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Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
July 8, 2022

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

 

Summer Nature Walks & Outdoor Getaways!

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Get outside to experience magnificent flower shows
in our showcase prairies and savannas.

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

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

 

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

Early July offers stunning shows of leadplant, purple prairie clover, prairie coreopsis, wild quinine, and more. To learn exactly what’s happening right now, we require that you contribute to our vibrant crowdsourcing community. To insure that you don’t miss out on these magnificent blooms, click here to learn about becoming an Explorer. But nature isn’t just about flowers. It’s about the experience. Explore and discover a preserve from the list below. Be open to nature’s unexpected gifts, whether it be a colorful, awe-inspiring bloom, the mysterious squeak of two rubbing trees mimicking the cry of a baby animal, or the life-affirming odor of skunk cabbage. All of these things will open up your life to a world of wonder and intrigue.

 

During this second week of July, many beautiful flower shows are simultaneously taking place throughout the region. Again, the best performance is being staged in the oak savanna at Somme Prairie Grove. It is a must-see event!

This week, there are many stars in our colorful cast, including that of leadplant, butterfly weed, prairie coreopsis, mountain mint, wild quinine, and our three Plants of the Week: purple prairie clover, rattlesnake master, and Culver’s root. And if you search the sandy preserves, you may find the large yellow blossoms of Chicago’s most unexpected nature plant: eastern prickly pear cactus. What?! Chicago has a cactus? Yes we do! You can find also find it thriving at Miller Woods, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Powderhorn Marsh & Prairie, and Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve.

Golden prairie coreopsis shines most brightly at Shoe Factory Road Prairie and Bluff Spring Fen

Purple leadplant prominently erupts at Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Pembroke Savanna, and Bluff Spring Fen. A heart-stopping mix of leadplant and golden prairie coreopsis often bloom side-by-side at Shoe Factory Road Prairie and Bluff Spring Fen. However, the finest leadplant show of all takes place at  Somme Prairie Grove. The scene nearly brings me to tears. And another purple flower called purple prairie clover is now blooming that often puts on fabulous displays at Somme Prairie Grove and Bluff Spring Fen.

Spears Woods and Wolf Road Prairie are aflower with many species, including the omnipresent cauliflower heads of wild quinine, which can be found at any of our mesic prairies. And the beautiful orange pom pom flower heads of butterfly weed are flowering in our prairies and savannas, including Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Somme Prairie Grove, and Belmont Prairie.

Several scented flowers are blooming or about to bloom. Experience the eye-opening minty freshness of wild bergamot and mountain mint, the licorice scent of yellow coneflower, the rosy aroma fragrance of pasture rose, and the wonderful lemon-carrot aroma of purple prairie clover

The dramatic pearly trumpet-shaped flowers of foxglove beardtongue may still be flowering in our local prairies, especially at Spears Woods and Bluff Spring Fen.

The aquatic American lotus also may be starting to flower. The pale yellow blossoms resemble those of a water lily, but they’re much larger—up to eight inches wide atop stems that can reach six feet high. And that isn’t all. The circular leaf is gorgeous and enormous, up to two-and-a-half feet in diameter! See the Photo Section below for images of American lotus (and where to find it) along with the many flowers featured in this report.

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

And finally, the run of Ohio spiderwort may have already ended. But you may still be able to experience the ephemeral blue flowers that open to meet their one-and-only day, then dissolve into a gem of purple liquid. You can find them growing at many of our showcase preserves. Click here to read my poem about it.

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.

 

SUMMER WILDFLOWER GETAWAYS AROUND CHICAGO:

I’ve ranked the preserves on this week’s list based on the information predicted by my one-of-a-kind propriety database of wildflowers blooming events, starting out with the best or “Go!” The “Go, if You’re in the Neighborhood” section is for sites that are worth visiting if you can’t make it to the top-rated preserves.

