Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
May 27, 2023
“Weekly Wildflower Forecasts Featuring
Chicago’s Best Weekend Getaways & Nature Trips”
Plan the Best Nature Walks & Getaways Around Chicago!
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Be on the lookout for spectacular flower shows
taking place in our showcase prairies, savannas, and woodlands.
WILDFLOWER FORECAST & HIGHLIGHTS to help you plan your outdoor adventures into Chicago’s Woodlands:
The magnificent world-class flowers shows of wild lupine and shooting star usually take place around this time. But nature isn’t just about flowers. It’s about the experience. Explore and discover a preserve from the list below. Be open to nature’s unexpected gifts, whether it be a colorful, awe-inspiring bloom, the mysterious squeak of two rubbing trees mimicking the cry of a baby animal, or the life-affirming odor of skunk cabbage. All of these things will open up your life to a world of wonder and intrigue.
At this time in May, the big shows often come from shooting star and wild lupine. At Chiwaukee Prairie, shooting star covers the grassland pink with touches of yellow star grass, birdfoot violet, and golden Alexander. It’s absolutely spectacular. You can also experience their celestial beauty at Fermilab Prairie, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, and Somme Prairie Grove. At Miller Woods at Indiana Dunes National Park, the show of wild lupine is unbelievably beautiful, as the blues and purples drape across the rolling dunes sprinkled with golden hoary puccoon. Wow! Within the national park, they also bloom at Tolleston Dunes, and West Beach, but the blue-and-white blossom also shows up at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve and Chiwaukee Prairie.
The aforementioned 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. And the sparkling sprays of golden Alexander (our Plant of the Week) put on nice performances at Shoe Factory Road Prairie and Chiwaukee Prairie.
The ephemeral melting blooms of Ohio spiderwort often get their start in late May. Click here to read my poem about it. They melt hearts around Chicago as they begin their monthlong show. You can find them at many preserves around the area.
It still may be possible to see woodland shows of woodland phlox and wild geranium alongside hidden blossoms of mayapple. The large waxy white blossoms of mayapple should be flowering by now. To find them, look beneath the umbrellas of two-leafed plants. And the sublime light-blue plumes of wild hyacinth are usually aflower at this time in some of our savannas and woodlands, including Wolf Road Prairie, Black Partridge Woods, and Oldfield Oaks in Darien.
In late May and early June, look for a fantastic show of sand coreopsis in the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion. This performance of coreopsis is so dramatic that my picture of it was featured in the world famous 2020 Sierra Club Wilderness Wall Calendar (see photo section).
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!”):
Miller Woods in Indiana Dunes National Park: The spectacular show of wild lupine can reach peak bloom somewhere from mid to late May. It’s a must-see event. Adding the to the blue hues are the sublime blue-eyed grass and birdfoot violet. The vibrant yellow blooms of hoary puccoon add a golden sparkle to the savanna as the buttery blooms of wood betony end their run. The red-and-yellow blossoms of wild columbine float above the understory of the savanna. And flashes of white come from wild strawberry and bastard toadflax. Keep your eyes open, and you may even find the gorgeous red Indian paintbrush. While you’re here, take the trail to the lakeshore. Along the way, the path crosses a wide gravel path that goes straight east-west. Head west, and you’ll find beaver lodges and activity. If you arrive early or remain late in the day, chances are you’ll be greeted by a beaver slapping its flat tail against the water to alert others of its kind about that human lurking about. This abandoned railroad right-of-way isn’t as intimate as the official narrow trail, but I like the views better. After your hike, consider checking out the lupines at Tolleston Dunes and West Beach. NOTE: The trail can be covered in water in some areas. We recommend high boots. Or just slosh on through!
Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin: This prairie-by-the-lake puts on a stunning show of shooting star that takes place sometime between mid-May and early June, joined by a colorful cast: hoary puccoon, golden Alexander, wood betony, yellow star grass, blue-eyed grass, birdfoot violet, and wild strawberry. You may find some wild lupine along the edges. And the occasional fluffy seed heads of common cottongrass help to brighten up the wetlands. If you’re lucky, you just may find patches of yellow Indian paintbrush. While you’re here, you should definitely visit Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, which is easily provides the best nature experience in the region.
Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: By this time in May, this preserve really starts to shine. In the woodland, you might experience beautiful displays of golden Alexander with its yellow flat-topped umbrellas. Also under the trees are the flat-topped white flowers of cow parsnip, which is a little toxic and can irritate the skin. So, no touchy-feely with this plant. And you may find the final blooms of wild geranium and wild hyacinth. Under the sun, you may see a variety of flowers, including golden balsam ragwort, ivory buttons of bastard toadflax, the occasional shooting star, the delicately elegant stout blue-eyed grass, and the heart-stopping red Indian paintbrush. Wow! Along the way, look for the beautiful creamy blooms of cream wild indigo. And don’t forget to appreciate the lush green textures that come from the foliage of forbs, sedges, and grasses, including the floppy hairdos of prairie dropseed and the heart-shaped leaves of prairie dock. This is also the time of year to experience blue flag iris and yellow water buttercup in the wet areas.
