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ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
09-23-2022

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ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT 09-23-2022

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 23, 2022
(Fall Color Preview & Final Forecast of the Year)

Weekly Wildflower Report

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

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

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

Find peace by getting out into nature!
Break from your screens to experience
magnificent flower shows
at our showcase preserves.

 

 

The Wildflower Blooming Season Has Come To An End

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 in this blog post 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 2022 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 expansive 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 are 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

PHOTO SECTION

Asters mark 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.*

 

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

The Tallgrass Prairie

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

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

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 spreads out 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.

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

—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
09-16-2022

Posted by on 12:01 am in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT 09-16-2022

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
September 16, 2022

“Weekly Wildflower Forecasts Featuring
Chicago’s Best Weekend Getaways & Nature Walks”

 

Summer Nature Walks & Outdoor Getaways!

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

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

 

Find peace by getting out into nature!
Break from your screens to experience
magnificent flower shows
at our showcase preserves.

NEED THE LATEST BLOOMING NEWS, NOT JUST A PREDICTION?
THEN HELP US CROWDSOURCE IT!

This FREE ChicagoNatureNOW! wildflower forecast is a prediction of the flowers that may be blooming during this week of the year. It’s driven by my one-of-a-kind proprietary database of local blooming events that I began compiling in 2003. But Mother Nature is mysterious. She follows her own secret schedule. Blooming dates can vary widely. For some of our followers, these weekly predictions will be enough. However, if you want to be rewarded with the latest news about what’s blooming where, then you must help us crowdsource that information by joining our ChicagoNatureNOW! Explorers crowdsourcing community. There’s no monetary cost to become a ChicagoNatureNOW! Explorer, but in return for this valuable news, you must share what you find at our showcase preserves on our private ChicagoNatureNOW! Explorers Facebook group. Just take a few pictures with your smartphone and tell us what you found. Due to the size of the group, everyone receives a lot even though each person only contributes a little. In other words, you’ll receive much more than you give. And the group is also a place to learn and ask questions about nature. CLICK HERE TO REAP THE BENEFITS OF JOINING OUR CROWDSOURCING TEAM OF EXPLORERS.

 

WILDFLOWER FORECAST & HIGHLIGHTS to help you plan your outdoor adventures into Chicago nature:

September is “The Month of Gold” around Chicago, as sunflowers and goldenrods fill our prairies and oak savannas alongside tall grasses that take on rich autumnal tones. And the start of the month also brings breathtaking purple performances of rough blazing star. To learn exactly what’s happening right now, we require that you contribute to our vibrant crowdsourcing community. To insure that you don’t miss out on these magnificent blooms, click here to learn about becoming an Explorer. But nature isn’t just about flowers. It’s about the experience. Explore and discover a preserve from the list below. Be open to nature’s unexpected gifts, whether it be a colorful, awe-inspiring bloom, the mysterious squeak of two rubbing trees mimicking the cry of a baby animal, or the life-affirming odor of skunk cabbage. All of these things will open up your life to a world of wonder and intrigue.

This is often peak time to experience The Month of Gold. Goldenrods and sunflowers radiate across Chicago’s prairies and savannas. Spectacular shows of towering sawtooth sunflower are likely taking place at Wolf Road Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Spears Woods, and Lake in the Hills Fen.

The big purple performances of rough blazing star may still be happening at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Lake in the Hills Fen, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and Pembroke SavannaOf course, the goldenrods are blooming everywhere around Chicago. But the best display is probably taking place at the panoramic Lake in the Hills Fen.

This is also the moment to experience the beautiful and prominent grasses of our prairies and oak savannas, including big bluestemIndian grass, side oats grama, little bluestem, Canada wild rye, and prairie dropseed. Indian grass has feather duster plumes with miniature yellow flowers. Gensburg-Markham Prairie and Theodore Stone Preserve are particularly beautiful with their flowing seas of grasses.

TIP: 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 light, 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.

As summer comes to a close, the large and conspicuous plants are stealing the show, which is why you’ll have to look carefully to find the gems hiding at your feet. In particular, September is also the season of gentians: cream, bottle, prairie, stiff, and fringed gentian, our Plant of the Week. You can find one or more species flowering at many of our preserves, including  Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Lake in the Hills Fen, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and Belmont Prairie.

Spears Woods features wildflower shows in its prairies, woodlands, and wetlands. This preserve also provides great trails far away from traffic, with varied habitats, and dramatic vistas.

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 crick.” And I can vouch for that.

Goldenrod is blooming everywhere, 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 to what was called “milk sickness,” including Mary Lincoln, mother to Abraham. You can smell it and touch it, JUST 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!

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

 

SUMMER WILDFLOWER GETAWAYS AROUND CHICAGO:

I’ve ranked the preserves on this week’s list based on the information predicted by my one-of-a-kind propriety database of wildflowers blooming events, 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 make it to the top-rated preserves.

LIKELY, THIS WEEK’S BEST CHOICES (“GO!”):

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: Spectacular! The prairie should be covered in an ocean of gold. Normally, I’d have you park at the kiosk along 31st Street on the south end. But to best immerse yourself into the deep sea of gold is to follow the narrow southbound trail located behind the prairie house on Constitution Avenue at the north end of the preserve. Quite quickly, the trail immerses you in swaying waves of towering sawtooth sunflower. Take your tape measure or a child on your shoulders to find the tallest one. The scientific literature states that they can grow as high as twelve feet. But I’ve found thirteen-footers here! That’s taller than two of me. (See picture below.) Large stands of tall boneset represent the most dominant display of white. Adding to the golds are flowers of tall coreopsis, some remaining prairie dock and rosinweed, and various species of goldenrod that include stiff, tall, grass-leaved, field, plus elm-leaved under the trees. Take note of the bob hairdos of prairie dropseed and its feather duster plume that smells like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. And appreciate the warm hues of the coming season with the turkey-footed tassels of big bluestem and the flowering feathery plumes of Indian grass. Along your hike to the south end, you’ll experience cream gentian, bottle gentian, obedient plant, pasture thistle, rough blazing star, ironweed, and the soft rusty flower heads of round-headed bush clover. The oak savanna at the south end offers goldenrod, bottlebrush grass, and the occasional ironweed. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Spears Woods are located close by.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs: An adventure! This week is probably this year’s last chance to experience the sea of sawtooth sunflower in the prairie’s undulating terrain.  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 should now be on full display in the prairies, as sawtooth sunflower and its shorter red-stemmed counterpart, long-bracted tickseed sunflower, are joined by tall coreopsis, stiff goldenrod and others of that ilk. There are beautiful displays of ivory false aster and tall boneset along with the purplish hues of pasture thistle, ironweed, New England aster, and slender false foxglove. The turkey-foot tassels of big bluestem and feathered plumes of Indian grass fill the prairie with early tones of autumn. They sway in the prairie winds amongst a subtle color palette of plants that have exited the main stage. While the ivory Tinker Toy shapes of rattlesnake master and the cauliflower-heads of wild quinine have browned, they still maintain their whimsical nature. The white button flower heads of mountain mint don’t have many flowers left, but they still retain their stimulating scent. The woodlands have a bit of a sparkle, with elm-leaved goldenrod, white snakeroot, and a variety of asters. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Wolf Road Prairie is not too far away.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion: Wilderness! This preserve is wild and beautiful and full of unexpected surprises. And that’s why you should visit. You should find various asters aflower along with goldenrods and any remaining blooms of rough blazing star, western sunflower, large flowered false foxglove, and flowering spurge flowering in the savanna. And in the sunny open expanse towards the beach, you’ll find the final blooms of rough blazing star, western sunflower, flowering spurge, beach wormwood, white goldenrod, showy goldenrod, field goldenrod, and shrubby cinquefoil all amidst a sandy landscape of Indian grass, sand reed, little bluestem, marram grass, and a sprawling groundcover of creeping juniper and bearberry. And keep your eyes open for the intoxicating blossoms of fringed gentian. Note: Consider visiting Chiwaukee Prairie while you’re already in the area. Note: Consider visiting Chiwaukee Prairie while you’re already in the area.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: A gem! This Illinois Nature Preserve is located atop the hill inside the fence, where you’ll often find grand displays of showy goldenrod along with its cousins stiff and field goldenrod. Adding to the golden mix are tall coreopsis, western sunflower, and prairie dock. And you should still see some purple spikes of rough blazing star. I simply love the sea of short curving grass known as tall dropseed. The subtle, yet gorgeous, round-headed bush clover is showing off its fuzzy rusty head. And then there’s fading ivory displays of white goldenrod, which looks nothing like goldenrod and more like an aster. And search for bottle gentian hiding in the grasses. The savanna often overflows with yellow and white, mostly comprised of tall goldenrod, tall coreopsis, and tall boneset. From the overlook atop the hill, soak up the colors and textures of the vast gold and auburn vista beyond the fence, where the celebration continues. Venturing out into that panorama, you’ll pass large expanses of sawtooth sunflower, a profusion of goldenrods, plus tall coreopsis amidst the tawny grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass, and browning rattlesnake master and wild quinine. Note: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills: Panoramic beauty! This preserve offers a dramatic panoramic view that is best enjoyed at edges of daylight, when it’s not hot and sunny. Enjoy the array of flowers that flow along the vast rolling landscape of the prairie and fen. On the high ground, dramatic shows of rough blazing star often take center stage in waves of purple.  Also take note of the golden hues of late summer exuded by the many goldenrods including Riddell’s, tall, field, showy, and grass-leaved plus the sunflower-like blooms of tall coreopsis and vast colonies of sawtooth sunflower. Oceans of tall grasses wave in the warm prairie winds, including flowering, feathery Indian grass, turkey-foot tasseled big bluestem, and the breathtaking reddening little bluestem. White goldenrod may still be blooming on a gravelly kame near the entrance. The plant looks nothing like goldenrod and more like a white aster. Next to the the fens you may find grass-of-Parnassus, great blue lobelia, shrubby cinquefoil, the cream, bottle and fringed gentians, and spotted Joe-Pye weed that also grows in abundance in most of the wet areas. Along your way, you’ll also notice a significant amount of ivory tall boneset. And you might find a small forest of prairie dock along the far southern trail. When you enter the preserve through the zig-zag opening, consider taking a left and hiking the short looping trail that ends right back at the entrance. Then take the longer trail (making a right at the entrance) that takes the high ground into the southern section of the fen and all the way to “Barbara’s Bench.” This memorial bench pays tribute to the late Barbara Wilson, who dedicated much of her life to the stewardship and protection of this preserve, and to her favorite area of the preserve. In 2004, Barb escorted me to a spot that’s overlooks the seep of a hanging fen that she described as “nirvana” and the “holiest of holy.” NOTE: If you visit in the morning, wear waterproof pants and shoes, otherwise you’ll likely get soaked to the skin with the dew.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: Resplendent! Somme Prairie Grove is known for the simultaneous blooms of many species. And that’s what you’ll find, right now. The best blooms are happening under the sun with beautiful expanses of sawtooth sunflower alongside tall coreopsis, goldenrods, obedient plant, savanna blazing star, and many asters that are just starting (see list below). You also find several beautiful gentians: cream gentian, bottle gentian, stiff gentian, and prairie gentian. The gold continues under the trees with displays of sweet coneflower and brown-eyed Susan mixed with rich purples of Missouri ironweed and spotted Joe-Pye weed. You’ll also find great blue lobelia, white turtlehead, savanna blazing star, and the deadly white snakeroot (watch video above). As is common during the late-summer months, you’ll travel through tunnels of big bluestem grass and Indian grass, which is probably the reason for the misnomer “tallgrass prairie.” It’s a misnomer because most species in a prairie are actually forbs (flowering plants). Still, when the first settlers travelled from the forests of the east, the towering grasses of Illinois would have been an unexpected obstacle. The floppy stringy hairdos of prairie dropseed is growing everywhere under the sun, but watch your step. It’s very easy to trip over. Spend a moment to inhale dropseed‘s feather duster. It smells like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. Finally, don’t miss the dramatic rising of rattlesnake master “skeletons” in the open prairie. During the summer, it’s safe to touch their prickly flower heads. But right now, they’re extremely sharp and will probably leave one of its bony seeds in your finger.
Here’s a list of asters that you can find at Somme Prairie Grove:
In the shade: Drummond’s aster, Short’s aster, and Calico aster (aka side-flowering aster)
Open woods: forked aster
Under the sun: sky blue aster, smooth blue aster, flat-topped aster, and New England aster

