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ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
04-15-2024

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ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT 04-15-2024

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
April 15, 2024

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

 

Plan the Best Nature Walks & Getaways Around Chicago!

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Springtime blooms are exploding!
And Virginia bluebells may reach peak bloom this week.

 

WILDFLOWER FORECAST & HIGHLIGHTS to help you plan your outdoor adventures into Chicago’s Woodlands:

APRIL PUTS ON THE SPECTACULAR SHOWS OF VIRGINIA BLUEBELL AND LARGE-FLOWERED TRILLIUM. But are they blooming now? According to my database, there’s a good chance of catching both performances very soon. But nature isn’t about the flower-hunting. It’s about the experience. Explore and discover a preserve from the list below. Nature is unpredictable, so be open to its 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.

Now is the time to be on the lookout for two spectacular shows, that of the Virginia Bluebell and large-flowered trillium. The best blooms of Virginia Bluebells take place at O’Hara Woods, Pilcher Park, and Messenger Woods. Our database shows peak bluebell bloom happening anytime between April 2 and May 6. The former was in 2012 when it was 85 degrees in April! It puts on the most breathtaking performance of early spring. The oceans of blue are proof that Chicago nature offers beauty that rivals the national parks. Experience the magnificence with your eyes, as well as your nose, as the scent of these azure flowers fills the air with a sweet fragrance that some people liken to Froot Loops cereal. Instead of listening to “some people,” I did a little experiment of my own. I took the cereal into the field and compared its scent to the flowers. Find the bluebell photos below to learn what I found.

The breathtaking show of large-flowered trillium usually corresponds closely to that of the bluebell, peaking just slightly after. These magnificent blossoms put on the best shows at Heron Rookery Trail (at Indiana Dunes National Park) and at the nearby J. Timothy Ritchie Preserve that’s owned by Shirley Hines Land Trust. These alabaster beauties also grow at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen, Meacham Grove in DuPage County, Harms Woods in Glenview, and Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa. And speaking of trillium, the elegant and ethereal prairie trillium flowers in most of our woodlands. 

The earliest of our spring ephemerals may be gone or well into their blooming cycle. Many of them are colored white, including bloodroot, false rue anemone, rue anemone, spring cress, white trout lily, Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwort (our Plant of the Week). Spring beauty is white with pink stripes, and sharp-lobed hepatica offers a beautiful palette ranging from white to lavender to purple.

The yellow blossoms of marsh marigold may still be blooming at many preserves, including Pilcher Park, Bluff Spring Fen, Trout Park, Captain Daniel Wright Woods, and at McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park (across the stream from the parking lot). Along the trails of our fine woodlands, check for yellow violet, bristly buttercup, yellow trout lily, buttery wood betony, and the shy drooping blossoms of large-flowered bellwort. You should be able to see some some red in the form of the aforementioned prairie trillium. And as for the hues of blues, our common blue violet is extremely beautiful when growing in a clump amidst its heart-shaped foliage. And, as mentioned before, one of the biggest flower shows of the year is a celebration of blue, as a sea of Virginia Bluebells flood the woodland floor.

And let’s not forget the textured lushness and shapely foliage that typify vernal season: wild leek, mayapple, skunk cabbage, and wild ginger. Wild leek is the one of the first plants to sprout, with a spray of swordlike leaves that make up a large percentage of the woodland greenery. You should now find mayapple with leaves that resemble an open umbrella, or a closed umbrella when they first sprout. Seek out the the sprawling leaves of skunk cabbage in the wet and muddy areas. Great displays can be found at Pilcher Park, Trout Park, Black Partridge Woods, and Bluff Spring Fen. And notice the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger and its fuzzy burgundy flower hiding underneath. As an interesting history lesson, wild leek is the plant that gives Chicago its name. In the late 1600s, Potawatomi Indians who paddled the area rivers were commonly heard yelling “Chicagoua!” after catching a strong whiff of chicagoua, or wild leek, growing prolifically along the wooded banks. Wild leek is part of the onion family, hence the Chicago nickname, “The Big Onion.” 

NOTE: It is illegal to remove this plant, or any other plant, from any preserve in the Chicago region. 

 

SPRING 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!”):

O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville: The spectacular display of Virginia bluebells usually begins around this time, though it can vary between April 2 and May 5. This will be the top preserve to visit when the Virginia bluebells reach their peak. The preserve was once called Dynamite Woods because the site stored explosives during World War II. You can still see the crumbling bunkers, but they’re being taken over by woodland plants. Around this time, the white flowers of cutleaf toothwort should be exploding like sparklers across the woodland floor. Walk towards the stream along the south end of the preserve, and you’ll find Dutchman’s breeches (that look like white, puffy overalls), spring beauty, skunk cabbage, mayapple, wild leek (Chicago’s namesake), and Virginia bluebells

Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park (National Park Pass required): Begin your stroll at the west parking lot. This woodland usually blooms earlier than most of our other preserves, but it can also be flooded by waters of the adjacent Little Calumet River. You may find sparkles of sharp-lobed hepatica, rue anemone and false rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwort, purple cress, bloodroot, and spring beauty. Look for patches of spear-like foliage that resemble green spotted trout. In there, you may find magnificent blooms of yellow trout lily. The otherworldly burgundy prairie trillium may also be flowering by now, and so might the bright-yellow bristly buttercup that enjoys wet and muddy woodlands. The lush, sprawling foliage of wild leek, mayapple, and wild ginger greatly enhance the springtime experience. Sometime between the middle of April and early May, large-flowered trillium puts on a grand show. The display of trillium is even better at the nearby J. Timothy Ritchie Preserve which is owned by Shirley Hines Land Trust. The gently rolling landscape and river appeal to me at Heron Rookery Trail. But Timothy Ritchie is a great complement to Heron Rookery Trail.

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee: The preserve puts on a show with a rich variety of flowers throughout the month of April and into the second half of May. Look for the whitish pink expanse of spring beauty and myriad other wildflowers, including Dutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone, rue anemone, bloodroot, cutleaf toothwort, and surprisingly large colonies of flowering white trout lily. Adding to the color palette, you may see common blue violet, the golden hues of common yellow violet and bristly buttercup, and the strange and wonderful maroon tones of prairie trillium. Also, experience the jade hues and lush patterns of wild leek, mayapple, and wild ginger that add to the springtime mix. This preserve offers a nice display of Virginia bluebells, but not an overwhelming ocean like other preserves. Note that many spring flowers don’t open up at the break of day. They are awakened by the light. On cloudy days, they may remain enclosed safely in their buds. Fortunately, when closed, the Dutchman’s breeches cannot close and the white petals of toothwort are still visible and continue to twinkle.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont: This preserve makes me happy with its lushness and many patterns and shades of emerald foliage, especially the swords of wild leek, umbrellas of mayapple, hearts of wild ginger, sprawling skunk cabbage, and stars of soon-to-bloom wild geranium. Hidden amongst the jade hues, try to find the beautiful floating foliage of early meadow rue. See if you can still spot the shimmering petals of bloodroot, sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, and the occasional Dutchman’s breeches. Search for the azure tones of common blue violet and woodland phlox. And seek for the shy drooping yellow blossoms of large-flowered bellwort. This is usually the best time to find Virginia bluebells blooming, with the largest display located west of the creek.

Johnson’s Mound Forest Preserve in Elburn: This intimate preserve is known for its ravines that sparkle white with dense white colonies of false rue anemone that flow across the braes. But you’ll also see many other plants, as well, like cutleaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches. sharp-lobed hepatica, wild leek, mayapple, prairie trillium and common blue violet, and the sublime large-flowered large-flowered bellwort that also grows in colonies. In late April or early May, look for drooping trillium and large-flowered trillium.

Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet: Begin your hike at the nature center where you may find a lush understory of spring wildflowers. Depending on when you visit, you may find sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, purple cress, and Dutchman’s breeches. Just as beautiful as the flowers are the fresh green leaves of wild leek, mayapple, and skunk cabbage. My favorite flower-of-the-moment is marsh marigold. Look for its yellow blossoms in the low, muddy areas of the site. You can find them near the nature center and around the trail after the bridge at this GPS coordinate: 41.532780, -88.016478. While you’re there (and just about anywhere with mud), look for the large fanning foliage of skunk cabbage. They’re hard to miss. Virginia bluebells also like the mud, especially along the banks of the creek. This preserve is one of the best places to experience a vastitude of bluebells which often flowers between mid-April and the first week of May.

Fermilab Natural Areas in Batavia: The woodland adjacent to the prairie is rich in springtime ephemerals. Depending on the date of your visit, you’ll find many of the usual suspects in bloom: cutleaf toothwort, bloodroot, spring beauty, white trout lilyDutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone, prairie trillium, and yellow colonies of swamp buttercup. And of course, these flowers will fall against a verdant backdrop of mayapple, wild ginger, and some wild leek. In May, the grand alabaster blossoms of large-flowered trillium steal the show amidst floating pink blossoms of wild geranium.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen: This preserve exudes that green and luxuriant feeling of spring. Once spring takes hold, you’ll see a variety of blooming ephemerals amidst an emerald carpet often rich in a lacy false mermaid, mayapple, wild leek, and wild ginger. The most common blossoms that bloom in early spring are spring beautycutleaf toothwortDutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, false rue anemone, white trout lily, and prairie trillium. This preserve is known for its vast display of bluebells, which can reach peak bloom sometime between April 2 and May 6, though often in the last week of April.

 

“GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”:

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Early in the spring, the transcendent yellow blossoms of marsh marigold should be flowering alongside fresh lush colonies of skunk cabbage. Soon after, you should also find miniature canopies of mayapple and a small number of spring ephemerals. And under the shade of the oaks in the savanna, you’ll find small patches of false rue anemone. For the best views of marsh marigold and skunk cabbage, visit Trout Park for dense populations of these plants in an intimate setting. The preserve features a trail that takes you up and down the bluffs that includes a wooden boardwalk that carefully guides you through sensitive wet areas. While on the boardwalk, look for Chicago’s only native evergreen tree, the northern white cedar. Atop the bluff, you’ll find other spring wildflowers.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: Park at the main parking lot for this preserve, located at Somme Woods, and then follow the narrow trail to Somme Prairie Grove. Note that springtime starts a little later in the northern suburbs. Remain under the tree canopy to see the most spring ephemerals. Along your stroll, you should discover spring beauty, white trout lily, some bloodroot, cutleaf toothwort, mayapple, and others.