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

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: This preserves finest flower shows happen in July. Words are not sufficient to describe the wave of emotion that washes over me as I catch sight of the kaleidoscopic knobs. Low mounds under the open skies to the north are home to scenes filled with an amalgam of color, texture, joy, inspiration, and life. Passionate purples mix with sparkling whites and startling explosions of orange. And glorious golds begin at your feet and rise toward the clouds. And all this upon a flowing canvas shaped by emerald hearts, mops, and bottlebrushes. You’ll find leadplant, purple prairie clover, wild quinine, rattlesnake master, butterfly weed, mountain mint, black-eyed Susan, compass plant, prairie dock, and prairie dropseed. Blooms of purple prairie clover begin to spread from the knobs to put on shows in other parts of the savanna. On your way to the knobs, you’ll find these same flowers and several more, including many marsh phlox, pasture rose, prairie lily, common St. John’s wort, daisy fleabane, white wild indigo, fragrant round plumes of New Jersey tea, and the tall tuberous Indian plantain. Also take this time to appreciate the beautiful textures from the foliage of sedges, grasses, and bloomers-to-be, including the floppy hairdos of prairie dropseed, heart-shaped leaves of prairie dock, desert-looking rattlesnake master, and fern-looking leadplant.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: Several flowers are blooming at the official Illinois Nature Preserve inside the fence at the top of the hill, including a fantastic show of bee-loving purple prairie clover at peak bloom. Along the way you’ll find leadplant, prairie coreopsis, early goldenrod, wild quinine, wild bergamot, compass plant, and the occasional short green milkweed. There’s also a lot flowering along the slope outside the fence and the surrounding preserve. You’ll experience a vast amount of wild quinine growing with wild bergamot, yellow coneflower, purple prairie clover, leadplant, fading pale purple coneflower, a sprinkling of black-eyed Susan, and astonishing displays of rattlesnake master with its molecular flower head. Appreciate the lush textures and green hues from forbs, sedges, grasses, and bloomers-to-be, including the floppy hairdos of prairie dropseed, heart-shaped leaves of prairie dock, powdery cyan spears of rattlesnake master, and fern-looking leadplant. NOTE: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion: Most of the color can be found in the black oak savanna, where you should be treated to many bright orange blooms of butterfly weed, pink marsh phlox, pearly blooms of flowering spurge and hoary puccoon, daisy fleabane, black-eyed Susan, and possibly the blue morning blossoms of Ohio spiderwort. Milkweeds are blooming under the trees, as well, including purple milkweed, common milkweed, and short green milkweed. And this week could possibly be your last chance to smell the wonderfully fragrant pink blossoms of pasture rose. Flowering spurge should be the star of the sand prairie with a supporting cast of shrubby cinquefoil, the occasional Cleland’s evening primrose, and purple prairie clover  And if you’re lucky, you might find the spectacular yellow blossom of eastern prickly pear cactus. Each flower only lasts a day. NOTE: I highly recommend that you VISIT EARLY IN THE DAY to avoid the rambunctious beachgoers. While you’re there, consider the short drive north to see Chiwaukee Prairie.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Around this time, there can easily be twenty flower species blooming across the preserve. Begin your hike at the main trailhead that winds you under the trees and along the kames of the oak savanna, around the sunny prairie  and through the main wetland known as a fen. Before the path leaves the savanna, take the trail on your left to the top of the large kame where you’ll experience a unique view of the preserve. Among the most conspicuous flowers, this week, might be purple prairie clover, prairie coreopsis, leadplant, yellow coneflower, wild bergamot, pale Indian plantain, cup plant, false sunflower, black-eyed Susan, wild quinine, compass plant, and the possibly the start of marsh blazing star. Aside from pale Indian plantain, most of these can be found under the sun along with many others: showy tick trefoilrattlesnake master, rosinweed, prairie loosestrife Culver’s root, mountain mint, daisy fleabane, St. John’s wort, spotted Joe-Pye weed, fading pale purple coneflower, a few white prairie clover, and the mauve and white blooms of common milkweed that fill the air with a scent reminiscent of overly perfumed Bingo ladies who’ve lost their sense of smell. In the woodland, look for aptly named bottlebrush grass, the white blooms of starry campion, the fluffy sweet Joe-Pye weed, and the tall plants of blue American bellflower, golden cup plant, and pale Indian plantain.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove: This is good time to visit this remnant prairie where several colorful plants bloom at once.The dramatic alabaster blooms of wild quinine instantly get your attention alongside golden black-eyed Susan. But the shocking orange of butterfly weed steals the show with dramatic surges of vibrancy throughout the prairie. New lavender plumes of wild bergamot should soon start to fill the pink-and-blue void left by scurfy pea. Hues from purple to blue come from leadplant, wild bergamot, and the remaining petals of pale purple coneflower  Yellow coneflower is starting to flower along with mountain mint and rattlesnake master. And I just love looming forests of blooming compass plant. I suggest visiting early or late in the day when it’s cooler and when you can experience the glorious green glow—leaves that glow a bright green from the sunlight shining through them. 