NOTE: The trails are narrow and often a little overgrown. So watch your step. If you visit in the morning, wear rain gear or the plants will drench you with dew.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park: Paradise! This black oak/sand savanna may still be putting on its finest performance of the season that can be described as purple with splashes of gold and white. The spectacular purple spikes of rough blazing star are the star of the show with a glowing cast that includes white flowering spurge, flashy field goldenrod, the floating yellow rays of western sunflower, and creamy sweet everlasting. You’ll also find the buttery trumpets of large flowered false foxglove, the elegantly understated flower heads of round-headed bush clover, and many beautiful grasses.

Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest: Golden! The prairie is overflowing with golden flowers, mainly dominated by sawtooth sunflower and many goldenrods that include tall, grass-leaved, and stiff. Also adding to the yellow mix is sneezeweed, brown-eyed Susan, and a towering combination of cup plant, tall coreopsis, sweet coneflower, and prairie dock. Highlights of pearl can be seen in tall boneset, flowering spurge, false aster, hairy aster, and in the fading, fragrant flourishes of mountain mint alongside the browning rattlesnake master. The dramatic deep purples of ironweed add some visual excitement. The purples of ironweed, New England aster, and pasture thistle add splashes of visual excitement. And there’s much more to see: obedient plant and the sublime cream gentian. In the wetter areas, you may still find spires of great blue lobelia, orange jewelweed, the brilliantly red cardinal flower, and the gorgeous pink blooms of swamp milkweed and spotted Joe-Pye weed. And finally, this is the perfect time to experience the many grasses that include Canada wild rye, big bluestem, and Indian grass.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham: First of all, the preserve is NOT LOCKED. It only looks that way. The chain is just draped over the top of the gate. Just move the chain to enter, and then move it back when you leave. Once inside, I suggest walking all of the trails to enjoy the many flowers that vary along the way. In August, you can often find at least two dozen species in bloom at the same time, while the textures of the grasses and sedges add to the grand experience. Stop to appreciate the purple waves of big bluestem and oceans of prairie cordgrass that rise and fall like waves in the wind. Experience the whimsical plumes of Canada wild rye, big bluestem, Indian grass,  switch grass, and prairie dropseed. Spend a moment to inhale dropseed‘s feather duster. It smells like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. Start by taking the path to your left, and travel clockwise around the square mowed trail. Along your way, you should find a beautiful mix of yellow, white, and pink. Grass-leaved, tall, and stiff goldenrod combined with sympathetic hues of long-bracted tickseed sunflower sawtooth sunflowerrosinweed, tall coreopsis, prairie dock, and sneezeweed. Large white blooms of tall boneset fall amidst the now-brown flowers of rattlesnake master, wild quinine, and mountain mint. The pinks are provided by ironweed, New England aster, spotted Joe-Pye weed in the wet areas, and the occasional appearances of rough blazing star and pasture thistle. And a variety of aster add color to the mix. As you peruse the prairie, see if you can find the fluffy greenish heads of round-headed bush clover. As you return on the final leg of the square, the scenery turns to shrubs and royal ferns.

 

“GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”:

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins: A glorious grassland! The main show should be taking place in a small patch of dolomite prairie on the eastern half of the preserve. Growing from the rock you may find a glorious little patch that includes rough blazing star, little bluestem, prairie dock, field goldenrod, and the unusual white goldenrod that looks like an aster. This is a scene that steals my heart. It’s a very special and delicate spot, so please stay on the trail. Aside from that little show, the sea of grasses and the mix of yellow flowers dominate the vast majority of the prairie panorama. You’ll experience the beautiful flowing grasses that includes: Indian grass, big bluestem, little bluestem, switch grass, Canada wild rye, prairie dropseed, and side oats grama. And you may see many other flowers, too, like asters, tall coreopsis, goldenrods, smooth ironweed, spotted Joe-Pye weed, great blue lobelia, sneezeweed, sweet coneflower, swamp rose mallow, pasture thistle, swamp thistle, and stands of late boneset. NOTE: Spears Woods and Wolf Road Prairie are not too far away.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove: This intimate remnant prairie is probably not as showy as the preserves on our “Go” list (above). But, if you’re in Downers Grove and have a few minutes, it’s worth a trip. Amidst the tunnels of tall grasses of Indian and big bluestem,  you’ll find sawtooth sunflower, a mix of goldenrods, colorful asters, the occasional pasture thistle, tall boneset, cream gentian, and blue bottle (or “closed”) gentian. Unlike cream gentian‘s slight opening at the tip of the flower, the flowers of bottle gentian are always closed, so don’t expect them to ever open. To detect these low-lying plants, keep your eyes to the ground. They’re easy to miss as you swim through the sea of tall grasses. A special thanks to Greg Jerzyk who provided us with a list of asters at Belmont Prairie: Drummond’s aster, Heath aster, New England aster, hairy aster, and smooth blue aster.
NOTE: If you visit in the morning, make sure to wear rain gear or you’ll get drenched from head to toe. 

Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie Wisconsin: This pretty prairie-on-the-lake is a “Go!” for the appearance of the breathtaking fringed and prairie gentians. You should also see a smattering of golden sawtooth sunflower, several species of goldenrod, and fading flowers of rough blazing star, western sunflower, and flowering spurge. You should also find swamp thistle and a variety of asters. And seas of beautiful grasses are changing color into their autumn tones.
Note: Definitely consider visiting Illinois Beach Nature Preserve while you’re already in the area.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: The foliage of the summer prairie transform into the rusts, browns, and reds of autumn, with just a handful of blooming flowers. Under the trees, you’ll find asters, some goldenrods, and the poisonous white snakeroot. Under the sun, the grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass show off beautiful tones of brown and rusty tones. You may find a smattering of goldenrods and sunflowers. The seep of the fen at the center of the preserve may be the preserves most enchanting spot, that could feature a beautiful mixture of shrubby cinquefoil, grass-leaved goldenrod, assorted sunflowers, and gentians, including cream, bottle, and fringed. Finally, keep an eye out for the beautiful great blue lobelia, which is scattered across the preserve.  Watch your step on the narrow, hard-to-see boardwalks in the center of the preserve.