NOTE: If you can’t make it to our showcase preserves, try McKinley Woods/Fredericks Grove in Channahon, Johnson’s Mound in Elburn, Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa, and Harms Woods in Glenview, and Oldfield Oaks in Darien, and J. Timothy Ritchie Preserve in Chesterton, Indiana. You’re bound to find some good stuff.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK (Cutleaf Toothwort):

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

False Rue Anemone:

False rue anemone

False rue anemone (of species Enemion biternatum) is a beautiful plant that often blooms in dense colonies. The flowers are white and never have more than five sepals (the white petals that really aren’t petals at all). During the night, they close up into little white balls. False rue anemone is more common than its similar, (true) rue anemone. You can tell them apart by looking at their leaves and flowers. The flowers of false rue anemone can have many sepals, whereas the false version only has five. And the three-lobed leaves have a deeper cleavage between the lobes. Both characteristics are depicted in the image. You can see this plant at any of our showcase woodland. But the nicest shows take place at Johnson’s Mound, Black Partridge Woods, and Heron Rookery Trail. This and every other woodland wildflower is under attack by the foreign invader known as garlic mustard. It crowds out and poisons its neighbors until all that remains is its own kind covering black earth. This is one reason why the forest preserves are always looking for volunteers, like you, to help control such threats. Volunteer today!

 

Rue Anemone:

Rue anemone (of of species Thalictrum thalictroides) is a found in the higher quality woodlands of our region that have not been disturbed by human activity. The plant is sometimes called windflower because of ease at which the flowers blow around in the breeze. And windflower definitely likes the breeze because its blossoms depend on the wind for pollination. Here, it was a cold Tuesday morning at Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve. And while there were hundreds of flowers waiting to open, only this plant of rue anemone was brave enough to blossom.

Rue anemone (of species Thalictrum thalictroides) is a found in the higher quality woodlands of our region that have not been disturbed by human activity. The plant is sometimes called windflower because of the ease at which the flowers blow around in the breeze. And windflower definitely likes the breeze because its blossoms depend on the wind for pollination. Here, it was a cold Tuesday morning at Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve. And while there were hundreds of flowers waiting to open, only this plant of rue anemone was brave enough to blossom. This plant is often confused with false rue anemone. The flowers and foliage are similar, but a closer look will reveal the difference. The number of flower petals, which are actually not petals but sepals, number only five on false rue anemone, whereas the sepal count for rue anemone varies widely, even on the same plant. Here, we see ten. As for the foliage, both have foliage with three lobes. However, they’re “deeply lobed” on the false version, meaning that the leaves have a deeper cleavage between the lobes. Also, the true version tends to grow alone, while the false often grows in clusters.

 

Sharp-lobed Hepatica:

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

This is sharp-lobed hepatica of species Hepatica nobilis acuta. It pops up through a layer of last year’s leaves and beckons the start of the new blooming season with floral color that ranges from white to pink, blue to purple. I’m especially taken by the colorful, textured cluster of miniature structures that inhabit the center of the flower, the deep three-lobed leaves, and the dark red stems. Another name for hepatica is liverleaf, referring to the shape of the leaf’s lobes. Early in the spring, you can find them at Heron Rookery Trail, Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve, Bluff Spring Fen, and here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.*

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

Here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois, a group of sharp-lobed hepatica huddles around the base of an oak tree.*

 

Bloodroot:

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

This is bloodroot of species Sanguinaria canadensis. The white flowers are beautiful, but short-lived. At the end of its run, the slightest touch send the petals falling to the ground. The common name and genus name Sanguinaria come from the fact that breaking the stem or the roots makes the plant bleed a red juice. Don’t pick the flower to find out. Just take my word for it. Native Americans used the plant for dying their clothes and baskets, and for body paint. In woodlands, the wind gets broken up by trees which reduces its speed. Therefore, bloodroot and most other woodland plants do not depend on the breeze to disperse their seed. They rely on ants. In a process known as myrmechochory, the seeds of bloodroot have a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that’s made up of fat or oil. The ants take the seeds back to their colonies where they eat the elaiosomes, but discard the seed into an rich and nourishing accumulation of nest debris where the seeds can safety germinate under the unwitting protection of the colony.

 

Marsh Marigold:

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

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

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

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

Marsh marigolds and skunk cabbage at McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park, Illinois.*

Marsh marigold and skunk cabbage mix and mingle at McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park, Illinois.

 
 

Virginia Bluebells put on April’s most breathtaking flower show, any time between April 2 and May 6:

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

Before they bloom, the Virginia bluebell (of species Mertensia virginica) shows off pink and purple buds. You can find them at Messenger Woods, Pilcher Park, Black Partridge Woods, and here at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville.*

Virginia bluebell

Ah, the Virginia bluebell. This flower is not only beautiful, but it smells wonderful as well. When the flowers are blooming, the woodland fills with a fragrance that some say resembles the scent of Froot Loops cereal. So, last year, I put this to a test, in side-by-side comparison. First, I lowered my nose into a small plastic bag filled with the cereal. Wow! I didn’t realize how “sharp” the sweetness was. Then, I cleared my nose by smelling my glove, and moved my nostrils into the fragrant blue trumpets. Here’s what I found. The bluebells do smell like the cereal, but not as sharp. But they also have a floral aroma. Therefore, bluebells smell like a floral Chanel version of Froot Loops cereal. Right now, you’ll find mostly buds and maybe a few open flowers of Virginia bluebell (species Mertensia virginica) at Messenger Woods, Pilcher Park, Black Partridge Woods, and here at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville.*

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

O’Hara Woods presents the best display of of Virginia bluebells around that fill the air with a floral scent of Froot Loops cereal.*

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

Visit Pilcher Park Nature Center for one of the best performance of Virginia bluebell in the region.*

In April, Virginia bluebells bloom in profusion along the creek at Raccoon Grove in Monee, Illinois

Virginia bluebells bloom en mass along the creek at Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee, though not in vast expanses like other woodlands on our list.*

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

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen is one of the best places to experience breathtaking expanses of Virginia bluebells.*

 

Large-flowered Trillium can bloom between mid-April and early May:

Large-flowered trillium of species Trillium grandiflorum covers the woodland floor in a spectacular annual display at J. Timothy Ritchie Nature Preserve in Chesterton, Indiana.*

Large-flowered trillium of species Trillium grandiflorum covers the woodland floor in a spectacular annual display at J. Timothy Ritchie Nature Preserve in Chesterton, Indiana. This is not on our list of showcase preserves, but it’s a wonderful supplement to your visit to nearby Heron Rookery Trail.

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

Sometime between mid-April and early May, large-flowered trillium will appear at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen. The bloom usually coincides with that of Virginia bluebell.*

Large-flowered trillium bloom in profusion at Harms Woods in Cook County, Illinois. The flowers turn pink as they fade.*

The blooming in the northern suburbs lags behind the southern ones, so it takes a little longer for the large-flowered trillium to appear at Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Metawa and, here, at Harms Woods in Glenview. Notice how the flowers turn pink as they fade.*

 

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

Dutchman's Breeches at O'Hara Woods

O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve has a large number of Dutchman’s breeches. It is one of my favorite spring flowers because the flower is just so kooky and the leaves are a dream. Unlike many woodland ephemerals that wait for the sun before they open, these flowers are on full display at any time. You can find them at Heron Rookery Trail, Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve, and many of our showcase woodlands.*

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

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

 

Prairie Trillium:

Prairie trillium and setting sun.*

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

 

Mayapple:

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

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

 

Skunk Cabbage:

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

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

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

In late winter and early spring, skunk cabbage penetrates the frozen temperatures of late winter to be Chicago’s first plant to bloom. It uses its own heating system to melt the snow and ice in a process known as thermogenesis. The bumps atop the ball inside the spathe (the hood) are the plant’s flowers. And that ball is called the spadix. It’s the furnace that generates the heat and also creates a odor reminiscent of a yummy dead animal. Not yummy to us, but to carrion flies that are in search of a delicious treat. The plant uses this trick to attract flies, hoping that they’ll unwittingly pollinate the flowers as they buzz about looking for something dead to eat.

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

In its early stages, the speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.

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

 

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—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
04-08-2024

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

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT 04-08-2024

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
April 8, 2024

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

 

Plan the Best Nature Walks & Getaways Around Chicago!

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
.
Donate to Our GoFundMe Campaign

 

All of our early bloomers are well underway.
And Virginia bluebells may be starting to bloom,
but it’s been cold and rainy lately.

 

WILDFLOWER FORECAST & HIGHLIGHTS to help you plan your outdoor adventures into Chicago’s Woodlands:

APRIL PUTS ON THE SPECTACULAR SHOWS OF VIRGINIA BLUEBELL AND LARGE-FLOWERED TRILLIUM. But are they blooming now? I think they should start soon, once the sun comes out again. But nature isn’t about the 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 an important time to be on the lookout for the spectacular shows of Virginia Bluebell and large-flowered trillium. The best blooms of Virginia Bluebells take place at O’Hara Woods, Pilcher Park, and Messenger Woods. Our database shows peak bluebell bloom happening anytime between April 2 and May 6. The former was in 2012 when it was 85 degrees in April! It puts on the most breathtaking performance of early spring. The oceans of blue are proof that Chicago nature offers beauty that rivals the national parks. Experience the magnificence with your eyes, as well as your nose, as the scent of these azure flowers fills the air with a sweet fragrance that some people liken to Froot Loops cereal. Instead of listening to “some people,” I did a little experiment of my own. I took the cereal into the field and compared its scent to the flowers. See the bluebell photos below to learn what I found.

The stunning show of large-flowered trillium usually corresponds closely to that of the bluebell, peaking just slightly after. These magnificent blossoms put on the best shows at Heron Rookery Trail (at Indiana Dunes National Park) and at the nearby J. Timothy Ritchie Preserve that’s owned by Shirley Hines Land Trust. These alabaster beauties also grow at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen, Meacham Grove in DuPage County, Harms Woods in Glenview, and Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa. And speaking of trillium, the elegant and ethereal prairie trillium also flowers in most of our woodlands. 

The earliest of our spring ephemerals may be gone or well into their blooming cycle. Many of them are colored white, including bloodroot, false rue anemone, rue anemone, spring cress, white trout lily, Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwort (our Plant of the Week). Spring beauty is white with pink stripes, and sharp-lobed hepatica offers a beautiful palette ranging from white to lavender to purple.