Spears Woods in Willow Springs: The best floral shows are being performed in the prairies, which are gorgeous when they’re in full bloom. Along your walk through the prairie, you’ll probably find at least fifteen species in bloom. Sparkling white” describes the scene, as alabaster inflorescences of wild quinine flower across the panorama, joined by glistening blossoms of mountain mint, the ivory Tinker Toy heads of rattlesnake master, floating daisy fleabane, and multi-spiked Culver’s root. You’ll discover occasional explosions of orange butterfly weed along with the golds of skyward compass plant, black-eyed Susan, the start of early goldenrod, and possibly some early blooming sawtooth sunflower and purple-spiked prairie blazing star. The bushy climbing wild rose should blooming. And if you pay close attention, you may find the sublime blossoms of orange Michigan lily and purple milkweed. Stand at a high spot to scan the prairie below for the orange Silly String of parasitic field dodder draped over and around the plants that it’s feeding on. Spears Woods is one of the most beautiful sites in the region, where various trails guide you through woodlands, prairies, and wetlands.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: The flower show is happening in the southernmost portion of the prairie with the most dramatic performance coming from wild quinine. New plants are starting to bloom and the color is getting better by the day. White, gold, and lavender make up the color palette. Along the way, you’ll also experience fresh white spikes of Culver’s root alongside rattlesnake master and the occasional flowering spurge, yellow coneflower, rosinweed, and lavender pom poms of wild bergamot. You’ll also find a smattering of yellow-petaled black-eyed Susan and towering stalks of compass plant. The purple spiked prairie blazing star may be just starting to bloom. The textures and colors of the foliage adds to the excitement, including the blue-greens of rattlesnake master and hundreds of prairie dock hearts that glow in the light of a low sun. 

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham: First of all, the preserve is NOT LOCKED. It only looks that way. The chain is just draped over the top of the gate. Just move the chain and enter. Once inside, I suggest walking all of the trails because of how much the flowers vary along the way. I usually begin with the trail that leads left from the gate. This preserve is a “Go” because of the various textures and at least two dozen species in bloom, including many that are just beginning to flower. Here’s an abbreviated list of the many flowers that you’ll find that range from white to yellow to pink: compass plant, purple prairie clover, white prairie clover, yellow coneflower, rattlesnake master, wild quinine, wild bergamot, wild senna, tuberous Indian plantain, tall green milkweed, swamp milkweed, and Culver’s root.
NOTE: Under the summer sun, this prairie can feel hot and bright. For a more enjoyable time, visit in the morning or late-afternoon.

