink blooms of cylindrical blazing star, and a smattering of purple rough blazing star. As you pan across the landscape, you also find the golden blooms tall coreopsis and the goldenrods of stiff and field. The woodland is overflowing with yellow and whites, mostly comprised of tall goldenrod and tall boneset along with cup plant and tall coreopsis. Outside the fence, you’ll also find an abundance of blooms and seas of late-summer-toned grasses. NOTE: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.

Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest (8/30+): There is a lot of color, this week, as more than twenty native plant species are aflower. This is a large preserve with wide trails made for hiking and biking. Many plants are blooming gold, including the goldenrods (grass-leaved, stiff, tall, etc.) alongside the composite blooms of rosinweedcup plant, sawtooth sunflower, compass plant, tall coreopsis, and prairie dock. Highlights of pearl can be seen in tall boneset. The fluffy tops of ironweed add some purple. And there’s much more to see: obedient plant, lots of wild bergamot, and New England aster. In the wetter areas, you’ll find the deep-pink blooms of spotted Joe-Pye weed and the spectacular blossoms of halberd-leaved rose mallow.

 

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills (Unscouted. Last visited on 8/22.): Panoramic Beauty! This preserve offers a dramatic panoramic view that is best appreciated at edges of daylight, when it’s not hot and sunny. Enjoy an array of flowers that flow along the vast rolling terrain of the prairie and fen. The landscape is awash in the golden hues of late summer, mostly coming from the many goldenrods and the composites of tall coreopsis, rosinweed, and prairie dock. Oceans of tall grasses wave in the warm prairie winds amidst an abundance of blossoms, including the pinks of obedient plant, spotted Joe-Pye weed, pasture thistle and rough blazing star. Next to the the fens you may find grass-of-Parnassus, great blue lobelia, and swamp betony. White goldenrod is blooming on a gravelly kame near the entrance. However, it looks nothing like goldenrod and more like an aster. 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 (8/30=): Even though the annual show of the purple rough blazing star did not arrive this year, this is still the best preserve around. Period. Go to appreciate the beautiful and varied scenery, a stroll along the sandy lakeshore, and the many late-season flowers and grasses, including western sunflowershowy goldenrod, large flowered false foxglove, and the feathery Indian grass.

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins (Unscouted. Last scouted on 8/18.): The preserve wasn’t scouted, so I’ll expect you’ll find fading rough blazing star blooming in the gravel on the eastern prairie. And I also expect a sea of grasses and a prominent mix of yellow and white flowers. The beautiful flowing grasses include Indian grass, big bluestem, little bluestem, switch grass, Canada wild rye, and side-oats grama. The yellow hues are made up of the dainty blooms of sawtooth sunflower, tall coreopsisrosinweed, and a few different goldenrods. And you’re bound to find lots of white boneset. The occasional deep pinks of ironweed should still be around to add a little extra sumpin’ sumpin’ to the panorama. NOTE: Spears Woods and Wolf Road Prairie are not too far away.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham (Unscouted.) NOTE: 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. We didn’t scout this preserve, but we’d expect to find golden displays of stiff and grass-leaved goldenrod, tall coreopsis, long-bracted tickseed sunflower, sawtooth sunflower, and sneezeweed. Alabaster displays of tall boneset should be growing in several locations, while slender false foxglove, pasture thistle, ironweed, rough blazing star, and big bluestem add splashes of color and texture to the prairie canvas. 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: WESTERN SUNFLOWER

In a shining spot under the open canopy of the black oaks, western sunflowers smile in the late-summer sun at Pembroke Savanna.*

The beautiful western sunflower likes dry sandy or gravelly soil and sunny skies. The stems display a beautiful shade of red, while the flowers are a bit diminutive, unlike the picture above where the lens magnified the flower a bit much. On this shining spot under the open canopy of the black oaks, western sunflowers smile in the September sun at Pembroke Savanna. You can also find them at Shoe Factory Road Prairie and Illinois Beach Nature Preserve.

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Wolf Road Prairie

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

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

 

Bluff Spring Fen

Morning arrives at the flowery seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve in Elgin, Illinois.