The yellow blossoms of marsh marigold may still be blooming at some preserves, including Pilcher Park, Bluff Spring Fen, Trout Park, Captain Daniel Wright Woods, and at McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park (across the stream from the parking lot). Along the trails of our fine woodlands, check for yellow violet, bristly buttercup, yellow trout lily, buttery wood betony, and the shy drooping blossoms of large-flowered bellwort. You should be able to see some some red in the form of the aforementioned prairie trillium. And as for the hues of blues, our common blue violet is extremely beautiful when growing in a clump amidst its heart-shaped foliage. And, as mentioned before, one of the biggest flower shows of the year is a celebration of blue, as a sea of Virginia Bluebells flood the woodland floor.

And let’s not forget the textured lushness and shapely foliage that typify vernal season: wild leek, mayapple, skunk cabbage, and wild ginger. Wild leek is the one of the first plants to sprout, with a spray of swordlike leaves that make up a large percentage of the woodland greenery. You should now find mayapple with leaves that resemble an open umbrella, or a closed umbrella when they first sprout. Seek out the the sprawling leaves of skunk cabbage in the wet and muddy areas. Great displays can be found at Pilcher Park, Trout Park, Black Partridge Woods, and Bluff Spring Fen. And notice the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger and its fuzzy burgundy flower hiding underneath. As an interesting history lesson, wild leek is the plant that gives Chicago its name. In the late 1600s, Potawatomi Indians who paddled the area rivers were commonly heard yelling “Chicagoua!” after catching a strong whiff of chicagoua, or wild leek, growing prolifically along the wooded banks. Wild leek is part of the onion family, hence the Chicago nickname, “The Big Onion.” 

NOTE: It is illegal to remove this plant, or any other plant from any preserve in the Chicago region.

 

SPRING 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!”):

O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville: The spectacular display of Virginia bluebells is usually taking place around this time, though it can vary between April 2 and May 5. This will be the top preserve to visit when the Virginia bluebells reach their peak. The preserve was once called Dynamite Woods because the site stored explosives during World War II. You can still see the crumbling bunkers, but they’re being taken over by woodland plants. Around this time, the white flowers of cutleaf toothwort should be exploding like sparklers across the woodland floor. Walk towards the stream along the south end of the preserve, and you’ll find Dutchman’s breeches (that look like white, puffy overalls), spring beauty, skunk cabbage, mayapple, wild leek (Chicago’s namesake), and Virginia bluebells

Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park: The peak bloom of large-flowered trillium usually happens around this time, but it can be earlier or later depending on the whims of Mother Nature. The display of trillium is even better at the nearby J. Timothy Ritchie Preserve, which is owned by Shirley Hines Land Trust. Begin your stroll at the west parking lot. This woodland usually blooms earlier than most of our other preserves, but it can also be flooded by waters of the adjacent Little Calumet River. You may find sparkles of sharp-lobed hepatica, rue anemone and false rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwort, purple cress, bloodroot, and spring beauty. Look for patches of spear-like foliage that resemble green spotted trout. In there, you may find magnificent blooms of yellow trout lily. The otherworldly burgundy prairie trillium may also be flowering by now, and so might the bright-yellow bristly buttercup that enjoys wet and muddy woodlands. The lush, sprawling foliage of wild leek, mayapple, and wild ginger greatly enhance the springtime experience. 

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee: The preserve puts on a show with a rich variety of flowers throughout the month of April and into the second half of May. Look for the whitish pink expanse of spring beauty and myriad other wildflowers, including Dutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone, rue anemone, bloodroot, cutleaf toothwort, and surprisingly large colonies of flowering white trout lily. Adding to the color palette, you may see common blue violet, the golden hues of common yellow violet and swamp buttercup, and the strange and wonderful maroon tones of prairie trillium. Also, experience the jade hues and lush patterns of wild leek, mayapple, and wild ginger that add to the springtime mix. This preserve offers a nice display of Virginia bluebells, but not an overwhelming ocean like other preserves. Note that many spring flowers don’t open up at the break of day. They are awakened by the light. On cloudy days, they may remain enclosed safely in their buds. Fortunately, when closed, the Dutchman’s breeches cannot close and the white petals of toothwort are still visible and continue to twinkle.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont: This preserve makes me happy with its lushness and many patterns and shades of emerald foliage, especially the swords of wild leek, umbrellas of mayapple, hearts of wild ginger, sprawling skunk cabbage, and stars of soon-to-bloom wild geranium. Hidden amongst the jade hues, try to find the beautiful floating foliage of early meadow rue. See if you can still spot the shimmering petals of bloodroot, sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, and the occasional Dutchman’s breeches. Search for the azure tones of common blue violet and woodland phlox. And seek out the shy drooping yellow blossoms of large-flowered bellwort. This is usually the best time to find Virginia bluebells blooming, with the largest display located west of the creek.

Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet: Begin your hike at the nature center where you may find a lush understory of spring wildflowers. Depending on when you visit, you may find sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, purple cress, and Dutchman’s breeches. Just as beautiful as the flowers are the fresh green leaves of wild leek, mayapple, and skunk cabbage. My favorite flower-of-the-moment is marsh marigold. Look for its yellow blossoms in the low, muddy areas of the site. You can find them near the nature center and around the trail after the bridge at this GPS coordinate: 41.532780, -88.016478. While you’re there (and just about anywhere with mud), look for the large fanning foliage of skunk cabbage. They’re hard to miss. Virginia bluebells also like the mud, especially along the banks of the creek. This preserve is one of the best places to experience a vastitude of bluebells which often flowers between mid-April and the first week of May.

Johnson’s Mound Forest Preserve in Elburn: This intimate preserve is known for its ravines that sparkle white with dense white colonies of false rue anemone that flow across the braes. But you’ll also see many other plants, as well, like cutleaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches. sharp-lobed hepatica, wild leek, mayapple, prairie trillium and common blue violet, and the sublime large-flowered large-flowered bellwort that also grows in colonies. In late April or early May, look for drooping trillium and large-flowered trillium.

Fermilab Natural Areas in Batavia: The woodland adjacent to the prairie is rich in springtime ephemerals. Depending on the date of your visit, you’ll find many of the usual suspects in bloom: cutleaf toothwort, bloodroot, spring beauty, white trout lilyDutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone, prairie trillium, and yellow colonies of bristly buttercup. And of course, these flowers will fall against a verdant backdrop of mayapple, wild ginger, and some wild leek. In May, the grand alabaster blossoms of large-flowered trillium steal the show amidst floating pink blossoms of wild geranium.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen: The peak bloom of large-flowered trillium usually happens around this time, but it can be earlier or later depending on the weather. This preserve exudes that green and luxuriant feeling of spring. Once spring takes hold, you’ll see a variety of blooming ephemerals amidst an emerald carpet often rich in a lacy false mermaid, mayapple, wild leek, and wild ginger. The most common blossoms that bloom in early spring are spring beautycutleaf toothwortDutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, false rue anemone, white trout lily, and prairie trillium. This preserve is known for its vast display of bluebells, which can reach peak bloom sometime between April 2 and May 6, though often in the last week of April.

 

“GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”:

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Early in the spring, the transcendent yellow blossoms of marsh marigold should be flowering alongside fresh lush colonies of skunk cabbage. Soon after, you should also find miniature canopies of mayapple and a small number of spring ephemerals. And under the shade of the oaks in the savanna, you’ll find small patches of false rue anemone. For the best views of marsh marigold and skunk cabbage, visit Trout Park for dense populations of these plants in an intimate setting. The preserve features a trail that takes you up and down the bluffs that includes a wooden boardwalk that carefully guides you through sensitive wet areas. While on the boardwalk, look for Chicago’s only native evergreen tree, the northern white cedar. Atop the bluff, you’ll find other spring wildflowers.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: Park at the main parking lot for this preserve, located at Somme Woods, and then follow the narrow trail and across the street to Somme Prairie Grove. Note that springtime starts a little later in the northern suburbs. Remain under the tree canopy to see the most spring ephemerals. Along your stroll, you should discover spring beauty, white trout lily, some bloodroot, cutleaf toothwort, mayapple, and others.

NOTE: If you can’t make it to our showcase preserves, try McKinley Woods/Fredericks Grove in Channahon, Johnson’s Mound in Elburn, Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa, and Harms Woods in Glenview, and Oldfield Oaks in Darien, and J. Timothy Ritchie Preserve in Chesterton, Indiana. You’re bound to find some good stuff.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK (Virginia Bluebell):

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

Before they bloom, the Virginia bluebell (of species Mertensia virginica) shows off pink and purple buds. You can find them at Messenger Woods, Pilcher Park, Black Partridge Woods, and here at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville.*

Virginia bluebell

Ah, the Virginia bluebell. This flower is not only beautiful, but it smells wonderful as well. When the flowers are blooming, the woodland fills with a fragrance that some say resembles the scent of Froot Loops cereal. So, last year, I put this to a test, in a side-by-side comparison. First, I lowered my nose into a small plastic bag filled with the cereal. Wow! I didn’t realize how “sharp” the sweetness was. Then, I cleared my nose by smelling my glove, and moved my nostrils into the fragrant blue trumpets. Here’s what I found. The bluebells do smell like the cereal, but not as sharp. But they also have a floral aroma. Therefore, bluebells smell like a floral Chanel version of Froot Loops cereal. Right now, you’ll find mostly buds and maybe a few open flowers of Virginia bluebell (species Mertensia virginica) at Messenger Woods, Pilcher Park, Black Partridge Woods, and here at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville.*

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

O’Hara Woods presents the best display of of Virginia bluebells around that fill the air with a floral scent of Froot Loops cereal.*

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

Visit Pilcher Park Nature Center for one of the best performance of Virginia bluebell in the region.*

In April, Virginia bluebells bloom in profusion along the creek at Raccoon Grove in Monee, Illinois

Virginia bluebells bloom en mass along the creek at Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee, though not in vast expanses like other woodlands on our list.*

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

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen is one of the best places to experience breathtaking expanses of Virginia bluebells.*

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Large-flowered Trillium can bloom between mid-April and early May:

Large-flowered trillium of species Trillium grandiflorum covers the woodland floor in a spectacular annual display at J. Timothy Ritchie Nature Preserve in Chesterton, Indiana.*

Large-flowered trillium of species Trillium grandiflorum covers the woodland floor in a spectacular annual display at J. Timothy Ritchie Nature Preserve in Chesterton, Indiana. This is not on our list of showcase preserves, but it’s a wonderful supplement to your visit to nearby Heron Rookery Trail.