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 is usually a good time to see large patches of golden Alexander and hoary puccoon, possibly growing amidst the remaining blooms of wood betony, shooting star, birdfoot violet, and blue-eyed grass.
Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion: This is usually the time to experience vibrant shows of wild lupine, hoary puccoon, and downy phlox. For best performances, take the wide gravel trail (Dunes Trail) that head heads south from the parking lot. The lupines aren’t nearly as dramatic as at Miller Woods, but this preserve is a dream. Along the way, you’ll may also see the delightful blue-eyed grass, little white sparkles of sand cress and sandwort, and the red glow of red Indian paintbrush. And while you’re here, consider visiting nearby Chiwaukee Prairie. The brilliant yellow flowers of sand coreopsis may now be blooming, which is one of the region’s most dramatic performances. In open shade of the black oak savanna, look for the buttery yellow blooms of the occasional western goat’s beard along with the three-petaled blossoms of Ohio spiderwort, but the flower doesn’t last long. Each morning, a few buds open to reveal fresh blue flowers that dissolve in the heat of the day into drops of purple liquid. Along the way, you’ll also find the delightful blue-eyed grass, little white sparkles of sand cress and sandwort, and the red glow of red Indian paintbrush. And while you’re here, consider visiting nearby Chiwaukee Prairie
Black Partridge Woods in Lemont: The spring wildflower season ends in May with shows of woodland phlox, mayapple, wild hyacinth, and wild geranium. The greatest densities of the latter two plants can be found atop the bluffs. It’s also a dreamy time to experience the lushness of the woodland. It’s so green—from the new leaves of the tiered tree canopy to the dense carpet of foliage on the woodland floor. Thanks to wild ginger that has fully leafed out, you can hardly see the ground beneath. I love the miniature forests of mayapple with their parasol-shaped leaves where you may still be able to 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, along with the star-like leaves of wild geranium. And look for the floating filigreed foliage of early meadow rue. A smattering of white and pink shooting star may also be found on the bluffs above. And if woodland phlox is still aflower, note its gorgeous fragrance. If you find a larger patch of phlox, you may not even have to put nose to petal to detect its fabulous scent. The combination of woodland phlox, wild geranium, and shooting star is wonderful sight.
Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: Late May usually starts the monthlong performance of Ohio spiderwort along the southeast edge of the preserve near Wolf Road. However, those flowers will be gone by afternoon, especially if it’s hot. In the prairie, you’ll also find a small mix of other flowers including hoary puccoon, golden Alexander, downy phlox and daisy fleabane. I particularly love the emerging tones and textures of prairie dock, rattlesnake master, and compass plant. By late May, you may still find the fading blooms of wood betony, starry false Solomon’s seal, wild hyacinth and wild geranium.
“GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”:
Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee: I love this place for its springtime lushness. In late May, you may still find still find some displays of pink wild geranium and blue woodland phlox. But you’ll most likely see dramatic plumes of false Solomon’s seal scattered across the rolling verdant landscape. The foliage on the woodland floor has fully matured as the trees are pushing out fresh delicate leaves in the canopy overhead. Spread across the woodland floor are the jade hues and lush patterns of wild leek, mayapple, and the omnipresent wild ginger.
Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: The most prolific blooms may be happening under the sun with shining displays of balsam ragwort and golden Alexander. Then add to that the brilliant yellow blossoms of hairy puccoon. You may also find ivory tones from bastard toadflax in the prairie and fluffy plumes of common cottongrass in the soggy areas.
Johnson’s Mound Forest Preserve in Elburn: This intimate preserve is known for its ravines and the flowers that cross the braes. In late May, you may still find some displays of pink wild geranium and blue woodland phlox amidst the white blooms of mayapple. But the odds are that they’ve all faded away by now.
Powderhorn Marsh & Prairie in Chicago: You may find a mixture of spiderwort, hoary puccoon, and golden Alexander in the prairie. This high-quality preserve is our only showcase preserve located inside the city of Chicago.
PLANT OF THE WEEK (Golden Alexander):
Shooting Star at Chiwaukee Prairie:
Starry False Solomon’s Seal:
Blue Flag Iris starts to bloom in the late May:
Foxglove Beardtongue usually begins in late May:
Ohio Spiderwort and its Melting Flowers:
Stout Blue-Eyed Grass
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.