Fermilab Prairie in Batavia: A large display of sawtooth sunflower, goldenrods, and tall seas of of Indian and big bluestem grass dominate the prairie vista. You’ll also run into a smattering of asters. Much of the preserve is covered with waves of purple and brown grasses combined with soft highlights of gold. This prairie is a reconstruction, not a restoration. It was originally a prairie that was turned into farmland and turned back into prairie (sort of). In 1971, Dr. Robert Betz embarked on a bold experiment to reconstruct the prairie from nothing, employing the same agricultural practices that caused its demise. While the soil will take eons to replenish and, though not as rich as other remnants or restored prairies, Fermilab Prairie provides the region with a large expanse of grassland for people to explore. I say “grassland” because, in proportion to the flowering plants (forbs), you’ll find much more big bluestem and Indian grass than most prairies. You can find a similar situation with the prairie at Carl Hansen Woods—the expanse south of the Shoe Factory Road Prairie. It was once thought that planting grasses first would help heal the land. But it was later learned that they prevented the forbs from taking hold. Nowadays, forbs and less-aggressive grasses (like side oats grama) are planted first. Then, after they’re well-established, the grasses are introduced.

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: FRINGED GENTIAN

 

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

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

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Wolf Road Prairie

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

Sometime between late August and mid-September, Wolf Road Prairie explodes with gold thanks to vast expanses of sawtooth sunflower that consume the prairie. And though Wolf Road Prairie could be the best place to experience it, you can also find this plant at most of Chicago’s prairies.*

 

Lake in the Hills Fen

At the cusp of August and September, tall goldenrod and purple rough blazing star contribute to an explosion of color at Lake in the Hills Fen.*

In September, tall goldenrod and purple rough blazing star contribute to an explosion of color 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 Hill 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 Lake in the Hills, Illinois.*

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

 

Pembroke Savanna

The celebration of rough blazing star and field goldenrod is probably Pembroke’s most prolific performance of the year, but it’s by no means the only one. This rich community of plants puts on many shows throughout the growing season.*

The celebration of rough blazing star and field goldenrod is probably Pembroke’s most prolific performance of the year, but it’s by no means the only one. This rich community of plants puts on many shows throughout the growing season.*

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

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

 

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

As the sun rises over the dune, rough blazing star, flowering spurge, and western sunflower grow densely in the protection of a swale at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

As the sun rises over the dune, rough blazing star, flowering spurge, and western sunflower grow densely in the protection of a swale at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

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

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

The Dead River, at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, is the only remaining river in Illinois that flows into Lake Michigan. The name comes either from deep pools of quicksand hidden along the banks that devour unsuspecting hikers or from water that remains still and barely flows. On this sapphire morning, the latter was true.*

 

Sawtooth Sunflower

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

Sawtooth sunflower of species Helianthus grosseserratus is a towering native plant that, according to the scientific literature, can reach heights of twelve feet! But I found a colony of thirteen-footers at Wolf Road Prairie. See picture below. The term “sawtooth” describes the long toothed leaves. The golden flowers are quite numerous and beautiful. The plant often grows in colonies, sometimes very large. This plant is considered weedy, but it’s a great ambassador of the prairie. Its grand stature and vast dense displays unwittingly attracts great interest in the prairie from passersby. Wolf Road Prairie gives proof of nature’s comfort, as sawtooth sunflower and obedient plant tangle in a glorious embrace.*

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

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

 

Rough Blazing Star

Compared to the densely colonized black soil prairie along its western border, this rocky dolomite prairie can sometimes appear a bit sparse. But near summer’s end, the eastern prairie easily outshines its western neighbor when the vibrant pinks of rough blazing star fill all feelings of emptiness.*

Rough blazing star of species Liatris aspera may look familiar. It is cousin to our other local blazing stars: cylindrical prairie, marsh, and savanna. The “rough” moniker comes from the widely spaced button-like flower heads along the top of the plant, unlike the buttons of the prairie and marsh species that are very closely spaced. The plant blooms from the top down. And each fluffy button contains several pink or purplish flowers. The plant produces a seedlike structure called an achene, which is simply a seed enclosed within a fruit. For example, those tiny seeds on the surface of strawberries are actually achenes. Each is a hard little fruit that surrounds the seed itself. In the case of all blazing stars, the achene is attached to fluffy hairs that are captured and distributed by the wind. Compared to the densely colonized black soil prairie along its western border, this rocky dolomite prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve can sometimes appear a bit sparse. But near summer’s end, the eastern prairie easily outshines its western neighbor when the vibrant pinks of rough blazing star fill all feelings of emptiness.*

Rough blazing star and western sunflower find protection from the elements inside the swale of the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

Rough blazing star and western sunflower find protection from the elements inside the swale of the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

The celebration of rough blazing star and field goldenrod is probably Pembroke’s most prolific performance of the year, but it’s by no means the only one. This rich community of plants puts on many shows throughout the growing season.*

The celebration of rough blazing star and field goldenrod is probably Pembroke Savanna‘s most prolific performance of the year, but it’s by no means the only one. This rich community of plants puts on many shows throughout the growing season.*

On this foggy August morning at Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates, the sun burned through the fog to illuminate the purple blooms of rough blazing star and the bright green foliage of compass plant..*

On this late-summer morning at Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates, the sun burned through the fog to illuminate the purple blooms of rough blazing star and the bright green foliage of compass plant.*

 

Bottle Gentian

 

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

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

When I first set eyes upon these fading blooms of bottle gentian, I was taken aback, struck by an arrow through my heart. Instantly, I fell in love with the prettiest flowers I had ever seen. Maybe I was just having one of those days, but I was close to tears.

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.*

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

 

Asters, Asters, Asters!

New England asters

New England aster is just one of the many species of aster that bloom in September and October.*

 

Spotted Joe-Pye Weed

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

The pink spotted Joe-Pye weed (of species Eutrochium maculatum) is a flamboyant plant associated with wet and swampy areas in full or partial sunlight, unlike its cousin sweet Joe-Pye weed that grows in drier and shadier woodlands and savannas. Here at Bluff Spring Fen, the morning light arrives at the edge of a flowery seep where spotted Joe-Pye weed thrives.*

 

Big Bluestem

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. It wasn’t uncommon for early pioneers to lose their travel companions in the ocean of big bluestem grass.*

Look closely for miniature flowers that delicately hang from the tassel of big bluestem grass.*

Miniature flowers delicately hang from the tassel of big bluestem grass at a prairie near you.*

 

Canada Wild Rye

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

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

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

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

 

Indian 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.*

 

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.*

 

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

 

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

—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
09-09-2022

Posted by on 6:00 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT 09-09-2022

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
September 9, 2022

“Weekly Wildflower Forecasts Featuring
Chicago’s Best Weekend Getaways & Nature Walks”

 

Summer Nature Walks & Outdoor Getaways!

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

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

 

Find peace by getting out into nature!
Break from your screens to experience
magnificent flower shows
at our showcase preserves.

NEED THE LATEST BLOOMING NEWS, NOT JUST A PREDICTION?
THEN HELP US CROWDSOURCE IT!

This FREE ChicagoNatureNOW! wildflower forecast is a prediction of the flowers that may be blooming during this week of the year. It’s driven by my one-of-a-kind proprietary database of local blooming events that I began compiling in 2003. But Mother Nature is mysterious. She follows her own secret schedule. Blooming dates can vary widely. For some of our followers, these weekly predictions will be enough. However, if you want to be rewarded with the latest news about what’s blooming where, then you must help us crowdsource that information by joining our ChicagoNatureNOW! Explorers crowdsourcing community. There’s no monetary cost to become a ChicagoNatureNOW! Explorer, but in return for this valuable news, you must share what you find at our showcase preserves on our private ChicagoNatureNOW! Explorers Facebook group. Just take a few pictures with your smartphone and tell us what you found. Due to the size of the group, everyone receives a lot even though each person only contributes a little. In other words, you’ll receive much more than you give. And the group is also a place to learn and ask questions about nature. CLICK HERE TO REAP THE BENEFITS OF JOINING OUR CROWDSOURCING TEAM OF EXPLORERS.

 

WILDFLOWER FORECAST & HIGHLIGHTS to help you plan your outdoor adventures into Chicago nature:

September is “The Month of Gold” around Chicago, as sunflowers and goldenrods fill our prairies and oak savannas alongside tall grasses that take on rich autumnal tones. And the start of the month also brings breathtaking purple performances of rough blazing star. To learn exactly what’s happening right now, we require that you contribute to our vibrant crowdsourcing community. To insure that you don’t miss out on these magnificent blooms, click here to learn about becoming an Explorer. But nature isn’t just about flowers. It’s about the experience. Explore and discover a preserve from the list below. Be open to nature’s unexpected gifts, whether it be a colorful, awe-inspiring bloom, the mysterious squeak of two rubbing trees mimicking the cry of a baby animal, or the life-affirming odor of skunk cabbage. All of these things will open up your life to a world of wonder and intrigue.

This is often peak time to experience the The Month of Gold. Goldenrods and sunflowers radiate across Chicago’s prairies and savannas. Spectacular shows of towering sawtooth sunflower are likely taking place at Wolf Road Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Spears Woods, and Lake in the Hills Fen.

The big purple performances of rough blazing star may still be happening at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Lake in the Hills Fen, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and Pembroke SavannaOf course, the goldenrods are blooming everywhere around Chicago. But the best display is probably taking place at the panoramic Lake in the Hills Fen.

This is also the moment to experience the beautiful and prominent grasses of our prairies and oak savannas, including big bluestemIndian grass, side oats grama, little bluestem, Canada wild rye, and prairie dropseed. Indian grass has feather duster plumes with miniature yellow flowers. Gensburg-Markham Prairie and Theodore Stone Preserve are particularly beautiful with their flowing seas of grasses.

As summer comes to a close, the large and conspicuous plants are stealing the show, which is why you’ll have to look carefully to find the gems hiding at your feet. In particular, September is also the season of gentians: cream, bottle, prairie, stiff, and fringed gentian, our Plant of the Week. You can find one or more species flowering at many of our preserves, including  Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Lake in the Hills Fen, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and Belmont Prairie.