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins: About this time, the rays of yellow coneflower play a leading role throughout the western mesic prairie alongside other flowers that include wild bergamot, daisy fleabane, rattlesnake master, wild quinine, Culver’s root, false sunflower, and mountain mint. In the dry dolomite prairie to the east, you should find a much different landscape with a very open feel. It’s my favorite part of the preserve. Unlike the mesic soil of the western prairie with its tall, dense communities of plants, the soil here is rock—a porous limestone called “dolomite”—which makes it harder for plants to establish themselves. Some can’t. Many that can will probably not grow as tall. And then there are the hearty plants that enjoy being between a rock and a hard place, like the purple prairie clover with a scent that’s a cross between carrots and lemons—my favorite “good” scent in nature. (My favorite “bad” scent comes from foxglove beardtongue seeds that smell exactly like vomit. Be still my heart!) You’ll also find another of my favorite plants that seems to love sand, gravel, and rock: whorled milkweed. It also produces a wonderful scent. And look for the glorious hairy wild petunia. It’s a wonderful plant for any prairie garden, no matter the soil, because of how much it spreads to prevent weeds. I just adore the fuzzy feel of the leaves. 

 

“GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”:

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park: You might find large displays of daisy fleabane and buttery blooms of Cleland’s evening primrose, pink spotted bee balm, white sparkles of flowering spurge, and small eruptions of orange butterfly weed. The beautiful pink pasture rose may also be available for you to inhale its intoxicating fragrance. And though the flowers may already be spent by this time in July,  this is a great place to experience spiderwort, as long as you arrive early before the flowers melt away. However, slender dayflower is beginning its bloom and, as a cousin of spiderwort, its flowers also dissolve in a purple liquid a few hours after they bloom.

Miller Woods (at Paul H. Douglas Environmental Center for Education) in Indiana Dunes National Park: There’s always a lot to explore, here. And you can make a day of it, especially because there are other sites to visit in the park. Check in at the visitor center at Miller Woods for guidance. I love the always-energetic sprays of acrobatic bracken fern that provide texture and beauty even when nothing’s abloom. Look for golden highlights of sand coreopsis and the pink fragrant blooms of pasture rose. Walk the main trail that heads to the lake and you may discover some eastern prickly pear cactus that prefers the open sand. After your hike, consider checking out nearby Tolleston Dunes.

Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin: This prairie-by-the-lake features beautiful patches of tuberous Indian plantain and mix of other flowers that include pink marsh phlox and, black-eyed Susan. Along your way, you may see the yellows of St. John’s wort and shrubby cinquefoil along with the occasional pale-spiked lobelia and purple milkweed. If you get there there early, you may still find the purple blossoms of Ohio spiderwort. To see a nice display of phlox, walk the narrow dirt path located west of the gravel road. Also consider checking out Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in nearby Zion.

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills: This preserve offers a beautiful expansive view that is best enjoyed at the edges of daylight, when it’s now hot and sunny. Enjoy an array of flowers that flow along the vast rolling landscape of the prairie and fen, including the lavenders of wild bergamot, white and purple prairie clover, pale purple coneflower, golden black-eyed Susan, compass plant, and yellow coneflower, the mauves of common milkweed, and the delicate ivory balls of whorled milkweed.

 

PLANTS OF THE WEEK: PURPLE PRAIRIE CLOVER, RATTLESNAKE MASTER, & CULVER’S ROOT

 

Purple Prairie Clover

The fresh scent of purple prairie clover is my overall favorite. The fragrance combines the sweet smell of carrots with the invigorating scent of lemons. The thimble-shaped flower heads hold dozens of small five-petaled flowers that span just a quarter of an inch. And each flower contains five anthers that are covered with the gold or orange pollen that the anthers produce. Like a ring around the thimble, the flowers bloom from the bottom up, one ring at at time. As you can see, here, a female honey bee has collected the pollen in her pollen baskets, an appendage that only females possess. Therefore, the females do all the work. And the males are forced to carry wallets prior to mating. That’s because the males’ penises get ripped off their bodies after the five-second mating process. The pollen basket is a smooth cavity located on the hind legs. It’s perimeter is covered with a fuzzy corona of hair. The bee licks its foreleg and then rubs and compacts the pollen into a sticky ball. A single follicle resides inside the pollen basket, which acts as a skewer to securely hold the load of moistened pollen in place.*