At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, the morning light arrives at the edge of a flowery seep where spotted Joe-Pye weed thrives.*

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

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

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

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

 

Shoe Factory Road Prairie

Atop this gravel hill prairie, a late-summer bloom of showy goldenrod overlooks the grassland below.

Just the other day, I made this picture from atop the hill at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, where a late-summer bloom of showy goldenrod overlooked the grassland below.

 

Lake in the Hills Fen

This expansive landscape features showy goldenrod as it glows in the morning light at Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills, Illinois.

This expansive landscape features showy goldenrod as it glows in the morning light at Lake in the Hills Fen.

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

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

 

Sawtooth Sunflower

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

At Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois, towering sawtooth sunflower blooms in fields of endless gold in one of the last dramatic displays of the summer season You can also discover this impressive plant an most of our prairies.

 

Stiff Goldenrod

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

 

Obedient Plant

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

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

 

Bottle Gentian

Bottle gentian (or closed gentian) is fully dependent on bumblebees for its survival. The petals of this unusual flower are effectively closed to other insects, but the strong bumblebee is able to muscle its way in through the tip. Late in the season, when fewer plants are blooming, bottle gentian relies on the slim pickings for pollination, hoping bumblebees won’t mind the extra effort.*

Bottle gentian (or closed gentian) is fully dependent on bumblebees for its survival. The petals of this unusual flower are effectively closed to other insects, but the strong bumblebee is able to muscle its way in through the tip. Late in the season, when fewer plants are blooming, bottle gentian relies on the slim pickings for pollination, hoping bumblebees won’t mind the extra effort.*

In September at Powderhorn Marsh & Prairie, sawtooth sunflowers rise up to 12 feet into the air while rare bottle gentians are just fine growing near the ground.*

Blue bottle gentian survives under the shadow of the dense late-summer prairie, where plants like this sawtooth sunflower can tower twelve feet into the air.*

 

Swamp & Halberd-Leaved Rose Mallow

The beautiful blooms of swamp rose mallow is a plant that can be found in August around some of Chicago's wetlands.*

This is the big beautiful bloom of swamp rose mallow. It can be found in August around some of Chicago’s wetlands along with its cousin halberd-leaved rose mallow.*

 

Rough Blazing Star

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

This year, rough blazing star doesn’t seem to be putting on shows like this. But it does during most years. In this picture, rough blazing star glows in the morning light at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

 

Grasses of the Season

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

As a photographer, the grass called Canada wild rye is a favorite of mine. The flower heads resemble those of wheat or rye. Rabbits and deer like this plant for the taste of its young foliage. But the seed heads are much less appetizing. Each seed head is a sharp awn, a little spear that can easily puncture the mouths of deer and cause problems as it travels through their digestive tracts. The drooping heads beautifully capture the morning dew for everyone to see  and to feel as they swoosh to-and-fro across your body. They are the paintbrushes of the prairie. I photographed this perfect plume of Canada wild rye with my clothes soaked from my trek through the dew-drenched prairie. On this day, the landscape painted the artist.

Grasses sparkle with dew in the morning prairie Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

The grasses of Canada wild rye and big bluestem sparkle with dew in the morning prairie Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

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 yellow flowers of big bluestem grass.

Miniature flowers delicately hang from the turkey-footed tassels of big bluestem grass.*

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

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

In the dolomite prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois, a single stalk of prairie dock rises above the fog and the purples of rough blazing star and little bluestem grass.*

A single stalk of prairie dock rises above the fog and sea of little bluestem and rough blazing star at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois *

 

 

Marram Grass

Rare marram grass dominates the foredune along the shore of Lake Michigan at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

Rare marram grass dominates the flavescent foredune along the shore of Lake Michigan at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

 

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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—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
08-26-2021

Posted by on 4:54 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT08-26-2021

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
August 26, 2021

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

 

Chicago’s Best Weekend Walks & Outdoor Getaways!

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

The late-summer blooms are have emerged with the pinks and purples of obedient plant, cylindrical blazing star  and rough blazing star alongside the yellows of tall coreopsis, rosinweed, sunflowers, and goldenrods. And we can’t forget the many species of grasses from which the tallgrass prairie gets its name, including Indian grass, big bluestem, little bluestem, switch grass, side-oats grama, and Canada wild rye (our photogenic Plant of the Week, especially when covered in dew). 