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

Sometime between mid-April and early May, large-flowered trillium will appear at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen. The bloom usually coincides with that of Virginia bluebell.*

Large-flowered trillium bloom in profusion at Harms Woods in Cook County, Illinois. The flowers turn pink as they fade.*

The blooming in the northern suburbs lags behind the southern ones, so it takes a little longer for the large-flowered trillium to appear at Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Metawa and, here, at Harms Woods in Glenview. Notice how the flowers turn pink as they fade.*

 

Cutleaf Toothwort:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Large-Flowered Bellwort:

 

Marsh Marigold:

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

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

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

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

Marsh marigolds and skunk cabbage at McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park, Illinois.*

Marsh marigold and skunk cabbage mix and mingle at McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park, Illinois.

 

False Rue Anemone:

False rue anemone

False rue anemone (of species Enemion biternatum) is a beautiful plant that often blooms in dense colonies. The flowers are white and never have more than five sepals (the white petals that really aren’t petals at all). During the night, they close up into little white balls. False rue anemone is more common than its similar, (true) rue anemone. You can tell them apart by looking at their leaves and flowers. The flowers of false rue anemone can have many sepals, whereas the false version only has five. And the three-lobed leaves have a deeper cleavage between the lobes. Both characteristics are depicted in the image. You can see this plant at any of our showcase woodland. But the nicest shows take place at Johnson’s Mound, Black Partridge Woods, and Heron Rookery Trail. This and every other woodland wildflower is under attack by the foreign invader known as garlic mustard. It crowds out and poisons its neighbors until all that remains is its own kind covering black earth. This is one reason why the forest preserves are always looking for volunteers, like you, to help control such threats. Volunteer today!

 

Rue Anemone:

Rue anemone (of of species Thalictrum thalictroides) is a found in the higher quality woodlands of our region that have not been disturbed by human activity. The plant is sometimes called windflower because of ease at which the flowers blow around in the breeze. And windflower definitely likes the breeze because its blossoms depend on the wind for pollination. Here, it was a cold Tuesday morning at Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve. And while there were hundreds of flowers waiting to open, only this plant of rue anemone was brave enough to blossom.

Rue anemone (of species Thalictrum thalictroides) is a found in the higher quality woodlands of our region that have not been disturbed by human activity. The plant is sometimes called windflower because of the ease at which the flowers blow around in the breeze. And windflower definitely likes the breeze because its blossoms depend on the wind for pollination. Here, it was a cold Tuesday morning at Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve. And while there were hundreds of flowers waiting to open, only this plant of rue anemone was brave enough to blossom. This plant is often confused with false rue anemone. The flowers and foliage are similar, but a closer look will reveal the difference. The number of flower petals, which are actually not petals but sepals, number only five on false rue anemone, whereas the sepal count for rue anemone varies widely, even on the same plant. Here, we see ten. As for the foliage, both have foliage with three lobes. However, they’re “deeply lobed” on the false version, meaning that the leaves have a deeper cleavage between the lobes. Also, the true version tends to grow alone, while the false often grows in clusters.

 

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

Dutchman's Breeches at O'Hara Woods

O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve has a large number of Dutchman’s breeches. It is one of my favorite spring flowers because the flower is just so kooky and the leaves are a dream. Unlike many woodland ephemerals that wait for the sun before they open, these flowers are on full display at any time. You can find them at Heron Rookery Trail, Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve, and many of our showcase woodlands.*

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

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

 

Prairie Trillium:

Prairie trillium and setting sun.*

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

 

 

Sharp-lobed Hepatica:

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

This is sharp-lobed hepatica of species Hepatica nobilis acuta. It pops up through a layer of last year’s leaves and beckons the start of the new blooming season with floral color that ranges from white to pink, blue to purple. I’m especially taken by the colorful, textured cluster of miniature structures that inhabit the center of the flower, the deep three-lobed leaves, and the dark red stems. Another name for hepatica is liverleaf, referring to the shape of the leaf’s lobes. Early in the spring, you can find them at Heron Rookery Trail, Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve, Bluff Spring Fen, and here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.*

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

Here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois, a group of sharp-lobed hepatica huddles around the base of an oak tree.*

 

Bloodroot:

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

This is bloodroot of species Sanguinaria canadensis. The white flowers are beautiful, but short-lived. At the end of its run, the slightest touch send the petals falling to the ground. The common name and genus name Sanguinaria come from the fact that breaking the stem or the roots makes the plant bleed a red juice. Don’t pick the flower to find out. Just take my word for it. Native Americans used the plant for dying their clothes and baskets, and for body paint. In woodlands, the wind gets broken up by trees which reduces its speed. Therefore, bloodroot and most other woodland plants do not depend on the breeze to disperse their seed. They rely on ants. In a process known as myrmechochory, the seeds of bloodroot have a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that’s made up of fat or oil. The ants take the seeds back to their colonies where they eat the elaiosomes, but discard the seed into an rich and nourishing accumulation of nest debris where the seeds can safety germinate under the unwitting protection of the colony.

 

Mayapple:

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

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

 

Wild Ginger:

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

The green foliage is the star of the springtime show. Here you see the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger alongside a single blooming mayapple. The flowers of both plants can be found hiding beneath the leaves. All of our featured woodlands feature both of these plants.*

 

Skunk Cabbage:

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

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

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

In late winter and early spring, skunk cabbage penetrates the frozen temperatures of late winter to be Chicago’s first plant to bloom. It uses its own heating system to melt the snow and ice in a process known as thermogenesis. The bumps atop the ball inside the spathe (the hood) are the plant’s flowers. And that ball is called the spadix. It’s the furnace that generates the heat and also creates a odor reminiscent of a yummy dead animal. Not yummy to us, but to carrion flies that are in search of a delicious treat. The plant uses this trick to attract flies, hoping that they’ll unwittingly pollinate the flowers as they buzz about looking for something dead to eat.

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

In its early stages, the speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.

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

 

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—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
04-01-2024

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

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT 04-01-2024

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
April 1, 2024

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

 

Plan the Best Nature Walks & Getaways Around Chicago!

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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Similar to last week, expect many fresh blooms
amidst a variety of verdant groundcover.
Bronze leaves are being enveloped by new growth and
the hope that comes with rebirth.
Begin your renewal in nature

 

WILDFLOWER FORECAST & HIGHLIGHTS to help you plan your outdoor adventures into Chicago’s Woodlands:

RIGHT NOW, SPRING WILDFLOWERS SHOULD BE BLOOMING QUITE WELL. So, when do the spring blooms begin around Chicago? It varies. According to my database, spring can start anytime between the middle of March and mid-April. So just pick a preserve to explore and discover from the list below. Get out into nature and be open to its 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.

The start of spring begins in Chicago’s woodlands with a celebration of delicate wildflowers. The blossoms may be plentiful, but they’re often diminutive. To best appreciate these small, low-to-the-ground flowers, bend down and take a closer look. Marvel at their intricate beauty. Many of our springtime flowers are colored white, like cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, rue anemone, spring cress, white trout lily, Dutchman’s breeches, and bloodroot (our Plant of the Week). Spring beauty is white with pink stripes, and sharp-lobed hepatica offers a beautiful palette ranging from white to lavender to purple.

You may find yellow flowers, like those of marsh marigold in the muddy woodlands. Oh how I love its flowers and round-hearted leaves. Other golden blooms include yellow violet, bristly buttercup, yellow trout lily, buttery wood betony, and the shy drooping blossoms of large-flowered bellwort. We can see some red in the form of the ethereal prairie trillium. And as for the blues and purples, our common blue violet is extremely beautiful when growing in a clump amidst its heart-shaped foliage. In fact, one of the biggest flower shows of the year is a celebration of blue, as a sea of Virginia Bluebells flood the woodland floor. Our database shows peak bloom happening anytime between April 2 and May 6. The former was in 2012 when it was 85 degrees in April!

And let’s not forget the bright green leaves of the vernal season. You’ll find sprawling leaves of skunk cabbage in the wet and muddy areas with great displays at Pilcher Park, Trout Park, Black Partridge Woods, and Bluff Spring Fen. Wild leek is the one of the first plants to sprout, with swordlike leaves that make up a large percentage of the early-spring greenery. It’s the plant that gives Chicago its name. In the late 1600s, Potawatomi Indians who paddled the area rivers were commonly heard yelling “Chicagoua!” after catching a strong whiff of chicagoua, or wild leek, growing prolifically along the wooded banks. Wild leek is part of the onion family, hence the Chicago nickname, “The Big Onion.” And look for mayapple with foliage that resembles an umbrella, and a closed umbrella when they first sprout. It can take several days for them to open.

NOTE: It is illegal to remove this plant, or any other plant, from any preserve in the Chicago region. 

 

SPRING 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!”):

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee: The preserve puts on a show with a rich variety of flowers throughout the month of April and into the second half of May. Depending on when spring sprung this year, look for the whitish pink expanse of spring beauty and myriad other wildflowers, including Dutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone, rue anemone, bloodroot, and surprisingly large colonies of flowering white trout lily. The strange and wonderful prairie trillium may also be in bloom. Also, experience the jade hues and lush patterns of wild leek, mayapple, and wild ginger that add to the springtime mix. This preserve will soon offer a nice display of Virginia bluebells, but not an overwhelming ocean like other preserves. Note that many spring flowers don’t open up at the break of day. They are awakened by the light. On cloudy days, they may remain enclosed safely in their buds. Fortunately, when closed, the white petals of toothwort are still visible and continue to twinkle. 

Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park (National Park Pass required): Begin at the west parking lot. This woodland usually blooms earlier than most of our other preserves, but it can also be flooded by waters of the adjacent Little Calumet River. Depending on your timing, you may find sparkles of sharp-lobed hepatica, rue anemone and false rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwort, purple cress, bloodroot, and spring beauty. Look for patches of spear-like foliage that resemble green spotted trout. In there, you may find magnificent blooms of yellow trout lily. And prairie trillium may also be flowering by now. The lush, sprawling foliage of mayapple and wild leek greatly enhance the springtime experience.

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

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont: When spring takes hold, this preserve is breathtaking. From the filigreed tree canopy to an understory of lushness with many patterns and shades of emerald foliage, especially wild leek, mayapple, the glorious leaves of skunk cabbage, and the small heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger. And you should soon find the shimmering petals of bloodroot, sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, and the occasional Dutchman’s breechesVirginia bluebells bloom a little later.

