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Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
May 13, 2023

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

 

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The month of May brings new layers of greenery and wildflowers
to our woodlands and the first blooms in our prairies and savannas.

 

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

May brings great lushness to the woodlands and a new group of flowers. And the savannas and prairie begin to put on their first performances. But what’s blooming right now? According to my database, there’s a good chance of catching both performances this season. 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.

The spectacular shows of Virginia Bluebell should be gone by now, but stunning performances of large-flowered trillium may still be underway. 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 newest flowers to be found in our woodlands are woodland phlox and wild geranium alongside hidden blossoms of mayapple and wild ginger. Take a close look underneath the leaves of wild ginger to find their fuzzy burgundy flowers. And the large waxy white blossoms of mayapple may also be flowering. To find them, look beneath the umbrellas of two-leafed plants. In the woodlands, the earliest of our spring ephemerals should mostly be gone.  Many them are colored white, including bloodroot, false rue anemone, rue anemone, spring cress, white trout lily, Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwortSpring beauty is white with pink stripes, and sharp-lobed hepatica offers a beautiful palette ranging from white to lavender to purple. You should be able to see some some red in the form of 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. The yellow blossoms of marsh marigold are also gone or well on their way out. You may still find yellow violet, bristly buttercup, yellow trout lily, and the shy drooping blossoms of large-flowered bellwort with beautiful colonies along the bluffs of Johnson’s Mound and Black Partridge Woods. Shooting star and spiraling wood betony (our Plant of the Week) also grows in some woodlands, including Black Partridge Woods. But these two flowers are also on display in some of our savannas and prairies, including Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Fermilab Prairie, and later in the month at Chiwaukee Prairie when the shooting stars cover the grassland pink with touches of yellow star grass, birdfoot violet, and golden Alexander. And the golden blossoms of hoary puccoon may be found in our prairies and oak savannas, including Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Pembroke Savanna, Belmont Prairie, Miller Woods, and usually a little later at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve and Chiwaukee Prairie.

Wild hyacinth also make their debut at the start of May with the best displays at Wolf Road Prairie and atop the bluffs at Black Partridge Woods.

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.

Another wonderful show happens sometime between late April and mid-May at Pembroke Savanna, when birdfoot violet and sand phlox (one of our Plants of the Week) carpet the sandy floor of this black oak savanna. And, if you’re lucky, the breathtaking stout blue-eye grass might be aflower.

 

 

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 may be past bloom, but it’s worth the trip to find out. This is 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.

Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet: The spectacular show of Virginia bluebells often takes place around this time, though it can vary between April 2 and May 10. 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.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: Under the trees of the oak savanna, wild hyacinth often reaches peak bloom around this time alongside nice pink displays of wild geranium. In the prairie, look for the buttery blossoms of wood betony, the golds of hoary puccoon and golden Alexander, and lots of white starry false Solomon’s seal.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont: A very nice show of Virginia bluebells often takes place around this time on the west side of the preserve, though it can vary between April 2 and May 10. When May comes, the woodland floor turns to an emerald dream covered in varied textures. And it gets even greener as the canopy above fills in. Thanks to wild ginger, which spreads to fill in the remaining empty spaces, you can hardly see the carpet of bronze leaves that dominated the scene just a few weeks earlier. Check deep underneath the leaves of wild ginger to find a fuzzy burgundy blossom. My favorite show at this preserve comes from the miniature forests of mayapple with their parasol-shaped leaves where you can now find a lonesome waxy white blossom hiding under the plants with two umbrellas. Exciting patches of acrobatic skunk cabbage leaves add to the whimsy. Wild leek‘s emerald swords put up a defense, and check for the star-like leaves of wild geranium that lends to the air its heavenly pink flower around this time. Hidden amongst the jade hues, try to find the beautiful floating foliage of early meadow rue. Nice displays of woodland phlox often coincide with the flowering of wild geranium, and keep an eye out for the white and pink shooting star that bloom atop the bluff. If you find a good patch of phlox, pay attention to its fabulous scent. You may not even have to put nose to petal. The combination of woodland phlox, wild geranium, and shooting star is a wonderful sight. The shimmering highlights of white false rue anemone, rue anemone, and the pinkish spring beauty add to the springtime experience. And you may still find a smattering of prairie trillium and common blue violet. The spiraling buttery blooms of wood betony may be fading, while the shy yellow blooms of large-flowered bellwort are likely still hanging on as they cling to the sides of the bluffs. Finally, 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.