Wolf Road Prairie still offers its forests of prairie dock alongside tall coreopsis, goldenrod, and kooky expanses of rattlesnake master.

Bluff Spring Fen is featuring at least three dramatic shows amidst a wide array of flowers in a serene and magical setting.

Spears Woods is looking great with new blooms of sunflowers and goldenrods. The walk through the prairies, woodlands, and wetlands is probably the best experience in the region. This preserve also provides great trails far away from traffic, varied habitats, and dramatic vistas. And while you’re there, catch a final 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 you visit a preserve in the morning, wear rain gear because you could end up soaked to the skin from the dew. A pioneer of the prairie once remarked, “Walking through a dewy stand of big bluestem is like jumpin’ in the creek.” And I can vouch for that.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie is bursting with obedient plant, rough blazing star, and many other flowers. Somme Prairie Grove is aflower in the woodland and the savanna. Illinois Beach Nature Preserve (and probably Pembroke Savanna) is starting to show the purple hues of rough blazing star, which is often a great show. 

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, Spears Woods, Somme Prairie Grove, Middlefork Savanna, and Lake in the Hills Fen.

 

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 (8/24+): Most of the action is taking place in the southern portion of the preserve, but the northern half is beginning to ramp up towards its spectacular annual show of sawtooth sunflower. The spectacular soaring jungles of golden prairie dock, again, steal the show. The oak savanna is alive with fading blooms of woodland sunflower alongside tawny fluffs of sweet Joe-Pye weed and bristly sprays of bottlebrush grass. The prairie is overflowing with all manner of flowers, including incredible forests of golden flowering prairie dock and compass plant, with tall coreopsis, rosinweed, sawtooth sunflower, and goldenrods, all contributing a matrix of yellow to the palette. The white bursts of flowering spurge add a beautiful lift of contrast to the prairie bouquet as playful scenes of rattlesnake master bring their usual delight. Royal puffs of ironweed, pink trumpets of obedient plant, and the occasional purple rough blazing star add beautifully to the mix of gold and silver, as the late-summer grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass soften the sharp textures. NOTE: Theodore Stone Preserve and Spears Woods are not too far away.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (8/21=): There are many species in flowers across the preserve, which is why I say it ties for first place with Wolf Road Prairie. Depending on your perspective, it could be #1. Begin your hike at the main trailhead that winds you under the trees and along the kames of the oak savanna, around the sunny prairie, and through the main fen. Enter the oak savanna from the kiosk to find browning mauve plumes of sweet Joe-Pye weed along with pale Indian plantain, starry campion, brown-eyed Susan, and whimsical bottlebrush grass. At the troll bridge, where friendly trolls have helped to restore the adjacent wetland habitat, look to your right for a breathtaking expanse of purple spotted Joe-Pye weed with golden cutleaf coneflower and a sprinkling of tall ivory cowbane. Continuing under the protection of oaks, on your right at the base of the kame, you’ll see another wonderful show of golden cutleaf coneflower and wingstem. The two flowers can look the same, but the leaves are quite different. Like the name suggests, cutleaf coneflower has a deeply lobed or “clawed” shape, whereas wingstem features traditional foliage. I can usually tell from a distance just by spying the leaves. Wingstem, as you can imagine, has a winged stem, with a ridge that extends along its length. But it’s hard to see unless you’re up close. When you reach the big kame, take the narrow trail on your left to the top. 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. At your feet, there’s pink cylindrical blazing star at peak bloom, a few obedient plant, and many fading pink balls of nodding wild onion. Go back down from whence you “kame,” turn left on the main trail, and then make a right as you reach the end of the wooded savanna. Once under the sun, you’ll find fading wild bergamot, spindly tall coreopsis, creamy tuberous Indian plantain, pearly flowering spurge, golden rosinweed, the start of stiff goldenrod, the flowering tassels of big bluestem, beautiful flourishes of Canada wild rye, and a “forest” of compass plant in the southwest corner. To experience the best skin exfoliation service that Chicago nature has to offer, twist and turn through a tangle of delightfully bristly compass plant stalks. Talk about the best arm-scratcher ever! As the trail veers left to the east, you’ll again pass through sprawling stands of blooming big bluestem and into a gravelly area. (This is exactly the kind of place where you’ll get drenched to the skin in morning dew, so wear your rain gear.) Ahead to your right is the “transplant kame.” In 1990, 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. (Read more about it here and 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. Make a left at the end of the kame to descend into the bowl of the fen where you’ll discover goldenrods, rosinweed, flat-topped aster, swamp thistle, and a few great blue lobelia. 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 by the willows! Cross the boardwalk to find some spotted Joe-Pye weed, and boneset. 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 switchback kame where a peak bloom cylindrical blazing star awaits alongside the start of purple rough blazing star. As the trails steers left and down, you’ll see some of the same species as before. 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 (8/24=): This preserve is looking great, right now. The woodland surrounding the savanna was making a statement with yellow-petaled sweet coneflower, woodland sunflower, sneezeweed, and large flowered false foxglove alongside alabaster boneset, starry campion, browning plumes of sweet Joe-Pye weed, purple buttons of ironweed, and the perfectly named bottlebrush grass. Under the open sky, golden rays of prairie dock, compass plant, tall coreopsis, and sawtooth sunflower reach for the clouds. Closer to the ground are scores of other flowers that might take your breath away with sparkling textures and colors that include: the elegant cream gentian and blue bottle gentian, white filigrees of flowering spurge, different goldenrods, pinks of obedient plant, and purples of pasture thistle and rough and savanna blazing star. If you run into the yellow-flowered rosinweed, run your fingers over the stiff foliage and you’ll instantly understand the name. You’ll fine waves of tall grasses that will douse you with early morning dew. Then there there’s prairie dropseed, with its floppy stringy hairdos and fragrant plumes that smell like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. But watch your step. They’re very 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. 