Johnson’s Mound Forest Preserve in Elburn: This intimate preserve is known for its ravines that sparkle white with dense white colonies of false rue anemone that flow across the braes. But you’ll also see many other plants, as well, like cutleaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches. sharp-lobed hepatica, wild leek, mayapple, prairie trillium and common blue violet, and the sublime large-flowered large-flowered bellwort that also grows in colonies. In late April or early May, look for drooping trillium and large-flowered trillium.

Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet: Begin your hike at the nature center where you may find a lush understory of spring wildflowers. Depending on when you visit, you may find sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, purple cress, and Dutchman’s breeches. Just as beautiful as the flowers are the fresh green leaves of wild leek, mayapple, and skunk cabbage. My favorite flower-of-the-moment is marsh marigold, which is probably reaching peak bloom. Look for its yellow blossoms in the low, muddy areas of the site. You can find them near the nature center and around the trail after the bridge at this GPS coordinate: 41.532780, -88.016478. While you’re there (and just about anywhere with mud), look for the large fanning foliage of skunk cabbage. They’re hard to miss. Virginia bluebells also like the mud, especially along the banks of the creek. This preserve is one of the best places to experience a vastitude of bluebells, which often flowers between mid-April and the first week of May.

Fermilab Natural Areas in Batavia: The woodland adjacent to the prairie is rich in springtime ephemerals. Depending on the date of your visit, you’ll find many of the usual suspects in bloom: cutleaf toothwort, bloodroot, spring beauty, white trout lilyDutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone, prairie trillium, and yellow colonies of bristly buttercup in the muddy spots. And of course, these flowers will fall against a verdant backdrop of mayapple, wild ginger, and some wild leek. In May, the grand alabaster blossoms of large-flowered trillium steal the show amidst floating pink blossoms of wild geranium.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen: This preserve exudes that green and luxuriant feeling of spring. Once spring takes hold, you’ll see a variety of blooming ephemerals amidst an emerald carpet often rich in a lacy false mermaid. The most common blossoms that bloom in early spring are spring beautycutleaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, and false rue anemone. The foliage of mayapple and wild leek greatly contribute to the lush springtime feel of the place. This preserve is known for its vast display of bluebells, which can reach peak bloom sometime between April 2 and May 5, though often in the last week of April.

 

“GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”:

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Early in the spring, the transcendent yellow blossoms of marsh marigold should be flowering alongside fresh lush colonies of skunk cabbage. Soon after, you should also find miniature canopies of mayapple and a small number of spring ephemerals. And under the shade of the oaks in the savanna, you’ll find small patches of false rue anemone. For the best views of marsh marigold and skunk cabbage, visit Trout Park for dense populations of these plants in an intimate setting. The preserve features a trail that takes you up and down the bluffs that includes a wooden boardwalk that carefully guides you through sensitive wet areas. While on the boardwalk, look for Chicago’s only native evergreen tree, the northern white cedar. Atop the bluff, you’ll find other spring wildflowers.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: Park at the main parking lot for this preserve, located at Somme Woods, and then follow the narrow trail to Somme Prairie Grove. Note that springtime starts a little later in the northern suburbs. Remain under the tree canopy to see the most spring ephemerals. Along your stroll, you should discover spring beauty, white trout lily, some bloodroot, cutleaf toothwort, mayapple, and others.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK (Bloodroot):

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

This is bloodroot of species Sanguinaria canadensis. The white flowers are beautiful, but short-lived. At the end of its run, the slightest touch send the petals falling to the ground. The common name and genus name Sanguinaria come from the fact that breaking the stem or the roots makes the plant bleed a red juice. Don’t pick the flower to find out. Just take my word for it. Native Americans used the plant for dying their clothes and baskets, and for body paint. In woodlands, the wind gets broken up by trees which reduces its speed. Therefore, bloodroot and most other woodland plants do not depend on the breeze to disperse their seed. They rely on ants. In a process known as myrmechochory, the seeds of bloodroot have a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that’s made up of fat or oil. The ants take the seeds back to their colonies where they eat the elaiosomes, but discard the seed into an rich and nourishing accumulation of nest debris where the seeds can safety germinate under the unwitting protection of the colony.

 
 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Sharp-lobed Hepatica:

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

This is sharp-lobed hepatica of species Hepatica nobilis acuta. It pops up through a layer of last year’s leaves and beckons the start of the new blooming season with floral color that ranges from white to pink, blue to purple. I’m especially taken by the colorful, textured cluster of miniature structures that inhabit the center of the flower, the deep three-lobed leaves, and the dark red stems. Another name for hepatica is liverleaf, referring to the shape of the leaf’s lobes. Early in the spring, you can find them at Heron Rookery Trail, Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve, Bluff Spring Fen, and here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.*

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

Here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois, a group of sharp-lobed hepatica huddles around the base of an oak tree.*

 

Marsh Marigold:

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

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

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

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

 
 

Skunk Cabbage:

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

Skunk cabbage penetrates the frozen temperatures of late winter to be Chicago’s first plant to bloom. It uses its own heating system to melt the snow and ice in a process known as thermogenesis. The bumps atop the ball inside the spathe (the hood) are the plant’s flowers. And that ball is called the spadix. It’s the furnace that generates the heat and also creates a odor reminiscent of a yummy dead animal. Not yummy to us, but to carrion flies that are in search of a delicious treat. The plant uses this trick to attract flies, hoping that they’ll unwittingly pollinate the flowers as they buzz about looking for something dead to eat.

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

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.

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

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

 

Cutleaf Toothwort:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Dutchman's Breeches at O'Hara Woods

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

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

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

 

Rue Anemone:

Rue anemone (of of species Thalictrum thalictroides) is a found in the higher quality woodlands of our region that have not been disturbed by human activity. The plant is sometimes called windflower because of ease at which the flowers blow around in the breeze. And windflower definitely likes the breeze because its blossoms depend on the wind for pollination. Here, it was a cold Tuesday morning at Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve. And while there were hundreds of flowers waiting to open, only this plant of rue anemone was brave enough to blossom.

Rue anemone (of species Thalictrum thalictroides) is a found in the higher quality woodlands of our region that have not been disturbed by human activity. The plant is sometimes called windflower because of the ease at which the flowers blow around in the breeze. And windflower definitely likes the breeze because its blossoms depend on the wind for pollination. Here, it was a cold Tuesday morning at Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve. And while there were hundreds of flowers waiting to open, only this plant of rue anemone was brave enough to blossom. This plant is often confused with false rue anemone. The flowers and foliage are similar, but a closer look will reveal the difference. The number of flower petals, which are actually not petals but sepals, number only five on false rue anemone, whereas the sepal count for rue anemone varies widely, even on the same plant. Here, we see ten. As for the foliage, both have foliage with three lobes. However, they’re “deeply lobed” on the false version, meaning that the leaves have a deeper cleavage between the lobes. Also, the true version tends to grow alone, while the false often grows in clusters.

 


False Rue Anemone:

 
False rue anemone

False rue anemone (of species Enemion biternatum) is a beautiful plant that often blooms in dense colonies. The flowers are white and never have more than five sepals (the white petals that really aren’t petals at all). During the night, they close up into little white balls. False rue anemone is more common than its similar, (true) rue anemone. You can tell them apart by looking at their leaves and flowers. The flowers of false rue anemone can have many sepals, whereas the false version only has five. And the three-lobed leaves have a deeper cleavage between the lobes. Both characteristics are depicted in the image. You can see this plant at any of our showcase woodland. But the nicest shows take place at Johnson’s Mound, Black Partridge Woods, and Heron Rookery Trail. This and every other woodland wildflower is under attack by the foreign invader known as garlic mustard. It crowds out and poisons its neighbors until all that remains is its own kind covering black earth. This is one reason why the forest preserves are always looking for volunteers, like you, to help control such threats. Volunteer today!

 

Mayapple:

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

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

 

Prairie Trillium:

Prairie trillium and setting sun.*

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

 

Virginia Bluebell:

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

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

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

 

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

—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
03-25-2024

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

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT 03-25-2024

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
March 25, 2024

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

 

Plan the Best Nature Walks & Getaways Around Chicago!

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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Expect many fresh blooms amidst a variety of verdant groundcover.
Bronze leaves are being enveloped by new growth and
the hope that comes with rebirth.
Begin your renewal in nature.

 

WILDFLOWER FORECAST & HIGHLIGHTS to help you plan your outdoor adventures into Chicago’s Woodlands:

RIGHT NOW, SPRING WILDFLOWERS SHOULD BE BLOOMING QUITE WELL. So, when do the spring blooms begin around Chicago? It varies. According to my database, spring can start anytime between the middle of March and mid-April. So just pick a preserve to explore and discover from the list below. Get out into nature and be open to its 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.

The start of spring begins in Chicago’s woodlands with a celebration of delicate wildflowers. The blossoms may be plentiful, but they’re often diminutive. To best appreciate these small, low-to-the-ground flowers, bend down and take a closer look. Marvel at their intricate beauty. Many of our springtime flowers are colored white, like cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, rue anemone, spring cress, white trout lily, Dutchman’s breeches, and bloodroot (our Plant of the Week). Spring beauty is white with pink stripes, and sharp-lobed hepatica offers a beautiful palette ranging from white to lavender to purple.

You may find yellow flowers, like those of marsh marigold in the muddy woodlands. Oh how I love its flowers and round-hearted leaves. Other golden blooms include yellow violet, bristly buttercup, yellow trout lily, buttery wood betony, and the shy drooping blossoms of large-flowered bellwort. We can see some red in the form of the ethereal prairie trillium. And as for the blues and purples, our common blue violet is extremely beautiful when growing in a clump amidst its heart-shaped foliage. In fact, one of the biggest flower shows of the year is a celebration of blue, as a sea of Virginia Bluebells flood the woodland floor. Our database shows peak bloom happening anytime between April 2 and May 6. The former was in 2012 when it was 85 degrees in April!

And let’s not forget the bright green leaves of the vernal season. You’ll find sprawling leaves of skunk cabbage in the wet and muddy areas with great displays at Pilcher Park, Trout Park, Black Partridge Woods, and Bluff Spring Fen. Wild leek is the one of the first plants to sprout, with swordlike leaves that make up a large percentage of the early-spring greenery. It’s the plant that gives Chicago its name. In the late 1600s, Potawatomi Indians who paddled the area rivers were commonly heard yelling “Chicagoua!” after catching a strong whiff of chicagoua, or wild leek, growing prolifically along the wooded banks. Wild leek is part of the onion family, hence the Chicago nickname, “The Big Onion.” And look for mayapple with foliage that resembles an umbrella, and a closed umbrella when they first sprout. It can take several days for them to open.