Come to Bluff Spring Fen early on a July morning and you might experience a chromatic expanse of purple prairie clover.*

Come to Bluff Spring Fen early on a July morning and you might experience a chromatic expanse of purple prairie clover.*

 

Rattlesnake Master

In my prairie garden, amidst lavender blooms of butterfly-loving wild bergamot, are the strange spherical flower heads of rattlesnake master, a neighbor you can find living in Chicago’s prairies and savannas. Rattlesnake master gets its name because some Native Americans brewed a tea from the rootas an antidote for rattlesnake venom. To prevent bites, some chewed on the root, then spat on their hands before handling a rattlesnake. Of course, I’m interested to know if this really works. What’s more, the research may not even require a flight to the desert. That’s because, believe it or not, the rare and endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnake lives right here in the Chicago area. So, if you perform the experiment, please get back to me with the results, either you or next of kin.

Rattlesnake master is a wonderful Chicago prairie flower that resembles Tinker Toys or molecular structures, or something you might find in Arizona or Texas. The plant gets its name because some Native Americans brewed a tea from the root as an antidote for rattlesnake venom. To prevent bites, some chewed on the root, then spat on their hands before handling a rattlesnake. Of course, I’m interested to know if this really works. What’s more, the research may not even require a flight to the desert. That’s because, believe it or not, the rare and endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnake lives right here in the Chicago area. So, if you perform the experiment, please get back to me with the results, either you or next of kin. To experience rattlesnake master, visit Belmont Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road PrairieWolf Road PrairieFermilab PrairieGensburg Markham PrairieKickapoo PrairieSpears WoodsTheodore Stone Preserve, and other local prairies and savannas.*

 

Culver’s Root

On this mysterious summer morning at Wolf Road Prairie, white spikes of Culver’s root extend into the outer reaches and, like a dream, disappear into the fog.

It is thought that Culver’s root gets is named after a Dr. Culver, a physician who prescribed the use of the plant to cure a variety of maladies. The seeds of Culver’s root are very small and light, allowing the wind to spread them several feet from the plant. The plant has a central taproot, but it also has some rhizomes that allows it to spread. The plant is distributed across much of Illinois, but it’s not commonly seen. That’s because the plant can only thrive in the highest quality habitats. On this mysterious summer morning at Wolf Road Prairie, white spikes of Culver’s root, extend into the outer reaches and, like a dream, disappear into the fog. You can also see this plant at Middlefork Savanna, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, Lake in the Hills Fen, Theodore Stone Preserve, Spears Woods, and the prairie around Shoe Factory Road Prairie.

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Somme Prairie Grove Overflows with Beauty and Biodiversity

At Somme Prairie Grove, the magnificent blooms upon the knobs of the savanna come to life in the warmth of the morning light.*

At Somme Prairie Grove, the magnificent blooms upon the knobs of the savanna come to life in the warmth of the morning light.*

The many flowers of the oak savanna at Somme Prairie Grove sparkle brilliantly in the last light of day.*

At Somme Prairie Grove, the many flowers of the oak savanna sparkled brilliantly in the last light of day.*

Here, at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois , we see the large, deeply lobed leaf of compass plant among a sea of purple prairie clover.*

Here at Somme Prairie Grove we see the large, deeply lobed leaf of compass plant among a sea of purple prairie clover.*

Purple prairie clover and mountain mint steal the show in this area of Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.