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates (Unscouted. Last scouted on 8/17.): This Illinois Nature Preserve is located inside the fence, where the color is dominated by large patches of pink with a mix of yellow and white. Last week, the star of the show was obedient plant with its pink hinged blooms that flourish in large colonies. But this week, its similarly colored costar of cylindrical blazing star is growing in large numbers and are more widely distributed. Still, don’t ignore the new purple blossoms of rough blazing star, which should also be putting on a big show. A smattering of fading nodding wild onion adds flashes of ivory and salmon, while flowering spurge provides a brilliant sparkle. As you pan across the landscape, the golden blooms of the Silphium genus dominate the yellows with prairie dock and compass plant towering overhead and rough-leaved rosinweed grounded below. A handful of tall coreopsis also contributes to the golden show alongside the goldenrods of stiff and field that are just showing their buttery buds. Western sunflower is starting, too. The woodland is flushed with the yellows of woodland sunflower, cup plant, tall coreopsis, and prairie dock. Outside the fence, you’ll also find an abundance of blooms and seas of late-summer-toned grasses. NOTE: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.

Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest (8/24+): This is a large preserve with wide trails made for hiking and biking. Many dramatic plants are blooming in large numbers, providing colorful vistas of yellow and gold from the goldenrods (grass-leaved, stiff, tall, etc.), rosinweed, and the towering composite blooms of cup plant, sawtooth sunflower, tall coreopsis, and prairie dock. Highlights of pearl can be seen in flowering spurge and tall boneset alongside the fading blooms of rattlesnake master and mountain mint. The dramatic purples of prairie blazing star are gone, but those of ironweed add visual excitement. And there’s much more to see: obedient plant, lots of wild bergamot, and the start of New England aster. In the wetter areas, you’ll find the deep-pink blooms of spotted Joe-Pye weed and the spectacular blossoms of halberd-leaved rose mallow.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs (Unscouted. Last scouted on 8/18.): This preserve is just beautiful at this time of year, with various blooms and habitats that you can experience while you’re hiking about. Based on what I saw last week, here are my interpolations for this week:
In the prairie, the most conspicuous wildflowers come from rosinweed, tall coreopsis, grass-leaved and other goldenrods, and the start of sawtooth and long-bracted tickseed sunflower. These two sunflowers often provide dramatic shows in September. You’ll also find fading blooms of flowering spurge, woodland sunflower, compass plant, and prairie dock alongside the towering grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass. Occasional hints of purple come from pasture thistle and ironweed. The lush woodland features the looming brown tufts of sweet Joe-Pye weed. And the magnificent aquatic American lotus flower may have reached the end of its bloom at the north end of Hogwash Slough. Its cream-colored 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 are not too far away.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (8/17+): Often at the very end of August into the first week of September, the preserve puts on a beautiful show of the purple rough blazing star amidst sprays of western sunflower, flowering spurge, the glorious showy goldenrod, and the feathery Indian grass. However, as we wait for the big performance to begin, flowering spurge is already blooming beautifully across the preserve as it’s costars are still just entering the stage. You can now experience the the round trumpeted yellow blossom of large flowered false foxglove, the remaining blooms of purple prairie clover, some grass-leaved and tall goldenrod, and shrubby cinquefoil.