NOTE: It is illegal to remove this plant, or any other plant, from any preserve in the Chicago region. 

 

SPRING 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!”):

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee: The preserve puts on a show with a rich variety of flowers throughout the month of April and into the second half of May. Depending on when spring sprung this year, look for the whitish pink expanse of spring beauty and myriad other wildflowers, including Dutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone, rue anemone, bloodroot, and surprisingly large colonies of flowering white trout lily. The strange and wonderful prairie trillium may also be in bloom. Also, experience the jade hues and lush patterns of wild leek, mayapple, and wild ginger that add to the springtime mix. This preserve will soon offer a nice display of Virginia bluebells, but not an overwhelming ocean like other preserves. Note that many spring flowers don’t open up at the break of day. They are awakened by the light. On cloudy days, they may remain enclosed safely in their buds. Fortunately, when closed, the white petals of toothwort are still visible and continue to twinkle. 

Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park (National Park Pass required): Begin at the west parking lot. This woodland usually blooms earlier than most of our other preserves, but it can also be flooded by waters of the adjacent Little Calumet River. Depending on your timing, you may find sparkles of sharp-lobed hepatica, rue anemone and false rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwort, purple cress, bloodroot, and spring beauty. Look for patches of spear-like foliage that resemble green spotted trout. In there, you may find magnificent blooms of yellow trout lily. And prairie trillium may also be flowering by now. The lush, sprawling foliage of mayapple and wild leek greatly enhance the springtime experience.

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

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont: When spring takes hold, this preserve is breathtaking. From the filigreed tree canopy to an understory of lushness with many patterns and shades of emerald foliage, especially wild leek, mayapple, the glorious leaves of skunk cabbage, and the small heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger. And you should soon find the shimmering petals of bloodroot, sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, and the occasional Dutchman’s breechesVirginia bluebells bloom a little later.

Johnson’s Mound Forest Preserve in Elburn: This intimate preserve is known for its ravines that sparkle white with dense white colonies of false rue anemone that flow across the braes. But you’ll also see many other plants, as well, like cutleaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches. sharp-lobed hepatica, wild leek, mayapple, prairie trillium and common blue violet, and the sublime large-flowered large-flowered bellwort that also grows in colonies. In late April or early May, look for drooping trillium and large-flowered trillium.

Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet: Begin your hike at the nature center where you may find a lush understory of spring wildflowers. Depending on when you visit, you may find sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, purple cress, and Dutchman’s breeches. Just as beautiful as the flowers are the fresh green leaves of wild leek, mayapple, and skunk cabbage. My favorite flower-of-the-moment is marsh marigold, which is probably reaching peak bloom. Look for its yellow blossoms in the low, muddy areas of the site. You can find them near the nature center and around the trail after the bridge at this GPS coordinate: 41.532780, -88.016478. While you’re there (and just about anywhere with mud), look for the large fanning foliage of skunk cabbage. They’re hard to miss. Virginia bluebells also like the mud, especially along the banks of the creek. This preserve is one of the best places to experience a vastitude of bluebells, which often flowers between mid-April and the first week of May.

Fermilab Natural Areas in Batavia: The woodland adjacent to the prairie is rich in springtime ephemerals. Depending on the date of your visit, you’ll find many of the usual suspects in bloom: cutleaf toothwort, bloodroot, spring beauty, white trout lilyDutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone, prairie trillium, and yellow colonies of bristly buttercup in the muddy spots. And of course, these flowers will fall against a verdant backdrop of mayapple, wild ginger, and some wild leek. In May, the grand alabaster blossoms of large-flowered trillium steal the show amidst floating pink blossoms of wild geranium.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen: This preserve exudes that green and luxuriant feeling of spring. Once spring takes hold, you’ll see a variety of blooming ephemerals amidst an emerald carpet often rich in a lacy false mermaid. The most common blossoms that bloom in early spring are spring beautycutleaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, and false rue anemone. The foliage of mayapple and wild leek greatly contribute to the lush springtime feel of the place. This preserve is known for its vast display of bluebells, which can reach peak bloom sometime between April 2 and May 5, though often in the last week of April.

 

“GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”:

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Early in the spring, the transcendent yellow blossoms of marsh marigold should be flowering alongside fresh lush colonies of skunk cabbage. Soon after, you should also find miniature canopies of mayapple and a small number of spring ephemerals. And under the shade of the oaks in the savanna, you’ll find small patches of false rue anemone. For the best views of marsh marigold and skunk cabbage, visit Trout Park for dense populations of these plants in an intimate setting. The preserve features a trail that takes you up and down the bluffs that includes a wooden boardwalk that carefully guides you through sensitive wet areas. While on the boardwalk, look for Chicago’s only native evergreen tree, the northern white cedar. Atop the bluff, you’ll find other spring wildflowers.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: Park at the main parking lot for this preserve, located at Somme Woods, and then follow the narrow trail to Somme Prairie Grove. Note that springtime starts a little later in the northern suburbs. Remain under the tree canopy to see the most spring ephemerals. Along your stroll, you should discover spring beauty, white trout lily, some bloodroot, cutleaf toothwort, mayapple, and others.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK (Bloodroot):

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

This is bloodroot of species Sanguinaria canadensis. The white flowers are beautiful, but short-lived. At the end of its run, the slightest touch send the petals falling to the ground. The common name and genus name Sanguinaria come from the fact that breaking the stem or the roots makes the plant bleed a red juice. Don’t pick the flower to find out. Just take my word for it. Native Americans used the plant for dying their clothes and baskets, and for body paint. In woodlands, the wind gets broken up by trees which reduces its speed. Therefore, bloodroot and most other woodland plants do not depend on the breeze to disperse their seed. They rely on ants. In a process known as myrmechochory, the seeds of bloodroot have a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that’s made up of fat or oil. The ants take the seeds back to their colonies where they eat the elaiosomes, but discard the seed into an rich and nourishing accumulation of nest debris where the seeds can safety germinate under the unwitting protection of the colony.

 
 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Sharp-lobed Hepatica:

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

This is sharp-lobed hepatica of species Hepatica nobilis acuta. It pops up through a layer of last year’s leaves and beckons the start of the new blooming season with floral color that ranges from white to pink, blue to purple. I’m especially taken by the colorful, textured cluster of miniature structures that inhabit the center of the flower, the deep three-lobed leaves, and the dark red stems. Another name for hepatica is liverleaf, referring to the shape of the leaf’s lobes. Early in the spring, you can find them at Heron Rookery Trail, Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve, Bluff Spring Fen, and here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.*

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

Here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois, a group of sharp-lobed hepatica huddles around the base of an oak tree.*

 

Marsh Marigold:

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

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

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

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

 
 

Skunk Cabbage:

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

Skunk cabbage penetrates the frozen temperatures of late winter to be Chicago’s first plant to bloom. It uses its own heating system to melt the snow and ice in a process known as thermogenesis. The bumps atop the ball inside the spathe (the hood) are the plant’s flowers. And that ball is called the spadix. It’s the furnace that generates the heat and also creates a odor reminiscent of a yummy dead animal. Not yummy to us, but to carrion flies that are in search of a delicious treat. The plant uses this trick to attract flies, hoping that they’ll unwittingly pollinate the flowers as they buzz about looking for something dead to eat.

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

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.

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

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

 

Cutleaf Toothwort:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Dutchman's Breeches at O'Hara Woods

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

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

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

 

Rue Anemone:

Rue anemone (of of species Thalictrum thalictroides) is a found in the higher quality woodlands of our region that have not been disturbed by human activity. The plant is sometimes called windflower because of ease at which the flowers blow around in the breeze. And windflower definitely likes the breeze because its blossoms depend on the wind for pollination. Here, it was a cold Tuesday morning at Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve. And while there were hundreds of flowers waiting to open, only this plant of rue anemone was brave enough to blossom.

Rue anemone (of species Thalictrum thalictroides) is a found in the higher quality woodlands of our region that have not been disturbed by human activity. The plant is sometimes called windflower because of the ease at which the flowers blow around in the breeze. And windflower definitely likes the breeze because its blossoms depend on the wind for pollination. Here, it was a cold Tuesday morning at Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve. And while there were hundreds of flowers waiting to open, only this plant of rue anemone was brave enough to blossom. This plant is often confused with false rue anemone. The flowers and foliage are similar, but a closer look will reveal the difference. The number of flower petals, which are actually not petals but sepals, number only five on false rue anemone, whereas the sepal count for rue anemone varies widely, even on the same plant. Here, we see ten. As for the foliage, both have foliage with three lobes. However, they’re “deeply lobed” on the false version, meaning that the leaves have a deeper cleavage between the lobes. Also, the true version tends to grow alone, while the false often grows in clusters.

 


False Rue Anemone:

 
False rue anemone

False rue anemone (of species Enemion biternatum) is a beautiful plant that often blooms in dense colonies. The flowers are white and never have more than five sepals (the white petals that really aren’t petals at all). During the night, they close up into little white balls. False rue anemone is more common than its similar, (true) rue anemone. You can tell them apart by looking at their leaves and flowers. The flowers of false rue anemone can have many sepals, whereas the false version only has five. And the three-lobed leaves have a deeper cleavage between the lobes. Both characteristics are depicted in the image. You can see this plant at any of our showcase woodland. But the nicest shows take place at Johnson’s Mound, Black Partridge Woods, and Heron Rookery Trail. This and every other woodland wildflower is under attack by the foreign invader known as garlic mustard. It crowds out and poisons its neighbors until all that remains is its own kind covering black earth. This is one reason why the forest preserves are always looking for volunteers, like you, to help control such threats. Volunteer today!

 

Mayapple:

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

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

 

Prairie Trillium:

Prairie trillium and setting sun.*

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

 

Virginia Bluebell:

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

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

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

 

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

—Mike

2024 Chicago Wildflower
Spring Preview

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

2024 Chicago WildflowerSpring Preview

2024 Chicago Spring Wildflower Slideshow Preview

“Taking a walk in nature is the best medicine.”

In early May, Black Partridge Woods becomes an emerald dream as the tree canopy adds its lushness to the woodland floor.

In early May, Black Partridge Woods becomes an emerald dream. And ChicagoNatureNOW! brings moments like this to you every week from April through September. The new season is upon us, and this is the perfect time to help by donating here.*

See the slideshow below for a preview of spring wildflowers. (Please be patient, it can take a little time to load.)

