Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
July 15, 2022
“Weekly Wildflower Forecasts Featuring
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Summer Nature Walks & Outdoor Getaways!
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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:
The middle of July brings tremendous color to our prairies & savannas, as they overflow with color and texture, including stunning shows of purple prairie clover, Culver’s root, rattlesnake master, yellow coneflower, wild bergamot, and wild quinine. To learn exactly what’s happening right now, we require that you contribute to our vibrant crowdsourcing community. To insure that you don’t miss out on these magnificent blooms, click here to learn about becoming an Explorer. But nature isn’t just about flowers. It’s about the experience. Explore and discover a preserve from the list below. Be open to nature’s unexpected gifts, whether it be a colorful, awe-inspiring bloom, the mysterious squeak of two rubbing trees mimicking the cry of a baby animal, or the life-affirming odor of skunk cabbage. All of these things will open up your life to a world of wonder and intrigue.
According to my database for this moment in time, the best flower shows often take place at Somme Prairie Grove and Bluff Spring Fen, where you’ll find a fanfare of color from myriad flowering species, including purple prairie clover and the possibility of prairie blazing star and marsh blazing star. White blossoms of Culver’s root, rattlesnake master, wild quinine, flowering spurge, and mountain mint bloom alongside the golden rays of rosinweed and compass plant. And our Plants of the Week, wild bergamot and yellow coneflower, can be seen in most prairies across the region. Even the grasses of big bluestem and side oats grama should be starting to flower! And you may still be able to 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 in the sand at Miller Woods, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Powderhorn Marsh & Prairie, and Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve.
Wolf Road Prairie, located not too far from the city, teaches a class in biodiversity by featuring a colorful array of prairie flowers.
For those in the southern section of Chicagoland, visit Gensburg-Markham Prairie, considered one of the finest prairies in the world. It offers a wide array of color and blowing oceans of grasses. The prairies at Spears Woods also offer beautiful blooms and a gorgeous nature experience. It is easily one of the most beautiful preserves in the region. I love the varied habitats, the rolling terrain, and Hogwash Slough—easily, the prettiest wetland around here. If you visit, consider checking out the prairies at Theodore Stone Preserve in nearby Hodgkins.
The scent of the flowers are especially invigorating right now. Experience the eye-opening minty freshness of wild bergamot and mountain mint, the licorice scent of yellow coneflower, and the wonderful lemon-carrot scent of purple prairie clover.
Summer is a wonderful time to experience green glow in the prairie. Green glow is a term that I recently invented that describes the foliage when it glows bright-green from sunlight through. 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.
TIP: I recommend visiting grasslands at the beginning or the end of the day when it’s much cooler and the sunlight is beautiful. Prairies are treeless expanses with no escape from the sun. It’s a challenge to appreciate the prairie in the blinding light of ninety-degree afternoon.
And finally, the dramatic aquatic American lotus is flowering. 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.
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 preserve tops our list because of the many plant species that provide a vibrant mix of color and texture. The most abundant blooms include the wonderfully scented purple prairie clover and mountain mint alongside glorious white displays of rattlesnake master, wild quinine, flowering spurge, tuberous Indian plantain, daisy fleabane, and Culver’s root. Other notable flowers include spotted Joe-Pye weed, black-eyed Susan, yellow coneflower, prairie blazing star, compass plant, white wild indigo, fragrant round plumes of New Jersey tea, and pink marsh phlox, plus the orange blooms of butterfly weed and Michigan lily. Under the trees, look for the beautiful blue American bellflower and fluffy pink plumes of sweet Joe-Pye weed. Also take this time to appreciate the beautiful textures from the foliage of sedges, grasses, and forbs, including heart-shaped leaves of prairie dock, desert-looking rattlesnake master, and fern-looking leadplant. I especially like the floppy hairdos of prairie dropseed, but watch your step. It’s easy to trip over them as you walk the narrow trails. Come early or late in the day to experience green glow from compass plant and prairie dock.