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills (8/22+.): This preserve offers a dramatic panoramic 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 as the landscape is awash in the golden hues of late summer, mostly coming from the goldenrods with the help of tall coreopsis, rosinweed, and prairie dock. And oceans of tall grasses wave in the warm prairie winds. As you walk the high and low trails, you’ll find an abundance of blossoms, including the pinks of obedient plant, cylindrical blazing star, and spotted Joe-Pye weed along with the purples of pasture thistle and rough blazing star. Next to the the fens you may find grass-of-Parnassus, great blue lobelia, and swamp betony. White goldenrod is blooming on a gravelly kame near the entrance. However, it looks nothing like goldenrod and more like an aster. NOTE: If you visit in the morning, wear waterproof pants and shoes, otherwise you’ll probably get soaked from the dew. 

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins (Unscouted. Last scouted on 8/18.): I expect you’ll find rough blazing star blooming in the gravel on the eastern prairie. And I also expect the sea of grasses and the mix of yellow flowers to be prominent. Experience the beautiful flowing grassland that includes many species: Indian grass, big bluestem, little bluestem, switch grass, Canada wild rye, and side-oats grama. The yellow hues are made up of the dainty blooms of tall coreopsis, prairie dock, along with compass plant, rosinweed, sweet coneflower, and a few different goldenrods. The occasional deep pinks of ironweed add a little extra sumpin’ sumpin’ to the panorama. And you’ll also find lots of rattlesnake master along with fading wild quinine and mountain mint. Look for the beautiful pink 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 (Unscouted.) Though we didn’t scout it, you should definitely give it a try, if you’re in the area. NOTE: 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. NOTE: Under the summer sun, this prairie can feel hot and bright. For a more enjoyable time, visit in the morning or late-afternoon.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (8/24-): Visit to experience the flavescent prairie with tall grasses, a sprinkling of gold from compass plant and rosinweed, and a smattering of purple from rough blazing star and pasture thistle. I was surprised to see that rough blazing star was already in the middle to the end of its bloom. That’s quite early based on my past observations. But nature is nature.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK: CANADA WILD RYE

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

As a photographer, the grass called Canada wild rye is a favorite of mine. The flower heads resemble those of wheat or rye. Rabbits and deer like this plant for the taste of its young foliage. But the seed heads are much less appetizing. Each seed head is a sharp awn, a little spear that can easily puncture the mouths of deer and cause problems as it travels through their digestive tracts. The drooping heads beautifully capture the morning dew for everyone to see  and to feel as they swoosh to-and-fro across your body. They are the paintbrushes of the prairie. I photographed this perfect plume of Canada wild rye with my clothes soaked from my trek through the dew-drenched prairie. On this day, the landscape painted the artist.

 
 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Wolf Road Prairie: A State of Glorious Chaos

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

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

 

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.*

 

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 and Indian grass take in the view.*

 

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

In late summer, early flowering spurge and purple rough blazing star blanket the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.

In late summer, early flowering spurge and purple rough blazing star blanket the black oak savanna 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.*

 

Obedient Plant

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

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

 

Spotted Joe-Pye Weed

Morning arrives at the flowery seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve in Elgin, Illinois.