Purple prairie clover and mountain mint steal the show in this area of Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook.*

 

Bluff Spring Fen

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

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

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

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

There’s hardly a dull moment in Bluff Spring Fen’s prairie. Just as blooms of leadplant and coreopsis fade, purple prairie clover rises to take their place.*

This is a view that’s forming in the prairie at Bluff Spring Fen. Just as blooms of leadplant and coreopsis fade, purple prairie clover rises to take their place.*

 

Prairie Coreopsis

Atop this hill prairie, deep-rooted leadplants combine with the happy yellow faces of coreopsis as they shine through the dissipating fog.*

Sometime between late June and early July, the golden rays of prairie coreopsis (or stiff coreopsis) can be found in best preserves, often in dry and gravelly spots. The plant multiplies by spreading rhizome to create colonies. Their bright yellow flower heads bloom at the beginning of summer before tall warm-season grasses obscure them from the sight of pollinating insects. Atop this gravelly hill prairie at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, deep-rooted leadplant combine with the happy yellow faces of prairie coreopsis as they shine through the dissipating fog.*

 

Leadplant

Beginning in late June or early July, purple-flowered leadplant erupts in the prairies and oak savannas, including here in the savanna at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook.*

Here at Somme Prairie Grove, the purple plant in this panorama is leadplant, which can search for water fifteen feet below the arid surface. Other drought-tolerant species seen here include prairie dropseed and wild quinine, in the front; and farther out, prairie dock, compass plant, and rattlesnake master. You can find leadplant growing at many other preserves, including Bluff Spring Fen, Pembroke Savanna, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, and Wolf Road Prairie.*

 

Michigan Lily

Michigan Lily

Michigan lily can be found at a handful of our showcase preserves, including Spears Woods and Wolf Road Prairie.*

 

Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus Blooms at our Sandy Sites

Eastern prickly pear cactus blooms in late June in sandy preserves around the Chicago area.*

Eastern prickly pear cactus blooms can be found in late June in sandy preserves around the Chicago area, including Illinois Beach Nature PreserveMiller WoodsPowderhorn Prairie, and Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve.*

 

Wild Quinine Can Be Found in Many Prairies

In the golden light of morning, wild quinine, stiff coreopsis, and leadplant overlook the foggy fen from atop the reconstructed kame and the remnants of Healy Road Prairie transplanted here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

This is a common scene at Elgin’s Bluff Spring Fen. Here in the golden light of morning, wild quinine, prairie coreopsis, and leadplant overlook the foggy fen.*

 

Mountain Mint

Mountain mint and prairie blazing star flower in the July prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs.*

Inhale the invigorating white flowers of mountain mint that grow here at Spears Woods and at many other preserves on our list.*

 

Culver’s Root

Culver's root blooms en masse at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.*

In mid-July, Culver’s root blooms en masse at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester. And you can see it at Middlefork Savanna, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, Lake in the Hills Fen, Theodore Stone Preserve, Spears Woods, and the prairie outside the fence at Shoe Factory Road Prairie.

 

Evening Primrose

Evening primrose blooms in the purple morning light along the sandy Lake Michigan shore at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

Cleland’s evening primrose blooms in the purple morning light along the sandy Lake Michigan shore at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion. The plant also grows at Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park.*

 

American Lotus at Tomahawk & Hogwash Sloughs

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois

Beginning in July, Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs fills with American Lotus. You can also see it from a distance at Hogwash Slough in Spears Woods.

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois teeming with American lotus.

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs teems with the grand American Lotus. You an reach the wetland by first parking at the far end of Pulaski Woods parking lot and then walking a short distance along the trails.

 

Pale Purple Coneflower

In addition to experiencing the prairie as a whole, take a closer look and discover the many attractions that hide in plain sight. Here, within a scene of a thousand coneflowers, I attended a iniature, slow-motion rodeo that was taking place upon one prickly flower head. I watched as a tiny ant rode the back of a slinking inchworm.*

Pale purple coneflower is favorite of mine. I just love how the petals droop downward. The plant has deep taproots, allowing it to survive drought and to thrive in gravel and dolomite limestone prairies. In the warm light of rising or setting sun, the flowers turn a stunning orange pink. Here at Belmont Prairie, I picked out this scene from a thousand coneflowers: a miniature, slow-motion rodeo that was taking place upon one prickly flower head. I watched as a tiny ant rode the back of a slinking inchworm.*