Spears Woods features wildflower shows in its prairies, woodlands, and wetlands. This preserve also provides great trails far away from traffic, with varied habitats, and dramatic vistas.

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 crick.” And I can vouch for that.

Wolf Road Prairie is turns to with a potentially tremendous show of sawtooth sunflower. And Belmont Prairie offers cream gentian and bottle gentian amidst the golden blooms.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve and Pembroke Savanna are famous for their shows of rough blazing star that combine with goldenrods and auburn grasses.

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

Goldenrod is blooming everywhere, 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 to what was called “milk sickness,” including Mary Lincoln, mother to Abraham. You can smell it and touch it, JUST 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!

TIP: 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 light, 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 these showcase preserves: Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Lake in the Hills Fen, Spears Woods, Miller Woods, and Somme Prairie Grove.

 

SUMMER WILDFLOWER GETAWAYS AROUND CHICAGO:

I’ve ranked the preserves on this week’s list based on the information predicted by my one-of-a-kind propriety database of wildflowers blooming events, 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 make it to the top-rated preserves.

LIKELY, THIS WEEK’S BEST CHOICES (“GO!”):

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: Spectacular! The prairie should be covered in an ocean of gold. Normally, I’d have you park at the kiosk along 31st Street on the south end. But to best immerse yourself into the deep sea of gold is to follow the narrow southbound trail located behind the prairie house on Constitution Avenue at the north end of the preserve. Quite quickly, the trail immerses you in swaying waves of towering sawtooth sunflower. Take your tape measure or a child on your shoulders to find the tallest one. The scientific literature states that they can grow as high as twelve feet. But I’ve found thirteen-footers here! That’s taller than two of me. (See picture below.) Large stands of tall boneset represent the most dominant display of white. Adding to the golds are flowers of tall coreopsis, rosinweed, and various species of goldenrod that include stiff, tall, grass-leaved, field, plus elm-leaved under the trees. And depending on the year, prairie dock can create a magnificent show as they push up hundreds of skyward stalks of golden flowers. The aortic foliage of this plant is wonderful to behold. Take note of the bob hairdos of prairie dropseed and its feather duster plume that smells like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. And appreciate the warm hues of the coming season with the turkey-footed tassels of big bluestem and the flowering feathery plumes of Indian grass. Along your hike to the south end, you’ll experience pearly tall boneset, which can be found in large patches, cream gentian, bottle gentian, obedient plant, pasture thistle, rough blazing star, ironweed, and the soft green flower heads of round-headed bush clover. The oak savanna at the south end offers bottlebrush grass, goldenrod, the last of fading woodland sunflower, and the occasional ironweed. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Spears Woods are located close by.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs: 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 should now be on full display in the prairies, as sawtooth sunflower and its shorter red-stemmed counterpart, long-bracted tickseed sunflower, are joined by tall coreopsis, stiff goldenrod and others of that ilk. There are beautiful displays of ivory false aster and tall boneset along with the purplish hues of pasture thistle, ironweed, rough blazing star, New England aster, and slender false foxglove. The turkey-foot tassels of big bluestem and feathered plumes of Indian grass fill the prairie with early tones of autumn. They sway in the prairie winds amongst a subtle color palette of plants that have exited the main stage. While the ivory Tinker Toy shapes of rattlesnake master and the cauliflower-heads of wild quinine have browned, they still maintain their whimsical nature. The white button flower heads of mountain mint don’t have many flowers left, but they still retain their stimulating scent. The woodlands have a bit of a sparkle, with elm-leaved goldenrod, white snakeroot, and a variety of asters. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Wolf Road Prairie is not too far away.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion: Wilderness! September often brings the stunning show starring the purples of rough blazing star that carry throughout the preserve, especially in the sand prairie. Starting at the parking lot of the nature preserve, the savanna is also flowering beautifully with the aforementioned rough blazing star alongside western sunflower, showy goldenrod, flowering spurge, the yellow megaphone blossoms of large flowered false foxglove, the newly blooming asters. However, the finest shows should be taking place in the sunny sand prairie where rough blazing star is joined by a breathtaking cast of western sunflower, flowering spurge, beach wormwood, white goldenrod, showy goldenrod, field goldenrod, blooming bushes of shrubby cinquefoil amidst a sandy landscape of Indian grass, sand reed, little bluestem, marram grass, and a sprawling groundcover of creeping juniper and bearberry. And keep your eyes open for the intoxicating blossoms of fringed gentian. Note: Consider visiting Chiwaukee Prairie while you’re already in the area.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: A gem! This Illinois Nature Preserve is located atop the hill inside the fence, where there should nice displays of showy, stiff, and field goldenrod, purple spikes of rough blazing star, golden blooms tall coreopsis and western sunflower, and the cousins of rosinweed, prairie dock and compass plant. I simply love the sea of short curving grass known as tall dropseed. The subtle, yet gorgeous, round-headed bush clover is showing off its fuzzy green head. And then there’s fading ivory displays of of white goldenrod, which looks nothing like goldenrod and more like an aster. And search for bottle gentian hiding in the grasses. The savanna often overflows with yellow and white, mostly comprised of tall goldenrod, tall coreopsis, and tall boneset. From the overlook atop the hill, soak up the colors and textures of the vast gold and auburn vista beyond the fence, where the celebration continues. Venturing out into that panorama, you’ll pass large expanses of sawtooth sunflower, a profusion of goldenrods, plus tall coreopsis and rosinweed, amidst the tawny grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass, and browning rattlesnake master and wild quinine. Note: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.

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

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills: Panoramic beauty! This preserve offers a dramatic panoramic view that is best enjoyed at edges of daylight, when it’s not hot and sunny. Enjoy the array of flowers that flow along the vast rolling landscape of the prairie and fen. Right now, dramatic shows of rough blazing star often take center stage in waves of purple and the golden hues of late summer exuded by the many goldenrods including Riddell’s, tall, field, showy, and grass-leaved plus the sunflower-like blooms of tall coreopsis and vast colonies of sawtooth sunflower. Oceans of tall grasses wave in the warm prairie winds, including flowering, feathery Indian grass, turkey-foot tasseled big bluestem, and the breathtaking reddening little bluestem. White goldenrod may still be blooming blooming on a gravelly kame near the entrance. The plant looks nothing like goldenrod and more like a white aster. Next to the the fens you may find grass-of-Parnassus, great blue lobelia, swamp thistle, shrubby cinquefoil, swamp betony, the cream, bottle and fringed gentians, and spotted Joe-Pye weed that also grows in abundance in most of the wet areas. Along your way, you’ll also notice a significant amount of ivory tall boneset. And you might find a small forest of prairie dock along the far southern trail. When you enter the preserve through the zig-zag opening, consider taking a left and hiking the short looping trail that ends right back at the entrance. Then take the longer trail (making a right at the entrance) that takes the high ground into the southern section of the fen and all the way to “Barbara’s Bench.” This memorial bench pays tribute to the late Barbara Wilson, who dedicated much of her life to the stewardship and protection of this preserve, and to her favorite area of the preserve. In 2004, Barb escorted me to this spot that’s overlooks the seep of a hanging fen that she described as “nirvana” and the “holiest of holy.” NOTE: If you visit in the morning, wear waterproof pants and shoes, otherwise you’ll likely get soaked to the skin with the dew.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: Resplendent! Somme Prairie Grove is known for the simultaneous blooms of many species. And that’s what you’ll find, right now. The best blooms are happening under the sun with beautiful expanses of sawtooth sunflower alongside tall coreopsis, goldenrods, obedient plant, savanna blazing star, and many asters that are just starting (see list below). You also find several beautiful gentians: cream gentian, bottle gentian, stiff gentian, and prairie gentian. The gold continues under the trees with displays of sweet coneflower and brown-eyed Susan mixed with rich purples of Missouri ironweed and spotted Joe-Pye weed. You’ll also find great blue lobelia, white turtlehead, savanna blazing star, and the deadly white snakeroot (watch video above). As is common during the late-summer months, you’ll travel through tunnels of big bluestem grass and Indian grass, which is probably the reason for the misnomer “tallgrass prairie.” It’s a misnomer because most species in a prairie are actually forbs (flowering plants). Still, when the first settlers travelling from the forests of the east, the towering grasses of Illinois would have been an unexpected obstacle. The floppy stringy hairdos of prairie dropseed is growing everywhere under the sun, but watch your step. It’s very easy to trip over. Spend a moment to inhale dropseed‘s feather duster. It smells like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. Finally, don’t miss the dramatic rising of rattlesnake master “skeletons” in the open prairie. During the summer, it’s safe to touch their prickly flower heads. But right now, they’re extremely sharp and will probably leave one of its bony seeds in your finger.
Here’s a list of asters that you can find at Somme Prairie Grove:
In the shade: Drummond’s aster, Short’s aster, and Calico aster (aka side-flowering aster)
Open woods: forked aster
Under the sun: sky blue aster, smooth blue aster, flat-topped aster, and New England aster

NOTE: The trails are narrow and often a little overgrown. So watch your step. If you visit in the morning, wear rain gear or the plants will drench you with dew.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park: Paradise! This black oak/sand savanna may still be putting on its finest performance of the season that can be described as purple with splashes of gold and white. The spectacular purple spikes of rough blazing star are the star of the show with a glowing cast that includes white flowering spurge, flashy field goldenrod, the floating yellow rays of western sunflower, and creamy sweet everlasting. You’ll also find the buttery trumpets of large flowered false foxglove, the elegantly understated flower heads of round-headed bush clover, and many beautiful grasses.

Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest: Golden! The prairie is overflowing golden flowers, mainly dominated sawtooth sunflower and many goldenrods that include tall, grass-leaved, and stiff. Also adding to the yellow mix is rosinweed, sneezeweed, brown-eyed Susan, and a towering combination of cup plant, tall coreopsis, sweet coneflower, and prairie dock. Highlights of pearl can be seen in tall boneset, flowering spurge, false aster, hairy aster, and in the fading, fragrant flourishes mountain mint alongside the browning rattlesnake master. The purples of ironweed, New England aster, and pasture thistle add splashes of visual excitement. And there’s much more to see: obedient plant, and the sublime cream gentian. In the wetter areas, you may still find spires of great blue lobelia, orange jewelweed, the brilliantly red cardinal flower, and the gorgeous pink blooms of swamp milkweed and spotted Joe-Pye weed. And finally, this is the perfect time to experience the many grasses that include Canada wild rye, big bluestem, and Indian grass.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham: First of all, the preserve is NOT LOCKED. It only looks that way. The chain is just draped over the top of the gate. Just move the chain to enter, and then move it back when you leave. Once inside, I suggest walking all of the trails to enjoy the many flowers that vary along the way. You can often find at least two dozen species in bloom at the same time, while the textures of the grasses and sedges add to the grand experience. Stop to appreciate the purple waves of big bluestem and oceans of prairie cordgrass that rise and fall like waves in the wind. Experience the whimsical plumes of Canada wild rye, big bluestem, Indian grass,  switch grass, and prairie dropseed. Spend a moment to inhale dropseed‘s feather duster. It smells like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. Start by taking the path to your left, and travel clockwise around the square mowed trail. Along your way, you should find a beautiful mix of yellow, white, and pink. Grass-leaved, tall, and stiff goldenrod combine with sympathetic hues of long-bracted tickseed sunflower sawtooth sunflowerrosinweed, tall coreopsis, prairie dock, and sneezeweed. Large white blooms of tall boneset fall amidst the now-brown flowers of rattlesnake master, wild quinine, and mountain mint. And the pinks are provided by ironweed, slender false foxglove, and the start of New England aster, and spotted Joe-Pye weed in the wet areas, and the occasional appearances of rough blazing star and pasture thistle. As you peruse the prairie, see if you can find the fluffy greenish heads of round-headed bush clover. As you return on the final leg of the square, the scenery turns to shrubs and royal ferns.

 

“GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”:

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins: A glorious grassland! The main show should be taking place in small patch of dolomite prairie on the eastern half of the preserve, where rough blazing star is probably still blooming alongside reddish sprays of the beautiful little bluestem grass, yellow highlights of field goldenrod and prairie dock, and fading pink blooms of nodding wild onion and the unusual white goldenrod. Aside from that little show, the sea of grasses and the mix of yellow flowers dominate the vast majority of the prairie panorama. You’ll experience the beautiful flowing grasses that includes: Indian grass, big bluestem, little bluestem, switch grass, Canada wild rye, prairie dropseed, and side oats grama. And you’ll see a variety of flowers, too, like tall coreopsis, goldenrods, smooth ironweed, spotted Joe-Pye weed, great blue lobelia, sneezeweed, sweet coneflower, swamp rose mallow, pasture thistle, swamp thistle, and stands of late boneset. NOTE: Spears Woods and Wolf Road Prairie are not too far away.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove: This intimate remnant prairie is probably not as showy as the preserves on our “Go” list (above). But, if you’re in Downers Grove and have a few minutes, it’s worth a trip. Amidst the tunnels of tall grasses of Indian and big bluestem, you’ll find you’ll find a sawtooth sunflower, a mix of goldenrods, rough blazing star, freshly blooming asters, the occasional pasture thistle, tall boneset, cream gentian, and blue bottle (or “closed”) gentian. Unlike cream gentian‘s slight opening at the tip of the flower, the flowers of bottle gentian are always closed, so don’t expect them to ever open. To detect these low-lying plants, keep your eyes to the ground. They’re easy to miss as you swim through the sea of tall grasses. A special thanks to Greg Jerzyk who provided us with a list of asters at Belmont Prairie: Drummond’s aster, Heath aster, New England aster, hairy aster, and smooth blue aster.
NOTE: If you visit in the morning, make sure to wear rain gear or you’ll get drenched from head to toe. 

Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie Wisconsin: This pretty prairie-on-the-lake is a “Go!” for the expanses of rough blazing star and the appearance of the breathtaking fringed and prairie gentians. You should also see a smattering of golden sawtooth sunflower, several species of goldenrod, patches of western sunflower, and the remaining sparkling sprays of flowering spurge. You should also find swamp thistle and a variety of asters. And seas of beautiful grasses are changing color into their autumn tones. Note: Definitely consider visiting Illinois Beach Nature Preserve while you’re already in the area.

Fermilab Prairie in Batavia: A large display of sawtooth sunflower, goldenrods, and tall seas of of Indian and big bluestem grass dominate the prairie vista. You’ll also run into a smattering of asters. Much of the preserve is covered with waves of purple and brown grasses combined with soft highlights of gold. This prairie is a reconstruction, not a restoration. It was originally a prairie that was turned into farmland and turned back into prairie (sort of). In 1971, Dr. Robert Betz embarked on a bold experiment to reconstruct the prairie from nothing, employing the same agricultural practices that caused its demise. While the soil will take eons to replenish and, though not as rich as other remnants or restored prairies, Fermilab Prairie provides the region with a large expanse of grassland for people to explore. I say “grassland” because, in proportion to the flowering plants (forbs), you’ll find much more big bluestem and Indian grass than most prairies. You can find a similar situation with the prairie at Carl Hansen Woods—the expanse south of the Shoe Factory Road Prairie. It was once thought that planting grasses first would help heal the land. But it was later learned that they prevented the forbs from taking hold. Nowadays, forbs and less-aggressive grasses (like side oats grama) are planted first. Then, after they’re well-established, the grasses are introduced.

 

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: 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 bloom in September. However, the flowers are diurnal, meaning that the the blooms only open up with the sun and are closed at night and, sometimes, on cloudy days. You can find them at preserves like Bluff Spring Fen, Chiwaukee Prairie, and Lake in the Hills Fen.*

 

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.

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

 

Bluff Spring Fen

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

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

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

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

Soft sunlight, diffused by morning mist, filters across the preserve. Gathered at the base of the kame, fire-resistant bur oaks hover above a colorful caboodle of spotted Joe-Pye weed and tall goldenrod.*

Soft sunlight, diffused by morning mist, filters across the preserve. Gathered at the base of the kame, fire-resistant bur oaks hover above a colorful caboodle of spotted Joe-Pye weed and tall goldenrod.*

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

Here at at Bluff Spring Fen on the cusp of August and September, rough blazing star puts on spectacular shows around the Chicago region.*

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

Grasses of Canada wild rye and big bluestem sparkle with dew in the morning prairie Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

 

Shoe Factory Road Prairie

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

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

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

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

 

Lake in the Hills Fen

At the cusp of August and September, tall goldenrod and purple rough blazing star contribute to an explosion of color at Lake in the Hills Fen.*

In September, tall goldenrod and purple rough blazing star contribute to an explosion of color 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 Hill 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 Lake in the Hills, Illinois.*

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

 

Pembroke Savanna

The celebration of rough blazing star and field goldenrod is probably Pembroke’s most prolific performance of the year, but it’s by no means the only one. This rich community of plants puts on many shows throughout the growing season.*

The celebration of rough blazing star and field goldenrod is probably Pembroke’s most prolific performance of the year, but it’s by no means the only one. This rich community of plants puts on many shows throughout the growing season.*

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

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

 

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

 

As the sun rises over the dune, rough blazing star, flowering spurge, and western sunflower grow densely in the protection of a swale at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

As the sun rises over the dune, rough blazing star, flowering spurge, and western sunflower grow densely in the protection of a swale at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

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

Indian grass is a tall charismatic plant with feather duster plumes. They bloom in late August and early September. In the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, glowing Indian grass shares the spotlight with western sunflower and rough blazing star.*

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

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

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

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

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, 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.*

A common snapping turle trudges through the sandy Lake Michigan shoreline on its way to the Dead River at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

A common snapping turtle trudges through the sandy Lake Michigan shoreline on its way to the Dead River at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

The Dead River, at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, is the only remaining river in Illinois that flows into Lake Michigan. The name comes either from deep pools of quicksand hidden along the banks that devour unsuspecting hikers or from water that remains still and barely flows. On this sapphire morning, the latter was true.*

 

Rough Blazing Star

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

Rough blazing star of species Liatris aspera may look familiar. It is cousin to our other local blazing stars: cylindrical prairie, marsh, and savanna. The “rough” moniker comes from the widely spaced button-like flower heads along the top of the plant, unlike the buttons of the prairie and marsh species that are very closely spaced. The plant blooms from the top down. And each fluffy button contains several pink or purplish flowers. The plant produces a seedlike structure called an achene, which is simply a seed enclosed within a fruit. For example, those tiny seeds on the surface of strawberries are actually achenes. Each is a hard little fruit that surrounds the seed itself. In the case of all blazing stars, the achene is attached to fluffy hairs that are captured and distributed by the wind. Here at at Bluff Spring Fen on the cusp of August and September, rough blazing star puts on spectacular shows around the Chicago region.*

Compared to the densely colonized black soil prairie along its western border, this rocky dolomite prairie can sometimes appear a bit sparse. But near summer’s end, the eastern prairie easily outshines its western neighbor when the vibrant pinks of rough blazing star fill all feelings of emptiness.*