Now that spring is in the air, we can finally get outside and get a dose of the best medicine around. Nature! Right now, you can experience the solitude of nature and find delight in Mother Nature’s whimsical surprises and creations, like the otherworldly skunk cabbage that generates its own heat to melt the late-winter snow. (Learn about where to find it.) Beginning in April, Chicago nature will put on a show in the muddy bottoms of some woodlands, with the emergence of marsh marigolds. Soon after will come performances from an array of diminutive spring wildflowers, like cutleaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, and spring beauty. And as the month ends, a flourish as endless expanses of Virginia bluebells fill woodlands with a smell that I can only describe as a fragrant, floral Chanel version of Froot Loops cereal. And this is just the first month of spring. See the slideshow below for a preview of spring wildflowers.

SUBSCRIBE NOW (for free) to receive our weekly wildflower reports to learn when and where these wonderful events are taking place.

April begins our sixth season of ChicagoNatureNOW!. Each week over the six-month growing season (early April through late September), you can use this website to experience breathtaking displays of wildflowers around Chicago.

Please donate to our GoFundMe Campaign!

In the meantime, here’s an interactive slideshow (which takes a few seconds to download) that foretells a beautiful future for us all:

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

Chicago Nature
Spring Preview

TITLE SLIDE
Skunk Cabbage — Emerging from Snow

Skunk Cabbage

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

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

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

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

Skunk Cabbage — Emerging from Snow
Skunk Cabbage — Spathe & Spadix

Skunk Cabbage

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

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

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

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

Skunk Cabbage — Spathe & Spadix
Skunk Cabbage Leaf with Snow

Skunk Cabbage

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

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

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

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

Skunk Cabbage Leaf with Snow
Skunk Cabbage — Pilcher Park Scene

Skunk Cabbage

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

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

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

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

Skunk Cabbage — Pilcher Park Scene
Hepatica at Black Partridge Woods

Sharp-Lobed Hepatica

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

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

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

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

Hepatica at Black Partridge Woods
Marsh Marigold — Pilcher Park

Marsh Marigold

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

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

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

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

Marsh Marigold — Pilcher Park
Toothwort in the Woodlands

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

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

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

Toothwort in the Woodlands
Dutchman's Breeches

Dutchman's Breeches

Dutchman's Breeches at O'Hara Woods.*

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

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

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

Dutchman's Breeches
Virginia Bluebell — Closeup

Virginia Bluebell

Virginia bluebell

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

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

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

Virginia Bluebell — Closeup
Virginia Bluebell — Messenger Woods

Virginia Bluebell

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

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

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

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

Virginia Bluebell — Messenger Woods
Virginia Bluebell — Pilcher Park

Virginia Bluebell

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

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

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

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

Virginia Bluebell — Pilcher Park
Virginia Bluebell — O'Hara Woods

Virginia Bluebell

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

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

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

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

Virginia Bluebell — O'Hara Woods
Flowering Mayapple — Black Partridge Woods

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

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

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

Flowering Mayapple — Black Partridge Woods
Starry False Solomon's Seal, ET AL.

Starry False Solomon's Seal

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

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

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

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

Starry False Solomon's Seal, ET AL.
Wild Geranium

Wild Geranium

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

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

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

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

Wild Geranium
Large-flowered Trillium — Messenger Woods

Large-flowered Trillium

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

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

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

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

Large-flowered Trillium  — Messenger Woods
Large-flowered Trillium — Indiana Dunes National Park

Large-flowered Trillium

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

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

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

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

Large-flowered Trillium  — Indiana Dunes National Park
Pembroke Savanna

Pembroke Savanna

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

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

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

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

Pembroke Savanna
Wild Hyacinth — Wolf Road Prairie

Wild Hyacinth

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

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

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

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

Wild Hyacinth  — Wolf Road Prairie
Shooting Stars — Chiwaukee Prairie (Pleasant Prairie, Wis.)

Shooting Star

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

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

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

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

Shooting Stars  — Chiwaukee Prairie (Pleasant Prairie, Wis.)
Hoary Puccoon

Hoary Puccoon

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

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

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

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

Hoary Puccoon
Wild Lupine — Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

Wild Lupine

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

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

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

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

Wild Lupine — Illinois Beach Nature Preserve
Wild Lupine — Indiana Dunes National Park

Wild Lupine

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

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

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

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

Wild Lupine — Indiana Dunes National Park
Sand Coreopsis

Sand Coreopsis

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

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

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

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

Sand Coreopsis
Sand Coreopsis & New Jersey Tea

Sand Coreopsis & New Jersey Tea

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

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

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

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

Sand Coreopsis & New Jersey Tea
Pale Purple Coneflower — Belmont Prairie

Pale Purple Coneflower

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

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

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

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

Pale Purple Coneflower — Belmont Prairie
Pale Purple Coneflower — Bluff Spring Fen

Pale Purple Coneflower

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

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

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

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

Pale Purple Coneflower — Bluff Spring Fen
Foxglove Beardtongue — Spears Woods

Foxglove Beardtongue

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

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

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

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

Foxglove Beardtongue — Spears Woods
Foxglove Beardtongue — Bluff Spring Fen

Foxglove Beardtongue

At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois, pearl blossoms of foxglove beardtongue catch the morning rays and a new day awakens—one as splendid and picturesque as any place on Earth.*

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

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

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

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

—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
03-18-2024

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

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT 03-18-2024

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
March 18, 2024

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

 

Plan the Best Nature Walks & Getaways Around Chicago!

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

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PLEASE DONATE IF WE’VE HELPED YOU FIND SOLACE IN NATURE
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Welcome to the first wildflower forecast of 2024! 

The growing season has arrived very early this year, 
possibly three weeks ahead of the average.
The first two weeks bring small bursts
of spring ephemerals in our woodlands.
But in only takes days for last year’s bronze carpet of discarded foliage
to be pushed aside by a verdant filigree of renewal.
The door to the past will officially close, and a new door will open.
Cross the threshold into nature’s wonders.
Begin your revival, now.

 

WILDFLOWER FORECAST & HIGHLIGHTS to help you plan your outdoor adventures into Chicago’s Woodlands:

RIGHT NOW, A HANDFUL OF WILDFLOWERS ARE BLOOMING. According to my database, spring can start anytime between the middle of March and mid-April. So just pick a preserve to explore and discover from the list below. Get out into nature and be open to its 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.

The start of spring begins in Chicago’s woodlands with a celebration of delicate wildflowers. The blossoms may be plentiful, but they’re often diminutive. In particular, skunk cabbage is officially the first plant to bloom each year. It usually sprouts at the beginning of March, but I’ve seen it in January! Its teeny-tiny yellow flowers are tucked away inside a camouflaged maroon hood that hides amongst the scatter of bronze leaves. (Read my poem about it.) If you look very carefully, right now, you may still find the hoods. But most likely, you’ll see a single curl of cabbage leaves poking out from the ground, like one bright-green bunny ear. This may also be the time to find the gorgeous blossoms of sharp-lobed hepatica that visually pop from autumn’s brown carpet. And then there’s the sublime lemon flowers of marsh marigold that can be found in some of the muddiest wooded areas. Oh, how I love the flowers and the round-hearted leaves. Both hepatica and marsh marigold are our Plants of the Week.

To best appreciate the flowers that are so small and low to the ground, bend down and take a closer look. Marvel at their intricate beauty. Many of our springtime flowers are colored white, like cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, rue anemone, spring cress, white trout lily, Dutchman’s breeches, and bloodroot. Spring beauty is white with pink stripes, and hepatica offers a beautiful palette ranging from white to lavender to purple. In addition to marsh marigold, you may find yellow flowers in the form of yellow violet, swamp buttercup, yellow trout lily, buttery wood betony, and the shy drooping blossoms of large-flowered bellwort. We can find some red in the form of the ethereal prairie trillium. And as for the blues and purples, our common blue violet is extremely beautiful when growing in a clump amidst its heart-shaped foliage. In fact, one of the biggest flower shows of the year is a celebration of blue, as a sea of Virginia Bluebells flood the woodland floor. Our database shows peak bloom taking place as early as April 2, but that was in 2012 when March temperatures reached into the 80’s. And this may be the case for this year. Normally, it happens between April 20 and May 6.

And let’s not forget the bright green leaves of the vernal season. You’ll find sprawling leaves of skunk cabbage in the wet and muddy areas with great displays at Pilcher Park, Trout Park, Black Partridge Woods, and Bluff Spring Fen. Wild leek is the one of the first plants to sprout, with swordlike leaves that make up a large percentage of the early-spring greenery. It’s the plant that gives Chicago its name. In the late 1600s, Potawatomi Indians who paddled the area rivers were commonly heard yelling “Chicagoua!” after catching a strong whiff of chicagoua, or wild leek, growing prolifically along the wooded banks. Wild leek is part of the onion family, hence the Chicago nickname, “The Big Onion.” And look for mayapple with foliage that resembles an umbrella, and a closed umbrella when they first sprout. It can take several days for them to open.

NOTE: It is illegal to remove this plant, or any other plant, from any preserve in the Chicago region. 

 

SPRING 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!”):

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee: The preserve puts on a show with a rich variety of flowers throughout the month of April and into the second half of May. Depending on when spring sprung this year, look for the whitish pink expanse of spring beauty and myriad other wildflowers, including Dutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone, rue anemone, bloodroot, and surprisingly large colonies of flowering white trout lily. The strange and wonderful prairie trillium may also be in bloom. Also, experience the jade hues and lush patterns of wild leek, mayapple, and wild ginger that add to the springtime mix. This preserve will soon offer a nice display of Virginia bluebells, but not an overwhelming ocean like other preserves. Note that many spring flowers don’t open up at the break of day. They are awakened by the light. On cloudy days, they may remain enclosed safely in their buds. Fortunately, when closed, the white petals of toothwort are still visible and continue to twinkle. 

Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park: Begin at the west parking lot. This woodland usually blooms earlier than most of our other preserves, but it can also be flooded by waters of the adjacent Little Calumet River. Depending on your timing, you may find sparkles of sharp-lobed hepatica, rue anemone and false rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwort, purple cress, bloodroot, and spring beauty. Look for patches of spear-like foliage that resemble green spotted trout. In there, you may find magnificent blooms of yellow trout lily. And prairie trillium may also be flowering by now. The lush, sprawling foliage of mayapple and wild leek greatly enhance the springtime experience.