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 the muddy spots. The lush, sprawling foliage of wild leek, mayapple, and wild ginger greatly enhance the springtime experience.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen: The spectacular show of Virginia bluebells often takes place around this time, though it can vary between April 2 and May 10. And the peak bloom of large-flowered trillium usually coincides. 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.

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, common blue violet, and the sublime large-flowered bellwort that also grows in colonies. In late April or early May, look for drooping trillium and large-flowered trillium.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park: Sometime during late April to mid-May, the preserve puts on a beautiful show of blue and white, as carpets of sapphire birdfoot violet and sparkling sand phlox flow across the savanna. Don’t leave without bending down to enjoy the fragrance of these two jewels. You may also see the white of sand cress and starry false Solomon’s seal, and the golds of two-flowered Cynthia and buds of hoary puccoon. On your visit, you’ll notice mysterious sand mounds throughout the preserves. They are the handiwork of the plains pocket gopher. This rarely seen underground gopher excavates tunnels, and the extra sand has to go somewhere.

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.

Fermilab Natural Areas in Batavia: NOTE: Visitors must present the proper ID at the guard gate. See the preserve’s page for details. The woodland adjacent to the prairie is rich in springtime ephemerals. In late April or early May, the grand alabaster blossoms of large-flowered trillium steal the show amidst floating pink blossoms of wild geranium. 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 the prairie, look for wood betony and shooting star.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: Though not officially a hill prairie, this gravelly prairie on a hill gets a lot of sun and also a lot of wildflowers. This may be a good time to see its first blooms of the season from hoary puccoon, wood betony, shooting star, birdfoot violet, and blue-eyed grass.

 

“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: 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. You may now find the beautiful hemi-parasitic wood betony scattered in patches across the preserve, often in the sunnier spots, along with shooting star, prairie trillium, and golden Alexander in early bloom. Look for yellow water buttercup and miniature forests of mayapple that add to the whimsy. Park at the main parking lot for this preserve, located at Somme Woods, then follow the narrow trail and cross the street to Somme Prairie Grove. 

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove: In May, this intimate remnant prairie awakens with golden bouquets of hoary puccoon alongside starry false Solomon’s seal, yellow star grass, and wild strawberry.

NOTE: If you can’t make it to our showcase preserves, try McKinley Woods/Fredericks Grove in Channahon, 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 (Wood Betony):

 

 
Wood betony blooms in the May savanna at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.

Wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis) is also known as lousewort because it was erroneously thought to bring lice to grazing sheep and photographers who get too close. For some of its nutritional needs, the plant uses its roots to feed off of grasses, mycorrhizal fungi, and possibly other plants. I said “some” nutritional needs. Therefore, that plant is a parasite, but only partially so. Hence, it’s a hemi-parasite, more of a nibbler, as opposed to a full-fledged sap-sucking parasite. Though the leaves at the base exude a beautiful reddish tone, the green color above is the giveaway. The verdant hue shows that it’s not totally lazy, and creates its own energy through sunlight and chlorophyll production. In fact, wood betony can grow just fine even when its host plants aren’t around. Due to its nibbling nature, wood betony is known to stunt the growth of surrounding grasses. This is why it’s sometimes used in habitat restoration to quell the aggressiveness of towering grasses. In May, wood betony blooms in the best open woodlands, prairies, and savannas, like Black Partridge Woods, Bluff Spring Fen, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Fermilab Prairie, Chiwaukee Prairie, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and here at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois. *

On this May morning at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, wood betony blooms under a red sunrise.*

On this May morning at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, wood betony awakens to the light of a red sunrise.*

In May, wood betony blooms atop the bluffs at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.