Compared to the densely colonized black soil prairie along its western border, this rocky dolomite prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve can sometimes appear a bit sparse. But near summer’s end, the eastern prairie easily outshines its western neighbor when the vibrant pinks of rough blazing star fill all feelings of emptiness.*

Rough blazing star and western sunflower find protection from the elements inside the swale of the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

Rough blazing star and western sunflower find protection from the elements inside the swale of the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

The celebration of rough blazing star and field goldenrod is probably Pembroke’s most prolific performance of the year, but it’s by no means the only one. This rich community of plants puts on many shows throughout the growing season.*

The celebration of rough blazing star and field goldenrod is probably Pembroke Savanna‘s most prolific performance of the year, but it’s by no means the only one. This rich community of plants puts on many shows throughout the growing season.*

On this foggy August morning at Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates, the sun burned through the fog to illuminate the purple blooms of rough blazing star and the bright green foliage of compass plant..*

On this foggy August morning at Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates, the sun burned through the fog to illuminate the purple blooms of rough blazing star and the bright green foliage of compass plant.*

 

Sawtooth Sunflower

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

Sawtooth sunflower of species Helianthus grosseserratus is a towering native plant that, according to the scientific literature, can reach heights of twelve feet! But I found a colony of thirteen-footers at Wolf Road Prairie. See picture below. The term “sawtooth” describes the long toothed leaves. The golden flowers are quite numerous and beautiful. The plant often grows in colonies, sometimes very large. This plant is considered weedy, but it’s a great ambassador of the prairie. Its grand stature and vast dense displays unwittingly attracts great interest in the prairie from passersby. Sometime between late August and mid-September, Wolf Road Prairie explodes with gold thanks to vast expanses of sawtooth sunflower that consume the prairie. And though Wolf Road Prairie could be the best place to experience it, you can also find this plant at most of Chicago’s prairies.

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

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

 

Bottle Gentian

 

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

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

When I first set eyes upon these fading blooms of bottle gentian, I was taken aback, struck by an arrow through my heart. Instantly, I fell in love with the prettiest flowers I had ever seen. Maybe I was just having one of those days, but I was close to tears.

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.*

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

 

Flowering Spurge

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 State Park in Zion, 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.*

 

Asters, Asters, Asters!

New England asters

New England aster is just one of the many species of aster that bloom in September and October.*

 

Spotted Joe-Pye Weed

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

The pink spotted Joe-Pye weed (of species Eutrochium maculatum) is a flamboyant plant associated with wet and swampy areas in full or partial sunlight, unlike its cousin sweet Joe-Pye weed that grows in drier and shadier woodlands and savannas. Here at Bluff Spring Fen, the morning light arrives at the edge of a flowery seep where spotted Joe-Pye weed thrives.*

 

Big Bluestem

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. It wasn’t uncommon for early pioneers to lose their travel companions in the ocean of big bluestem grass.*

Look closely for miniature flowers that delicately hang from the tassel of big bluestem grass.*

Miniature flowers delicately hang from the tassel of big bluestem grass at a prairie near you.*

 

Canada Wild Rye

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

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

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

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

 

Indian 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.*

 

Prairie Dock

You can find prairie dock at Middlefork Savanna, an imaginative creation dreamt up by Mother Nature. Stretching at least twelve feet beneath the prairie is the taproot—the life, the energy source, and the heart of this plant. The root is also the artery, transporting cold water from deep below to nourish and cool the affection of heartshaped leaves, which are prone to shriveling under the summer sun.Where the root meets the air, a blood-red stalk takes over the job. Swerving towards the sky, the thick stem carries life to multiple golden flowers that may float as high as ten feet above the prairie. Here, the first flower has bloomed, while many ball-like buds are about to follow suit.

You can find prairie dock at Middlefork Savanna, an imaginative creation dreamt up by Mother Nature. Stretching at least twelve feet beneath the prairie is the taproot—the life, the energy source, and the heart of this plant. The root is also the artery, transporting cold water from deep below to nourish and cool the affection of heart-shaped leaves, which are prone to shriveling under the summer sun. Where the root meets the air, a blood-red stalk takes over the job. Swerving towards the sky, the thick stem carries life to multiple golden flowers that may float as high as ten feet above the prairie. Here, the first flower has bloomed, while many ball-like buds are about to follow suit.*

 

The Charismatic Foliage of Compass Plant & Prairie Dock

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

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

 

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

 

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

—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
09-02-2022

Posted by on 12:01 am in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT 09-02-2022

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
September 2, 2022

“Weekly Wildflower Forecasts Featuring
Chicago’s Best Weekend Getaways & Nature Walks”

 

Summer Nature Walks & Outdoor Getaways!

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

Each week, we offer you opportunities to find peace during this trying time!
PLEASE DONATE IF WE’VE HELPED YOU FIND SOLACE IN NATURE
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Find peace by getting out into nature!
Break from your screens to experience
magnificent flower shows
at our showcase preserves.

NEED THE LATEST BLOOMING NEWS, NOT JUST A PREDICTION?
THEN HELP US CROWDSOURCE IT!

This FREE ChicagoNatureNOW! wildflower forecast is a prediction of the flowers that may be blooming during this week of the year. It’s driven by my one-of-a-kind proprietary database of local blooming events that I began compiling in 2003. But Mother Nature is mysterious. She follows her own secret schedule. Blooming dates can vary widely. For some of our followers, these weekly predictions will be enough. However, if you want to be rewarded with the latest news about what’s blooming where, then you must help us crowdsource that information by joining our ChicagoNatureNOW! Explorers crowdsourcing community. There’s no monetary cost to become a ChicagoNatureNOW! Explorer, but in return for this valuable news, you must share what you find at our showcase preserves on our private ChicagoNatureNOW! Explorers Facebook group. Just take a few pictures with your smartphone and tell us what you found. Due to the size of the group, everyone receives a lot even though each person only contributes a little. In other words, you’ll receive much more than you give. And the group is also a place to learn and ask questions about nature. CLICK HERE TO REAP THE BENEFITS OF JOINING OUR CROWDSOURCING TEAM OF EXPLORERS.

 

WILDFLOWER FORECAST & HIGHLIGHTS to help you plan your outdoor adventures into Chicago nature:

September is “The Month of Gold” around Chicago as sunflowers and goldenrods fill our prairies and oak savannas alongside tall grasses that take on rich autumnal tones. And the start of the month also brings breathtaking purple performances of rough blazing star. To learn exactly what’s happening right now, we require that you contribute to our vibrant crowdsourcing community. To insure that you don’t miss out on these magnificent blooms, click here to learn about becoming an Explorer. But nature isn’t just about flowers. It’s about the experience. Explore and discover a preserve from the list below. Be open to nature’s unexpected gifts, whether it be a colorful, awe-inspiring bloom, the mysterious squeak of two rubbing trees mimicking the cry of a baby animal, or the life-affirming odor of skunk cabbage. All of these things will open up your life to a world of wonder and intrigue.

According to my database, follow the big purple shows of rough blazing star that is taking place at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Lake in the Hills Fen, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and Pembroke Savanna. And this is usually the week when the prairies turn to gold, especially when towering sawtooth sunflower covers much of Wolf Road Prairie and good portions at Spears Woods! And then there’s Somme Prairie Grove that offers a breathtaking array of flowers and textures. September is also the time to view sublime gentians that grow low to the ground, including cream gentian and the blue bottle gentian, our Plant of the Week.

Somme Prairie Grove and Bluff Spring Fen each feature many performance stages thanks to a fanfare of color from at least two dozen flowering species. Bluff Spring Fen offers the aforementioned rough blazing star and Somme Prairie Grove features gentians of cream and blue that hide close to the ground.

Spears Woods features wildflower shows in its prairies, woodlands, and wetlands. This preserve also provides great trails far away from traffic, with varied habitats, and dramatic vistas.

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 crick.” And I can vouch for that.

Wolf Road Prairie is turns to with a potentially tremendous show of sawtooth sunflower. And Belmont Prairie offers cream gentian and bottle gentian amidst the golden blooms.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve and Pembroke Savanna are famous for their shows of rough blazing star that combine with sparkling florets of flowering spurge, goldenrods, and other flowers and grasses.

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

Shoe Factory Road Prairie should be blooming strong with rough blazing star and goldenrod, while the adjacent prairie should be covered with waves of auburn grasses and the yellows of sawtooth sunflower and goldenrod.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie, located in the south suburbs, is one of the finest prairies in the world. It offers a wide array of color and blowing seas of grasses.

TIP: 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 light, 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.

This is the moment to experience the beautiful and prominent grasses of our prairies and oak savannas, including big bluestemIndian grass, side oats grama, little bluestem, and Canada wild rye. Indian grass has feather duster plumes with miniature yellow flowers. And when you find yourself under the trees, look for bottlebrush grass and the wild ryes of Virginia and silky.

Goldenrod is beginning to bloom everywhere, 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 to what was called “milk sickness,” including Mary Lincoln, mother to Abraham. You can smell it and touch it, JUST 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!

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

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

 

SUMMER WILDFLOWER GETAWAYS AROUND CHICAGO:

I’ve ranked the preserves on this week’s list based on the information predicted by my one-of-a-kind propriety database of wildflowers blooming events, 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 make it to the top-rated preserves.