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

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont: When spring takes hold, this preserve is breathtaking. From the filigreed tree canopy to an understory of lushness with many patterns and shades of emerald foliage, especially wild leek, mayapple, the glorious leaves of skunk cabbage, and the small heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger. And you should soon find the shimmering petals of bloodroot, sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, and the occasional Dutchman’s breechesVirginia bluebells bloom a little later.

Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet: Begin your hike at the nature center where you may find a lush understory of spring wildflowers. Depending on when you  visit, you may find sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, purple cress, and Dutchman’s breeches. Just as beautiful as the flowers are the fresh green leaves of wild leek, mayapple, and skunk cabbage. My favorite flower-of-the-moment is marsh marigold, which is probably reaching peak bloom. Look for its yellow blossoms in the low, muddy areas of the site. You can find them near the nature center and around the trail after the bridge at this GPS coordinate: 41.532780, -88.016478. While you’re there (and just about anywhere with mud), look for the large fanning foliage of skunk cabbage. They’re hard to miss. Virginia bluebells also like the mud, especially along the banks of the creek. This preserve is one of the best places to experience a vastitude of bluebells, which often flowers between mid-April and the first week of May.

Johnson’s Mound Forest Preserve in Elburn: This intimate preserve is known for its ravines that sparkle white with dense white colonies of false rue anemone that flow across the braes. But you’ll also see many other plants, as well, like cutleaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches. sharp-lobed hepatica, wild leek, mayapple, prairie trillium and common blue violet, and the sublime large-flowered large-flowered bellwort that also grows in colonies. In late April or early May, look for drooping trillium and large-flowered trillium.

Fermilab Natural Areas in Batavia: The woodland adjacent to the prairie is rich in springtime ephemerals. Depending on the date of your visit, you’ll find many of the usual suspects in bloom: cutleaf toothwort, bloodroot, spring beauty, white trout lilyDutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone, prairie trillium, and yellow colonies swamp buttercup. And of course, these flowers will fall against a verdant backdrop of mayapple, wild ginger, and some wild leek. In May, the grand alabaster blossoms of large-flowered trillium steal the show amidst floating pink blossoms of wild geranium.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen: This preserve exudes that green and luxuriant feeling of spring. Once spring takes hold, you’ll see a variety of blooming ephemerals amidst an emerald carpet often rich in a lacy false mermaid. The most common blossoms that bloom in early spring are spring beautycutleaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, and false rue anemone. The foliage of mayapple and wild leek greatly contribute to the lush springtime feel of the place. This preserve is known for its vast display of bluebells, which can reach peak bloom sometime between April 2 and May 5, though often in the last week of April.

 

“GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”:

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Early in the spring, the transcendent yellow blossoms of marsh marigold should be flowering alongside fresh lush colonies of skunk cabbage. Soon after, you should also find miniature canopies of mayapple and a small number of spring ephemerals. And under the shade of the oaks in the savanna, you’ll find small patches false rue anemone. For the best views of marsh marigold and skunk cabbage, visit Trout Park for dense populations of these plants in an intimate setting. The preserve features a trail that takes you up and down the bluffs that includes a wooden boardwalk that carefully guides you through sensitive wet areas. While on the boardwalk, look for Chicago’s only native evergreen tree, the northern white cedar. Atop the bluff, you’ll find other spring wildflowers.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: Park at the main parking lot for this preserve, located at Somme Woods, and then follow the narrow trail to Somme Prairie Grove. Note that springtime starts a little later in the northern suburbs. Remain under the tree canopy to see the most spring ephemerals. Along your stroll, you should discover spring beauty, white trout lily, some bloodroot, cutleaf toothwort, mayapple, and others.

 

PLANTS OF THE WEEK (Sharp-lobed Hepatica & Marsh Marigold):


SHARP-LOBED HEPATICA

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

This is sharp-lobed hepatica of species Hepatica nobilis acuta. It pops up through a layer of last year’s leaves and beckons the start of the new blooming season with floral color that ranges from white to pink, blue to purple. I’m especially taken by the colorful, textured cluster of miniature structures that inhabit the center of the flower, the deep three-lobed leaves, and the dark red stems. Another name for hepatica is liverleaf, referring to the shape of the leaf’s lobes. Early in the spring, you can find them at Heron Rookery Trail, Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve, Bluff Spring Fen, and here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.*

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

Here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois, a group of sharp-lobed hepatica huddles around the base of an oak tree.*

 

MARSH MARIGOLD

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

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

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

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

 
 

 

PHOTO SECTION

Skunk Cabbage:

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

Skunk cabbage penetrates the frozen temperatures of late winter to be Chicago’s first plant to bloom. It uses its own heating system to melt the snow and ice in a process known as thermogenesis. The bumps atop the ball inside the spathe (the hood) are the plant’s flowers. And that ball is called the spadix. It’s the furnace that generates the heat and also creates a odor reminiscent of a yummy dead animal. Not yummy to us, but to carrion flies that are in search of a delicious treat. The plant uses this trick to attract flies, hoping that they’ll unwittingly pollinate the flowers as they buzz about looking for something dead to eat.

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

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.

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

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

 

Cutleaf Toothwort:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Dutchman's Breeches at O'Hara Woods

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

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

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

 

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

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

This is bloodroot of species Sanguinaria canadensis. The white flowers are beautiful, but short-lived. At the end of its run, the slightest touch send the petals falling to the ground. The common name and genus name Sanguinaria come from the fact that breaking the stem or the roots makes the plant bleed a red juice. Don’t pick the flower to find out. Just take my word for it. Native Americans used the plant for dying their clothes and baskets, and for body paint. In woodlands, the wind gets broken up by trees which reduces its speed. Therefore, bloodroot and most other woodland plants do not depend on the breeze to disperse their seed. They rely on ants. In a process known as myrmechochory, the seeds of bloodroot have a fleshy organ called an elaiosome that’s made up of fat or oil. The ants take the seeds back to their colonies where they eat the elaiosomes, but discard the seed into an rich and nourishing accumulation of nest debris where the seeds can safety germinate under the unwitting protection of the colony.

 

Rue Anemone:

Rue anemone (of of species Thalictrum thalictroides) is a found in the higher quality woodlands of our region that have not been disturbed by human activity. The plant is sometimes called windflower because of ease at which the flowers blow around in the breeze. And windflower definitely likes the breeze because its blossoms depend on the wind for pollination. Here, it was a cold Tuesday morning at Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve. And while there were hundreds of flowers waiting to open, only this plant of rue anemone was brave enough to blossom.

Rue anemone (of species Thalictrum thalictroides) is a found in the higher quality woodlands of our region that have not been disturbed by human activity. The plant is sometimes called windflower because of the ease at which the flowers blow around in the breeze. And windflower definitely likes the breeze because its blossoms depend on the wind for pollination. Here, it was a cold Tuesday morning at Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve. And while there were hundreds of flowers waiting to open, only this plant of rue anemone was brave enough to blossom. This plant is often confused with false rue anemone. The flowers and foliage are similar, but a closer look will reveal the difference. The number of flower petals, which are actually not petals but sepals, number only five on false rue anemone, whereas the sepal count for rue anemone varies widely, even on the same plant. Here, we see ten. As for the foliage, both have foliage with three lobes. However, they’re “deeply lobed” on the false version, meaning that the leaves have a deeper cleavage between the lobes. Also, the true version tends to grow alone, while the false often grows in clusters.

 

False Rue Anemone:

False rue anemone

False rue anemone (of species Enemion biternatum) is a beautiful plant that often blooms in dense colonies. The flowers are white and never have more than five sepals (the white petals that really aren’t petals at all). During the night, they close up into little white balls. False rue anemone is more common than its similar, (true) rue anemone. You can tell them apart by looking at their leaves and flowers. The flowers of false rue anemone can have many sepals, whereas the false version only has five. And the three-lobed leaves have a deeper cleavage between the lobes. Both characteristics are depicted in the image. You can see this plant at any of our showcase woodland. But the nicest shows take place at Johnson’s Mound, Black Partridge Woods, and Heron Rookery Trail. This and every other woodland wildflower is under attack by the foreign invader known as garlic mustard. It crowds out and poisons its neighbors until all that remains is its own kind covering black earth. This is one reason why the forest preserves are always looking for volunteers, like you, to help control such threats. Volunteer today!

 

Mayapple:

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

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

 

Virginia Bluebell:

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

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

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

 

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

—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
02-22-2024
Annual “Searching for Spring” Poem Celebrates Spring’s Arrival

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

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT02-22-2024Annual “Searching for Spring” Poem Celebrates Spring’s Arrival

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
February 22, 2024

SEARCHING FOR SPRING
2024 Edition

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

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

 

BREAKING NEWS: SPRING HAS SPRUNG IN CHICAGO!

In Chicago, spring officially arrives when sprouts of spotted skunk cabbage push up through mud or snow. And I can confirm that spring is now here. So far, sprouts of skunk cabbage have been found at Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet and Black Partridge Woods in Lemont. They may also be popping up at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.

Here’s a photograph of skunk cabbage from Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet:*

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

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

 

As is my tradition, I celebrate the emergence of skunk cabbage and the rebirth of a new growing season by posting my poem and educational excerpt the “Searching for Spring” chapter of my book, “My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders.” And maybe you and your family can make it a tradition, too. (Please watch your step and tread lightly. Skunk cabbage is very hard to see.)

And now, “Searching for Spring.”

Searching for Spring

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
09-23-2023

Posted by on 12:01 am in Blog, Featured | Comments Off on ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
09-23-2023

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT 09-23-2023

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 23, 2023
(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
.
Donate to Our GoFundMe Campaign

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

 

NEWS

See Immersive Exhibition, “My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago” that has been extended through Sunday, October 1st. Learn more at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum website: https://naturemuseum.org/myjourney. Please share this with friends, family, nature lovers, and nature-lovers-to-be!

 

 

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.

 

Donate to Our GoFundMe Campaign

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

—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
09-16-2023

Posted by on 12:01 am in Blog, Featured | Comments Off on ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
09-16-2023

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT 09-16-2023

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
September 16, 2023

“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
.
Donate to Our GoFundMe Campaign

 

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

 

NEWS

See Immersive Exhibition, “My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago” that has been extended through Sunday, October 1st. Learn more at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum website: https://naturemuseum.org/myjourney. Please share this with friends, family, nature lovers, and nature-lovers-to-be!

 

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. 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 scent of mountain mint. 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.