At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, the morning light arrives at the edge of a flowery seep where spotted Joe-Pye weed thrives.*

 

Cylindrical Blazing Star

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 (Liatris cylindracea if you care) likes dry sunny conditions. I often find it growing in gravel or moist sand. The plant only stands two feet tall, which is short for a late-summer bloomer. But it makes up for its above-ground stature by possessing the deepest roots of any prairie or savanna species, reaching down as far as fifteen feet. In August, cylindrical blazing star blooms, here, in the sand savanna at Indiana Dunes National Park and in the gravelly prairies of Bluff Spring Fen and Shoe Factory Road Prairie. *

 

Swamp & Halberd-Leaved Rose Mallow

The beautiful blooms of swamp rose mallow is a plant that can be found in August around some of Chicago's wetlands.*

This is the big beautiful bloom of swamp rose mallow. It can be found in August around some of Chicago’s wetlands along with its cousin halberd-leaved rose mallow.*

 

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.*

 

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

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.*

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.*

 

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.*

 

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.*

 

Grasses of the Season

Grasses sparkle with dew in the morning prairie Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

The grasses of Canada wild rye and big bluestem sparkle with dew in the morning prairie Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

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 yellow flowers of big bluestem grass.

Miniature flowers delicately hang from the turkey-footed tassels of big bluestem grass.*

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

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

In the dolomite prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois, a single stalk of prairie dock rises above the fog and the purples of rough blazing star and little bluestem grass.*

A single stalk of prairie dock rises above the fog and sea of little bluestem and rough blazing star at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois *

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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—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
08-19-2021

Posted by on 10:02 am in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT08-19-2021

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
August 19, 2021

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

 

Chicago’s Best Weekend Walks & Outdoor Getaways!

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After ten years of me pestering Cook County Forest Preserves and other agencies and groups for a proper trail and trailhead at Theodore Stone Preserve, it’s finally been done. Now, you’ll find a kiosk beside a mowed trail that leads to a steel bridge at the threshold of the preserve. Thanks to John McCabe with FPDCC and steward George Birmingham.

 

 

 

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

The late-summer blooms are beginning to emerge with blooms of pinks and purples of obedient plant (our Plant of the Week),  cylindrical blazing star  and rough blazing star. Sparkling flowering spurge replaces the fading whites of wild quinine. And prairie dock, tall coreopsis, rosinweed, and goldenrod more than make up for any lack of yellow.

Wolf Road Prairie tops our list this week for its forests of prairie dock that blows us away amidst the many other blooms, like the kooky expanses of rattlesnake master.

Bluff Spring Fen ties for first place. Currently, you’ll find at least three dramatic shows amidst a wide array of flowers in a serene and magical setting.

Spears Woods is looking great and the walk through the prairies, woodlands, and wetlands is probably the best experience in the region. This preserve also provides great trails far away from traffic, varied habitats, and dramatic vistas. And while you’re there, catch a final 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 you visit a preserve in the morning, wear rain gear because you could end up soaked to the skin from the dew.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie is bursting with obedient plant and many other flowers.  Somme Prairie Grove is putting on shows in the woodland and the savanna. And Belmont Prairie is a beautiful little dream.

SKINCARE TIP: To experience the best skin exfoliation Chicago nature has to offer, twist and turn through a tangle of delightfully bristly compass plant stalks. Talk about the best arm-scratcher ever! The best spa I’ve found is in the northwest corner of Bluff Spring Fen.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve (and probably Pembroke Savanna, which was not scouted) is sparkling with alabaster florets of flowering spurge.

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, Spears Woods, Somme Prairie Grove, and Lake in the Hills Fen (currently closed for trail repairs).