LIKELY, THIS WEEK’S BEST CHOICES (“GO!”):

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: Golden! The prairie reaches peak golden bloom somewhere between the last days of August and the second week of September. Normally, I’d have you park at the kiosk along 31st Street on the south end. But to best immerse yourself into the deep sea of gold is to follow the narrow southbound trail located behind the prairie house on Constitution Avenue at the north end of the preserve. Quite quickly, the trail immerses you in swaying waves of towering sawtooth sunflower. Take your tape measure or a child on your shoulders to find the tallest one. The scientific literature states that they can grow as high as twelve feet. But I’ve found thirteen-footers here! That’s taller than two of me. (See picture below.) Large stands of tall boneset represent the most dominant display of white. Adding to the golds are flowers of tall coreopsis, rosinweed, and various species of goldenrod that include stiff, tall, grass-leaved, field, plus elm-leaved in the savanna. And depending on the year, prairie dock can create a magnificent show as they push up hundreds of skyward stalks of golden flowers. The aortic foliage of this plant is wonderful to behold. Take note of the bob hairdos of prairie dropseed and its feather duster plume that smells like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. And appreciate the warm hues of the coming season with the turkey-footed tassels of big bluestem and the flowering feathery plumes of Indian grass. Along your hike to the south end, you’ll experience cream gentian, bottle gentian, obedient plant, pasture thistle, rough blazing star, ironweed, and the soft green flower heads of round-headed bush clover. The oak savanna at the south end offers bottlebrush grass, goldenrod, the last of fading woodland sunflower, and the occasional ironweed. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Spears Woods are located close by.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion: Wilderness! September often brings the stunning show starring the purples of rough blazing star that carry throughout the preserve, especially in the sand prairie. Starting at the parking lot of the nature preserve, the savanna is also flowering beautifully with the aforementioned rough blazing star alongside western sunflower, flowering spurge, and the yellow megaphone blossoms of large flowered false foxglove. However, the finest shows should be taking place in the sunny sand prairie where rough blazing star is joined by a breathtaking cast of western sunflower, flowering spurge, beach wormwood, white goldenrod and field goldenrod, and blooming bushes of shrubby cinquefoil amidst a sandy landscape of feathery Indian grass and sand reed, flowering little bluestem, and a sprawling groundcover of creeping juniper and bearberryNote: Consider visiting Chiwaukee Prairie while you’re already in the area. 

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: A gem! This Illinois Nature Preserve is located atop the hill inside the fence, where the color is often dominated by pink, yellow, and white. The purple spikes of rough blazing star are usually the show-stealer. And it’s especially gorgeous if joined by the field goldenrod and the flamboyant showy goldenrod. Beautiful blushing displays of obedient plant and cylindrical blazing star might still be prominent alongside a smattering of nodding wild onion. And you should also find the golden blooms tall coreopsis, western sunflower, the goldenrods of stiff, field and showy, and the cousins of rosinweed, prairie dock and compass plant. I simply love the sea of short curving grass known as tall dropseed. The subtle, yet gorgeous, round-headed bush clover is showing off its fuzzy green head. And then there’s the ivory displays of flowering spurge and white goldenrod, which looks nothing like goldenrod and more like an aster. The savanna is overflowing with yellow and white, mostly comprised of tall goldenrod and tall boneset along with cup plant and tall coreopsis. From the overlook atop the hill, soak up the colors and textures of the vast grassland vista to the south, where the celebration continues. Venturing out into the prairie panorama, you’ll find an abundance of goldenrods and large strips of towering sawtooth sunflower that combine with golden tall coreopsis and rosinweed, the grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass, round-headed bush clover, flowering spurge, and lots of browning rattlesnake master and wild quinine. Note: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Peaceful! You can usually find tremendous beauty around this time, with at least twenty flower species blooming across the preserve. The trail begins by the kiosk where the oak savanna greets you and where you’ll find yourself protected under the warm embrace of majestic oaks. The trail winds you through the trees and along the kames, around the sunny prairie, and through the main wetland known as a fen. At first, you should see the fluffy and tall sweet Joe-Pye weed, towering white pale Indian plantain, the aptly named bottlebrush grass, silky wild rye and its larger cousin Canada wild rye. Look for the buttery blooms of large flowered false foxglove and mullein foxglove, as well as the towering stands of white pale Indian plantain and stunning mauve sweet Joe-Pye weed. At the troll bridge, where friendly trolls have helped to restore the adjacent wetland habitat, look to your right for a grand expanse of spotted Joe-Pye weed alongside towering white cowbane, gorgeous great blue lobelia, swamp thistle, sawtooth sunflower, cup plant, plus New England aster and others of that ilk. Continuing under the protection of oaks, you should find pasture thistle, and to your right at the base of the kame, you’ll find a glorious golden show of tall cutleaf coneflower and wingstem. And you might find the poisonous white snakeroot. (See video below.) On your left is a narrow trail that takes you to the top of the “big kame.” On your way up, look for the whimsical displays of the aptly named bottlebrush grass. Once atop the gravelly peak, you’ll experience a unique view of the preserve and a nice display of rough blazing star along with the remaining pinks of cylindrical blazing star and nodding wild onion.  After returning to ground level, as you pass the savanna, I recommend making a right turn into the open prairie and moving counter-clockwise around the preserve back to this spot. Now under the sun, you’ll find blue vervain, sparkling flowering spurge, the fading flowers of wild quinine and rattlesnake master, the three flowering grasses of big bluestem, side oats grama, and Indian grass, plus sprays of switch grass and the wonderful bristled heads of Canada wild rye that will soak you to the skin when loaded with morning dew. 

As the trail veers left to the east, you’ll again pass through sprawling stands of blooming big bluestem and then into a gravelly area. 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 should 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 bowl of the fen. Move slowly and watch your step as you pass through dense willows (which always need trimming) that also hides a narrow boardwalk that’s easy to trip over. Crossing the boardwalk will take you towards a gravelly bowl with pools of trickling water. That’s the main seep of the fen and one of the rarest habitats on earth. There, you’ll discover goldenrods, swamp betonyflat-topped aster, swamp thistle, Kalm’s lobelia, fringed gentian, and great blue lobelia. As you pass through the dense willows, move slowly and watch your step.  (which desperately need trimming). Be careful not to trip on the narrow boardwalk that immediately awaits you by the willows!

As you continue to the north, watch for another narrow hard-to-see boardwalk. After crossing it, stay straight (don’t veer left), as the trail ducks under a low tree and up the “switchback kame.” On your way to the top, you’ll likely find a glorious purple display of rough blazing star and one of the main reasons to visit.  As the trails steers left and down into the shade, you’ll see some of the same species as before, including especially nice stands of pale Indian plantain, and sweet Joe-Pye weed. At the top of the kame, head west towards the savanna. Soon, you’ll reach an intersection that you’ll take to the left and across a small creek with stepping stones. This is the place to experience plants from the fen, the prairie, and oak savanna. As you reach the kame, stay left with the kame to your right and you’ll soon find yourself back where you started and into the sun. 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. Note: While you’re here, consider checking out nearby Shoe Factory Road Prairie.

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills: Panoramic beauty! This preserve offers a dramatic panoramic view that is best enjoyed at edges of daylight, when it’s not hot and sunny. Enjoy the array of flowers that flow along the vast rolling landscape of the prairie and fen. Right now, dramatic shows of rough blazing star often take center stage in waves of purple and the golden hues of late summer exuded by the many goldenrods including Riddell’s, tall, and grass-leaved, plus the sunflower-like blooms of tall coreopsis, rosinweed, and vast colonies of sawtooth sunflower. Oceans of tall grasses wave in the warm prairie winds, including flowering, feathery Indian grass, turkey-foot tasseled big bluestem, and the breathtaking reddening little bluestem. As you walk the high and low trails, you’ll find many more blossoms, including the pinks of obedient plant and spotted Joe-Pye weed, and the purples of pasture thistle. White goldenrod may still be blooming blooming on a gravelly kame near the entrance. The plant looks nothing like goldenrod and more like an aster. Next to the the fens you may find grass-of-Parnassus, great blue lobelia, swamp thistle, shrubby cinquefoil, swamp betony, the cream, bottle and fringed gentians, and spotted Joe-Pye weed that also grows in abundance in most of the wet areas. Along your way, you’ll also notice a significant amount of ivory tall boneset. And you might find a small forest of prairie dock along the far southern trail. When you enter the preserve through the zig-zag opening, consider taking a left and hiking the short looping trail that ends right back at the entrance. Then take the longer trail (making a right at the entrance) that takes the high ground into the southern section of the fen and all the way to “Barbara’s Bench.” This memorial bench pays tribute to the late Barbara Wilson, who dedicated much of her life to the stewardship and protection of this preserve, and to her favorite area of the preserve. In 2004, Barb escorted me to this spot that’s overlooks the seep of a hanging fen that she described as “nirvana” and the “holiest of holy.” NOTE: If you visit in the morning, wear waterproof pants and shoes, otherwise you’ll likely get soaked to the skin with the dew.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: Resplendent! Somme Prairie Grove is known for the simultaneous blooms of many species, and that’s what you’ll find right now. However, most of the flowering is taking place in the sunny oak savanna. The woodland offers big displays of woodland sunflower and many more flowers and grasses that include the pink-plumed sweet Joe-Pye weed, lofty pale Indian plantain, the yellow-petaled sweet coneflower, brown-eyed Susan, black-eyed Susan, and large flowered false foxglove, plus the purple buttons of Missouri ironweed, and the perfectly named bottlebrush grass. Under the open sky of the savanna, golden rays of prairie dock, compass plant, and tall coreopsis reach for the clouds. Closer to Earth, you’ll find scores of other flowers that will take your breath away with sparkling textures and colors that include the following species: white filigrees of flowering spurge, faded wild quinine, mountain mint and rattlesnake master, the goldenrods (including early and grass-leaved), the wonderfully woolly flower heads of round-headed bush clover, and the pinks and purples of showy tick trefoilnodding wild onion, swamp milkweed, obedient plant, spotted Joe-Pye weed, and a smattering of rough blazing star. And closest to earth are the glorious low-lying blooms of four gorgeous gentians: cream, bottle, stiff, and prairie. If you run into the yellow-flowered rosinweed, run your fingers over the stiff foliage and you’ll instantly understand the name. Along your walk, you may also find these flowering plants: blue vervain, self heal, the gorgeous red cardinal flower, and the miniature blooms of big bluestem and Indian grass. As is common during the late-summer months, you’ll travel through tunnels of big bluestem grass and Indian grass, which is probably the reason for the misnomer “tallgrass prairie.” It’s a misnomer because most species in a prairie are actually forbs (flowering plants). Still, when the first settlers travelling from the forests of the east, the towering grasses of Illinois would have been an unexpected obstacle. The floppy stringy hairdos of prairie dropseed is growing everywhere under the sun, but watch your step. It’s very easy to trip over. Come early or late in the day to experience green glow from compass plant and prairie dock. And finally, don’t miss the dramatic displays of rattlesnake master “skeletons.” While long past bloom, these decaying cadavers prove that even decay can be beautiful at Somme Prairie Grove!   NOTE:  The trails are narrow and can be somewhat overgrown. So watch your step. If you visit in the morning, wear rain gear or the plants will drench you with dew.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park: Paradise! This black oak/sand savanna should be putting on its finest performance of the season that can be described as purple with splashes of gold and white. The spectacular purple spikes of rough blazing star are the star of the show with a glowing cast that includes white flowering spurge, flashy field goldenrod, and the floating yellow rays of western sunflower. You’ll also find the buttery trumpets of large flowered false foxglove, the elegantly understated flower heads of round-headed bush clover, and many beautiful grasses.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs: 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 red-stemmed counterpart, long-bracted tickseed sunflower, are joined by tall coreopsis, stiff goldenrod, and others of that ilk. There should be a beautiful display of ivory false aster in the westmost prairie where it’s 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, rough blazing star, New England aster, and slender false foxglove. And the turkey-foot tassels of big bluestem and feathered plumes of Indian grass fill the prairie with early tones of autumn. They sway in the prairie winds amongst a subtle color palette of plants that have exited the main stage. While the ivory Tinker Toy shapes of rattlesnake master and the cauliflower-heads of wild quinine have faded, they still maintain their whimsical nature. The white button flower heads of mountain mint don’t have many flowers left, but they still retain their stimulating scent. The woodlands have a bit of a sparkle, with elm-leaved goldenrod, white snakeroot, and a variety of asters. And finally, a small colony of American lotus in Hogwash Slough may still be seen from a high point along the trail. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Wolf Road Prairie is not too far away.

Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest: Golden! The prairie is overflowing golden flowers, mainly dominated sawtooth sunflower and many goldenrods that include tall, grass-leaved, and stiff. Also adding to the yellow mix is rosinweed, sneezeweed, brown-eyed Susan, and a towering combination of cup plant, tall coreopsis, sweet coneflower, and compass plant. Highlights of pearl can be seen in flowering spurge and tall boneset alongside the browning rattlesnake master mountain mint, and the towering pale Indian plantain. The dramatic deep purples of ironweed add some visual excitement. And there’s much more to see: colonies of obedient plant, some remaining wild bergamot and mountain mint, the sublime cream gentian, and the start of New England aster.  In the wetter areas, you may still find spires of great blue lobelia, halberd-leaved rose mallow, the brilliantly red cardinal flower, and the gorgeous pink blooms of swamp milkweed and spotted Joe-Pye weed. And finally, this is the perfect time to experience the many grasses that include Canada wild rye, big bluestem, and Indian grass.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham: First of all, the preserve is NOT LOCKED. It only looks that way. The chain is just draped over the top of the gate. Just move the chain to enter, and then move it back when you leave. Once inside, I suggest walking all of the trails to enjoy the many flowers that vary along the way. In August, you can often find at least two dozen species in bloom at the same time, while the textures of the grasses and sedges add to the grand experience. Stop to appreciate the purple waves of big bluestem and oceans of prairie cordgrass that rise and fall like waves in the wind. Experience the whimsical plumes of Canada wild rye, big bluestem, Indian grass,  switch grass, and prairie dropseed. Spend a moment to inhale dropseed‘s feather duster. It smells like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. Start by taking the path to your left, and travel clockwise around the square mowed trail. Along your way, you should find a beautiful mix of yellow, white, and pink. Grass-leaved, tall, and stiff goldenrod combine with sympathetic hues of long-bracted tickseed sunflower sawtooth sunflowerrosinweed, tall coreopsis, prairie dock, and sneezeweed. Large white blooms of tall boneset fall amidst the now-brown flowers of rattlesnake master, wild quinine, and mountain mint. And the pinks are provided by ironweed, slender false foxglove, and the start of New England aster, and spotted Joe-Pye weed in the wet areas, and the occasional appearances of rough blazing star and pasture thistle. As you peruse the prairie, see if you can find the fluffy greenish heads of round-headed bush clover. As you return on the final leg of the square, the scenery turns to shrubs and royal ferns.

 

“GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”:

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins: A glorious grassland! The main show should be taking place in small patch of dolomite prairie on the eastern half of the preserve, where rough blazing star is blooming strong alongside reddish sprays of the beautiful little bluestem grass, pink blooms of nodding wild onion, yellow highlights of field goldenrod and prairie dock, and a good amount of the unusual white goldenrod. Aside from that little show, the sea of grasses and the mix of yellow flowers dominates the vast majority of the prairie panorama. You’ll experience the beautiful flowing grasses that includes: Indian grass, big bluestem, little bluestem, switch grass, Canada wild rye, prairie dropseed, and side oats grama. And you’ll see a variety of flowers, too, like tall coreopsis, goldenrods, smooth ironweed, spotted Joe-Pye weed, great blue lobelia, sneezeweed, sweet coneflower, swamp rose mallow, pasture thistle, swamp thistle, and stands of late boneset. NOTE: Spears Woods and Wolf Road Prairie are not too far away.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove: Right now, this intimate remnant prairie is not nearly as showy as the preserves on our “Go” list (above). Currently, you’ll find a scattered display of rough blazing star alongside the pinks of nodding wild onion, the occasional pasture thistle, and the seas of towering grasses that give the forb-rich tallgrass prairie its misleading name. A tunnel of big bluestem takes over much of the southern path, obscuring everything from view. If you visit in the morning, make sure to wear rain gear or you’ll get drenched from head to toe. You’ll see tall goldenrod and skyward sawtooth sunflower with other goldenrod species beginning their blooms. There are sparkles of ivory in a late-blooming patch of wild quinine, the whitish pink blooms of nodding wild onion, and the sublime cream gentian. To find this cream-colored flower that resembles blue bottle gentian (see pictures below), keep your eyes down and pay careful attention as you walk the trail.

Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie Wisconsin (8/29=): This gorgeous prairie-by-the-lake offers various goldenrods, some very nice patches of western sunflower, a smattering of rough blazing star, and sparkling sprays of flowering spurge. Also, blooms of Goldenrod, sawtooth sunflower, and Kalm’s St. John’s wort are in keeping with the month of gold. And you may find the purples of the sublime prairie and fringed gentian. Note: Definitely consider visiting Illinois Beach Nature Preserve while you’re already in the area.

 

 

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: BOTTLE GENTIAN

 

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

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

When I first set eyes upon these fading blooms of bottle gentian, I was taken aback, struck by an arrow through my heart. Instantly, I fell in love with the prettiest flowers I had ever seen. Maybe I was just having one of those days, but I was close to tears.

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.*

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

 

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.

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

 

Bluff Spring Fen

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

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

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

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

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.*

Soft sunlight, diffused by morning mist, filters across the preserve. Gathered at the base of the kame, fire-resistant bur oaks hover above a colorful caboodle of spotted Joe-Pye weed and tall goldenrod.*

Soft sunlight, diffused by morning mist, filters across the preserve. Gathered at the base of the kame, fire-resistant bur oaks hover above a colorful caboodle of spotted Joe-Pye weed and tall goldenrod.*

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

Here at at Bluff Spring Fen on the cusp of August and September, rough blazing star puts on spectacular shows around the Chicago region.*

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

Purple buttons of cylindrical blazing star blooms cover the northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

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

Grasses of Canada wild rye and big bluestem sparkle with dew in the morning prairie 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 named Shoe Factory Road Prairie, obedient plant and Indian grass take in the view.*

 

Lake in the Hills Fen

At the cusp of August and September, tall goldenrod and purple rough blazing star contribute to an explosion of color at Lake in the Hills Fen.*

At the cusp of August and September, tall goldenrod and purple rough blazing star contribute to an explosion of color 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 Hill Fen.*

In August, a knee-high carpet of grass-leaved goldenrod sparkles in the midst of tall goldenrod and a soaring phalanx of prairie dock.*

In late August at Lake in the Hills Fen, a knee-high carpet of grass-leaved goldenrod sparkles in the midst of tall goldenrod and a soaring phalanx of prairie dock.*

 

Pembroke Savanna

The celebration of rough blazing star and field goldenrod is probably Pembroke’s most prolific performance of the year, but it’s by no means the only one. This rich community of plants puts on many shows throughout the growing season.*

The celebration of rough blazing star and field goldenrod is probably Pembroke’s most prolific performance of the year, but it’s by no means the only one. This rich community of plants puts on many shows throughout the growing season.*

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

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