Usually in early May, wood betony blooms atop the bluffs at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.*

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Woodland Phlox:

Woodland phlox at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.*

Many of our featured woodlands are home to the blue or purple, and sometimes, white woodland phlox of species Phlox divaricata laphamii, including here at Black Partridge Woods where they flow in a serpentine wave up the bluff. From a distance, the flower appears to have five petals. But it only has one deeply lobed petal. But because the petals of a flower are collectively known as the corolla, the plant is said to have a five-lobed corolla. The flowers have a beautiful fragrance that I easily detect from several feet away, though pushing your nose into the corolla would give you a much better view of its intricacies.

 

Sand Phlox:

A mound formed by the burrowing plains pocket gopher in the black oak savanna at Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve.

Sand phlox of species of Phlox bifida bifida (no I didn’t stutter) has one white or pale blue-violet corolla, which is a collection of petals. But in this case, there’s only one petal with five Y-shaped lobes. As the common name suggests, this plant is often found growing in sandy soil, but it can handle mesic earth as well. This pictured colony of sand phlox surrounds a soft, sandy mound that was made by the burrowing plains pocket gopher in the black oak savanna of Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve.

 

Large-flowered Trillium can bloom between mid-April and mid-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. Their bloom usually coincides with that of Virginia bluebell.*

Large-flowered trillium carpet the floor of Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa, Illinois.

Large-flowered trillium carpet the floor of Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa, Illinois.*

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.*

 

Shooting Star:

The beautiful blooms of shooting star

In May, the beautiful blooms of shooting star can be found in prairies and woodlands, alike.*

Shooting stars and woodland phlox at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois

A scene of shooting star and woodland phlox atop a bluff at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.”

 

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 in all of our featured “sandless” woodlands and at many other preserves across the Chicago region. Here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, the pink flower hovers above their celestial star-shaped foliage.*

At Raccoon Grove, as evening nears in this beautiful spring woodland, the final streaks of sunlight penetrate the emerald canopy. The shining rays highlight the broad leaves of false Solomon’s seal and animate the soft, pink blooms of wild geranium, making all that is illuminated stand apart from the surrounding foliage.*

At Raccoon Grove, as evening nears in this beautiful spring woodland, the final streaks of sunlight penetrate the emerald canopy. The shining rays highlight the broad leaves of false Solomon’s seal and animate the soft, pink blooms of wild geranium, making all that is illuminated stand apart from the surrounding foliage.*

May brings glorious displays of wild geranium to Oldfield Oaks in Darien, Illinois, part of Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.*

May brings glorious displays of wild geranium to Oldfield Oaks in Darien, Illinois, part of Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.*

 

Wild Hyacinth:

Wild hyacinth at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

Wild hyacinth at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

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 hyacinth blooms in woodlands and oak savannas across the Chicago region including, here, at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.

 
Wild hyacinths bloom in abundance at Oldfield Oaks in Darien.*

Wild hyacinth blooms in abundance at Oldfield Oaks in Darien.*

 

Starry False Solomon’s Seal:

The geometric beauty of Starry false Solomon's seal at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.

The geometric beauty of starry false Solomon’s seal at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.

 

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.*

 

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 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 are not as sharp. 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 performances 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 masse 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.*

 

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 woodlands. 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.*

 

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 of 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:

 

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.*

 

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 like me, who 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.*

 

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.*

 

Stout Blue-Eyed Grass

Common blue-eyed grass

The sublime blooms of stout blue-eye grass may now be aflower at Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park, Illinois. And they bloom at these other preserves: Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Chiwaukee Prairie, Miller Woods, and Somme Prairie Grove.*

 

Shoe Factory Road Prairie:

Hoary puccoon and birdfoot violet glow in the morning light at the hill prairie called Shoe Factory Road Prairie.*

At Shoe Factory Road Prairie, hoary puccoon and birdfoot violet glow in the morning light at this prairie-on-a-hill.*

 

Pembroke Savanna:

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

Between late April and mid-May, Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare birdfoot violet.”

In 2013 and in many years since, sand phlox spread across the black oak savanna of Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve in Hopkins Park, Illinois.*

 

* 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

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