Pale purple coneflowers populate the kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Sometimes the petals of pale purple coneflowers are colored pale white. Here, a combination of pink and white coneflowers populate the kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

The predawn clouds take on the colors of the pale purple coneflowers at this dolomite limestone prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois.*

The predawn clouds take on the colors of the pale purple coneflower at this dolomite limestone prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois. You can usually find this majestic plant growing most prominently at  Bluff Spring Fen, Belmont Prairie, and on the slopes outside the fence at Shoe Factory Road Prairie,*

Each day, Mother Nature chooses from an array of natural elements and then fashions them into new works of art. Most Junes at Belmont Prairie, dazzling mosaics like this go on exhibit. Assembled from over one hundred pale purple coneflowers, the final work, not the individual pieces, draws our attention.*

Each day, Mother Nature chooses from an array of natural elements and then fashions them into new works of art. Most Junes at Belmont Prairie, dazzling mosaics like this go on exhibit. Assembled from over one hundred pale purple coneflowers, the final work, not the individual pieces, draws our attention.*

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

June brings pale purple coneflower, scurfy pea, and porcupine grass to Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove.*

 

Butterfly Weed

Coral hairstreak butterfly on butterfly milkweed at Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham, Illinois.

The orange flowers of butterfly weed are a popular source of nutrition for our native pollinators, including this coral hairstreak butterfly that sucks up nectar at Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham, Illinois.*

Great spangled fritillary butterflies (species Speyeria cybele) and butterfly weed in the prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois.

Great spangled fritillary butterflies (species Speyeria cybele) and butterfly weed in the prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs.

Here at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, the bright orange flowers of butterfly weed makes a colorful statement.*

Butterfly weed is a milkweed, but it doesn’t possess the milky sap that gives milkweeds their name.  Here at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, the bright orange flowers of butterfly weed makes a colorful statement. You can also find this plant at several high-quality prairies and savannas, including Bluff Spring Fen, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and Somme Prairie Grove.*

Butterfly milkweed (or butterfly weed) blooms in the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

Butterfly weed blooms across the oak savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. You can also find it at many other preserves including, Somme Prairie Grove, Belmont Prairie, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

 

Compass Plant

This bloom of compass plant reaches for the sky.

The golden blooms of compass plant are just starting in some of our prairies. They’re an iconic species that can be found in most of our mesic prairies.

Landscape of compass plants at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Illinois.*

Landscape of compass plant at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville.*

 

Wild Bergamot & Yellow Coneflower Begin to Bloom

“Lavender in color and mint in fragrance” describes wild bergamot. “Whimsical with an aroma of anise” describes yellow coneflower. Both are native to the prairie, and both are healers. Known as pioneer species, they are among the first plants to colonize disturbed or degraded areas. Their presence improves soil quality while allowing other plants to move in, leading to greater biodiversity.*

“Lavender in color and mint in fragrance” describes wild bergamot. “Whimsical with an aroma of anise” describes yellow coneflower. Both are native to the prairie, and both are healers. Known as pioneer species, they are among the first plants to colonize disturbed or degraded areas. Their presence improves soil quality while allowing other plants to move in, leading to greater biodiversity. You can see and smell these plants at most prairies, including here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

Yellow coneflowers bloom in the mesic prairie in the western half of Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins.*

Yellow coneflower (aka, gray-headed coneflower) is a pioneer species of the prairie. It colonizes disturbed or degraded habitats until conditions improve, when it allows other plants to move in, leading to a more stable and biodiverse ecosystem. The flowers perch atop slender stems that rise to four feet tall. At that height, it’s easy to smell the licorice scented brown cones. Yellow coneflowers bloom throughout the region’s prairies including here in the mesic prairie in the western half of Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins.*