 

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 (8/18=): Most of the action is taking place in the southern portion of the preserve, which includes both oak savanna and grassland, where the spectacular soaring jungles of golden prairie dock, again, steal the week’s show. The savanna is alive with fading blooms of woodland sunflower alongside browning 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, with tall coreopsis, rosinweed, and goldenrods, all contributing a matrix of yellow to the palette. The white bursts of flowering spurge add a beautiful lift of contrast to the prairie bouquet as the cauliflower heads of wild quinine turn brown while playful scenes of rattlesnake master bring their usual delight. Royal puffs of ironweed, white-pink balls of nodding wild onion, pink trumpets of obedient plant, and the occasional rough blazing star add beautifully to the mix of silver and gold, as the late-summer grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass soften the sharp textures. NOTE: Theodore Stone Preserve and Spears Woods are not too far away.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (8/16=): There are many species in flowers across the preserve, which is why I say it ties for first place with Wolf Road Prairie. Depending on your perspective, it could be #1. 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 along with pale Indian plantain, starry campion, brown-eyed Susan, and whimsical bottlebrush grass. At the troll bridge, where friendly trolls have helped to restore the adjacent wetland habitat, look to your right for a breathtaking expanse of purple spotted Joe-Pye weed with golden cutleaf coneflower and a sprinkling of tall ivory cowbane. Continuing under the protection of oaks, on your right at the base of the kame, you’ll see another wonderful show of golden cutleaf coneflower and wingstem. The two flowers can look the same, but the leaves are quite different. Like the name suggests, cutleaf coneflower has a deeply lobed or “clawed” shape, whereas wingstem features traditional foliage. I can usually tell from a distance just by spying the leaves. Wingstem, as you can imagine, has a winged stem, with a ridge that extends along its length. But it’s hard to see unless you’re up close. When you reach the big kame, take the narrow trail on your left to the top. 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. At your feet, there’s pink cylindrical blazing star at peak bloom, a few obedient plant, many drooping pink balls of nodding wild onion, and the last of whorled milkweed. Go back down from whence you “kame,” turn left on the main trail, and then make a right as you reach the end of the wooded savanna. Once under the sun, you’ll find wild bergamot, tall coreopsis, creamy tuberous Indian plantain, pearly flowering spurge, golden rosinweed, the buds of stiff goldenrod, the flowering tassels of big bluestem, beautiful flourishes of Canada wild rye, and a “forest” of compass plant in the southwest corner. To experience the best skin exfoliation service that Chicago nature has to offer, twist and turn through a tangle of delightfully bristly compass plant stalks. Talk about the best arm-scratcher ever! As the trail veers left to the east, you’ll again pass through sprawling stands of blooming big bluestem and into a gravelly area. (This is exactly the kind of place where you’ll get drenched to the skin in morning dew. So wear your rain gear.) Ahead to your right is the “transplant kame.” In 1990, 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. (Read more about it here and 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. Make a left at the end of the kame to descend into the bowl of the fen where you’ll discover goldenrods, rosinweed, flat-topped aster, swamp thistle, and a few great blue lobelia. 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 by the willows! Cross the boardwalk to find some spotted Joe-Pye weed, and boneset. 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 switchback kame where a peak bloom cylindrical blazing star awaits alongside the many white buds of soon-to-bloom rough blazing star. As the trails steers left and down, you’ll see some of the same species as before. 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 (Unscouted. Last scouted on 8/10.): 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, donate, or purchase my nationally acclaimed book from my website that celebrates Chicagoland’s natural wonders. It’s safe to assume that this preserve is looking great, right now. Last week, the woodland surrounding the savanna was making a strong statement with glorious displays 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 lofty pale Indian plantain, the yellow-petaled 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, compass plant, and tall coreopsis reach for the clouds. Closer to the ground, we found scores of other flowers that took our  breath away, with sparkling textures and colors that include the following species: swamp milkweed, rattlesnake master, white filigrees of flowering spurge and mountain mint, the goldenrods of early and grass-leaved, fluffs of nodding wild onion, and the pinks of obedient plant. If you run into the yellow-flowered rosinweed, run your fingers over the stiff foliage and you’ll instantly understand the name. The floppy stringy hairdos of prairie dropseed, with plumes that smell like slightly burnt buttered popcorn, are growing everywhere under the sun. But watch your step. Trust me. They are very 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. 