At Wolf Road Prairie in July, wildflowers combine to resemble a fireworks display.*

At Wolf Road Prairie in July, wildflowers combine to resemble a fireworks display.*

 

Purple Milkweed

Purple milkweed of species Asclepias purpurascens begins its bloom at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

The striking blooms of purple milkweed can be found in the best prairies and savannas, including Somme Prairie Grove and, here, at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

 

Pasture Rose is a Flower that Must be Smelled:

Pasture Rose grows in the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. The fragrance of pasture rose is transcendent—a spiritual experience. Over several weeks in late spring, it blooms barely inches from the ground. During that time, whenever we’re together, I partake in a sacred ritual. I drop to my knees and bow in reverence, nose to petal.*

Pasture rose grows here in the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. But you can also find it at other preserves, including Bluff Spring Fen and Pembroke Savanna. The fragrance of pasture rose is transcendent—a spiritual experience.*

 

The Melting Flowers of Ohio Spiderwort

Ohio spiderwort in the morning light at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois.

In late May or early June, Ohio spiderwort begins a performance that will last a month or longer, starring a cluster of buds that releases only a couple of flowers each day. Each morning, a new bud opens into a delicate blue or purple flower. You may find spiderwort, right now, at Wolf Road Prairie, Belmont Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Pembroke Savanna, Powderhorn Prairie, Miller Woods, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and more.

In late May, spiderwort begins a performance that will last a month or longer, starring a cluster of buds that releases only a couple of flowers each day. At dawn, a new bud opens into a delicate blue or purple flower. But as the day wears on, it begins to wither—then miraculously melts into a gem of royal jelly. An enzyme in the flower causes it to slowly decompose, and hot weather speeds up the process. It’s noon, and this flower is already shriveling.

As the day wears on, each blossom begins to wither—then miraculously melts into a gem of royal jelly. An enzyme in the flower causes it to slowly decompose, and hot weather speeds up the process. It’s noon, and this flower is already shriveling.*

By midafternoon, this spiderwort blossom melts blue between my fingertips, thanks to an enzyme in the flowers that causes it to slowly decompose.

By midafternoon, this spiderwort bloom was melting blue between my fingertips. Do you notice my purple fingers? I was arrested earlier that morning.

The blossoms of Ohio spiderwort open to meet a new day at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

This is the scene from Wolf Road Prairie, as blossoms of Ohio spiderwort open to meet the new day.*

At Miller Woods (Indiana Dunes National Park), spiderwort and ferns cover the side of the dunes.*

At Miller Woods (Indiana Dunes National Park), spiderwort and ferns cover the side of the dunes.*

 

Hoary Puccoon

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

The golden blooms of hoary puccoon can be found, here, at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve and many other preserves around the region including Miller Woods, Powderhorn Marsh and Prairie, Wolf Road Prairie, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, and more.*

 

The Charismatic Foliage of Compass Plant & Prairie Dock

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

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

 

Green Glow

Sunlight shines through a translucent leaf of prairie dock, as golden Alexander casts its shadows.*

Green glow describes leaves that glow a bright green from sunlight shining through them. Here, we see a special kind of green glow that results in a shadow play, as sunlight shines through a translucent leaf of prairie dock, as golden Alexander casts its distinctive silhouette.*

 

Light Shows in the Prairies

Fireflies light up the nighttime prairie at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester. Fireflies flash their bulbs as they look for mates. Males fly around, while females perch on plants.*

In June and July, fireflies light up the nighttime prairie at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester. This image was recorded over an 87-second period from the deck of the Franzosenbusch prairie house. Fireflies flash their bulbs as they look for mates. Males fly around, while females perch on plants.*

 

Prairie Root System

The root system of some common prairie plants.

The root system of some common prairie plants. Note that cylindrical blazing star has the deepest root that reaches over fifteen feet! Click the image for a bigger view.

 

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

 

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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