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates (8/17+): This Illinois Nature Preserve is located inside the fence, where the color is dominated by large patches of pink with a mix of yellow and white. The star of this week’s show is obedient plant with its pink hinged blooms that flourish in large colonies. However its similarly colored costar of cylindrical blazing star is growing in large numbers, though more widely distributed. A smattering of nodding wild onion adds flashes of ivory and salmon, while flowering spurge provides a brilliant sparkle. As you pan across the landscape, the golden blooms of the Silphium genus dominate the yellows with prairie dock and compass plant towering overhead and rough-leaved rosinweed grounded below. A handful of tall coreopsis also contributes to the golden show alongside the goldenrods of stiff and field that are just showing their buttery buds. Western sunflower is starting, too, along with the purple blossoms of rough blazing star, which will be putting on the next big show. The woodland is flushed with the yellows of woodland sunflower, cup plant, tall coreopsis, and prairie dock. Outside the fence, you’ll also find an abundance of blooms and seas of late-summer-toned grasses. NOTE: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs (8/18+): This preserve is just beautiful at this time of year, with various blooms and habitats that you can experience while you’re hiking about. In the prairie, the most conspicuous wildflowers come from flowering spurge, rosinweed, tall coreopsis, woodland sunflower, grass-leaved goldenrod, and prairie dock amidst the gorgeous seas of grasses that include big bluestem and Indian grass. Compass plant is still flowering and we’re now beginning to see the start of long-bracted tickseed sunflower and the skyward blooms of sawtooth sunflower, both of which will provide dramatic shows in the coming weeks. And the purples of the occasional ironweed have replaced the fading torches of prairie blazing star. The woodland is alive with the browning tufts of sweet Joe-Pye weed. And the magnificent aquatic American lotus flower is ending its bloom at the north end of Hogwash Slough. Its cream-colored 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.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (Unscouted. Last scouted on 8/10.): I expect the flowers to be similar to when I scouted it last week. During that visit, the remnant prairie was toned in yellow and fading whites with the most prominent show being staged by towering golden blooms of compass plant. You should still find the yellow rays of rough-leaved rosinweed, the whimsical rattlesnake master, sparkling sprays of flowering spurge. And cream gentian, rough blazing star, and pasture thistle were just starting to flower.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (8/17+): Often at the very end of August into the first week of September, the preserve puts on a beautiful show of the purple rough blazing star amidst sprays of western sunflower, flowering spurge, the glorious showy goldenrod, and the feathery Indian grass. However, as we wait for the big performance to begin, flowering spurge is already blooming beautifully across the preserve as it’s costars are still just entering the stage. You can now experience the the round trumpeted yellow blossom of large flowered false foxglove, the remaining blooms of purple prairie clover, the lovely scented whorled milkweed, some grass-leaved and early goldenrod, and shrubby cinquefoil.

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins (8/18=): The sea of grasses and the mix of yellow flowers is the story of the week. Experience the beautiful flowing grassland that includes many species: Indian grass, big bluestem, little bluestem, switch grass, Canada wild rye, and side oats grama. The yellow hues are made up of the dainty blooms of tall coreopsis, prairie dock, compass plant, rosinweed, sweet coneflower, and goldenrod. The occasional deep pinks of ironweed add a little extra sumpin’ sumpin’ to the panorama. And you’ll also find lots of rattlesnake master along with fading wild quinine and mountain mint. Look for the beautiful pink 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 (Unscouted.) Though we didn’t scout it, you should definitely give it a try, if you’re in the area. NOTE: 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. 
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 (8/17): PRESERVE IS CLOSED FOR TRAIL REPAIRS.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK: OBEDIENT PLANT

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

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

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Wolf Road Prairie: A State of Glorious Chaos

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

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

 

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.*

 

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 and Indian grass take in the view.*

 

Cylindrical Blazing Star

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 (Liatris cylindracea if you care) likes dry sunny conditions. I often find it growing in gravel or moist sand. The plant only stands two feet tall, which is short for a late-summer bloomer. But it makes up for its above-ground stature by possessing the deepest roots of any prairie or savanna species, reaching down as far as fifteen feet. In August, cylindrical blazing star blooms, here, in the sand savanna at Indiana Dunes National Park and in the gravelly prairies of Bluff Spring Fen and Shoe Factory Road Prairie. *

 

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

In late summer, early flowering spurge and purple rough blazing star blanket the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.

In late summer, early flowering spurge and purple rough blazing star blanket the black oak savanna 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.*

 

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.*

 

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.*

 

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

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.*

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.*

 

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.*