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 get a unique view of the preserve. Among the most conspicuous flowers, this week, are yellow coneflower, wild bergamot, pale Indian plantain, cup plant, false sunflower, black-eyed Susan, wild quinine, compass plant, and purple prairie clover—my favorite smelling flower that thrives in the gravel left behind by ancient glaciers. Aside from pale Indian plantain, most of these can be found under the sun along with many others: showy tick trefoil, rattlesnake master, rosinweed, prairie loosestrife, Culver’s root, mountain mint, daisy fleabane, St. John’s wort, spotted Joe-Pye weed, fading pale purple coneflower and leadplant, a few white prairie clover, the wonderfully fragrant whorled milkweed, and the less-wonderfully-fragrant 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. And you should also find that the purple spikes of marsh blazing star are beginning to bloom. And keep you eyes open for the diminutive and delicate flowers on the grasses of side oats grama and big bluestem.
Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: This is usually when the preserve puts on a beautiful show of purple prairie clover with a mix of wild quinine with the possibility of prairie coreopsis and a variety of other flowers that include white prairie clover and yellow coneflower. But there should also be a lot of blooming outside the fence of the official Illinois Nature Preserve, home to a vast amount of wild quinine, whimsical rattlesnake master, yellow coneflower, wild bergamot, and daisy fleabane, along with compass plant, mountain mint, black-eyed Susan, purple prairie clover, and possibly some prairie blazing star. NOTE: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.
Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove: This cute remnant prairie, nestled within a quiet neighborhood, often shows off dense golden displays of compass plant alongside with yellow coneflower and rosinweed. But the star of the show is usually the dense stands of rattlesnake master with their white Tinker-Toy flower heads. You’ll my also experience butterfly weed, wild quinine, hairy sunflower, rosinweed, the inconspicuous yellows of tall agrimony, and the mint-scented blooms of mountain mint and wild bergamot. And the torches of prairie blazing star may be starting to bloom purple, as well. I particularly like the nodding tassels of prairie brome that frolic between the forbs. Look for the beautiful filigree foliage of scurfy pea floating amidst the large leaves of prairie dock and compass plant that glow bright green in the low sun.
Spears Woods in Willow Springs: During the second half of July, the rating can be a “Go!” or a “Go, if you’re in the neighborhood” depending on the year. The flashiest shows take place in the prairies, where expanses of flowers flow across the landscape. You may find dense colonies of alabaster wild quinine and the ivory Tinker Toys of rattlesnake master that are beautifully breathtaking on their own. But you may need to catch your breath when they blend with large jaw-dropping expanses of purple prairie blazing star amidst drooping heads of early goldenrod, lavender balls of wild bergamot, and white spikes of Culver’s root. Along your way, you’ll experience the golden blooms at all levels: black-eyed Susan near your feet, rosinweed at your waist, and the large sunflowers of compass plant above your head. Notice the pink filigree of showy tick trefoil that can look like a purple mist mingling amongst the other flowers. And turkey-footed heads of big bluestem grass may be flowering. If you stand at a high spot, scan the prairie below for the orange Silly String of parasitic field dodder draped over and around the plants that it’s feeding on. The woodland is coming alive as the fluffy mauve heads of sweet Joe-Pye weed, while the golden rays of woodland sunflower should be starting to bloom. And the magnificent aquatic American lotus flower is blooming at the north end of Hogwash Slough. There’s a beautiful view of Hogwash Slough and the colony of American lotus located halfway between the eastern prairie trailhead and the shore of Hogwash Slough, Along the shoreline, it’s difficult to see the lotus through the towering sedges and cattails. 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. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Wolf Road Prairie is not too far away.
Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: Around this time, the best flower shows begin to take place in the southernmost portion of the prairie. The shimmering and exploding whites of wild quinine, rattlesnake master, and Culver’s root join an array of colors ranging from yellow to lavender to purple. It can be a glorious sight. The yellow blossoms come from rosinweed, early goldenrod, yellow coneflower, black-eyed Susan, plus forests of towering compass plant and newly flowering prairie dock. Wild bergamot provides flashes of lavender alongside purple stalks of prairie blazing star and a pink haze of showy tick trefoil. The occasional whites of mountain mint, flowering spurge and white wild indigo add some additional sparkle. In the woodland, you’ll find whimsical sprays of bottlebrush grass, pink plumes of sweet Joe-Pye weed, and the beginnings of woodland sunflower. The textures and colors of the foliage adds to excitement, including the blue-greens of rattlesnake master and hundreds of prairie dock hearts that glow in the light of a low sun. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Spears Woods are not too far away.
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 to enjoy the many flowers that vary along the way. In the second half of July, you can often find at least two dozen species in bloom at the same time, while the textures of the grasses and sedges add to the grand experience. As you enter, take the path to your left where you may be immediately greeted by a caboodle of color coming from compass plant, yellow coneflower, flowering spurge, white prairie clover, marsh phlox, wild bergamot, and marsh blazing star. The trail is square. And this northbound leg has the most floral color and diversity, with blooms of blue vervain, Culver’s root, rattlesnake master, wild quinine, wild bergamot, purple prairie clover, tall green milkweed, rosinweed, and the start of partridge pea, marsh blazing star, and early goldenrod. As you approach the north end, there’s a beautiful spot to your left that’s composed of a complementary mix of pink marsh blazing star, pearly wild quinine, and the golds of brown-eyed Susan and early goldenrod. As the trail turns to the right (east), you’ll find rattlesnake master, swamp milkweed, marsh phlox, and ironweed. Looking south, oceans of prairie cordgrass rise and fall like waves in the wind. And as the trail turns back to the south, you’ll sail into seas of sedges and a small fleet of flowers that includes mountain mint. I highly suggest that you stop for a moment to smell this invigorating plant. For that short time, your mind will sail away from the worries of the world. As you circle right (and to the west) on the returning leg of the trail, the scenery turns to shrubs and royal ferns. Along the way, look for a pretty stand of wild senna. Finally, your journey ends with a flourish of color that incorporates the lavenders of wild bergamot.
Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins: Around 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’ll 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 may also find another of my favorite plants that seems to love sand, gravel, and rock: whorled milkweed. It, too, has a wonderful scent. I also found the glorious hairy wild petunia. It’s a great plant for any prairie garden, no matter the soil, because of how much it spreads to prevent weeds. And I just adore the fuzzy touch of the leaves.
“GO, IF YOU’RE 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, silver sprays of flowering spurge and daisy fleabane, and golden black-eyed Susan. 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 purple prairie clover, shrubby cinquefoil and the occasional Cleland’s evening primrose.
NOTE: Trust me when I tell you to GO EARLY IN THE DAY to avoid the noisy beachgoers.
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. Scattered about the preserve are the wonderfully fragrant plumes of whorled milkweed. I can smell them before I see them. And the bright yellow flowers partridge pea may now be blooming.
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 not 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 that like disturbed patches of soil.
Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest: There should be many different species in bloom that create a colorful panorama, including the plentiful displays of wild bergamot, yellow coneflower, and rattlesnake master. Joining the party are the sparkling whites of Culver’s root and mountain mint, plus the golds of false sunflower, black-eyed Susan, compass plant, and cup plant. You should find wonderful Tinker-Toy patches of rattlesnake master and possibly the start of prairie blazing star. Look closely, and you may find the sublime drooping orange blooms of Michigan lily. In the wet areas, check for beautiful pink displays of swamp milkweed.
Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin: This prairie-by-the-lake features often features beautiful expanses of prairie coreopsis and wondrous patches of tuberous Indian plantain and a mix of other flowers that include pink marsh phlox purple leadplant, orange butterfly weed, golden black-eyed Susan, and alabaster wild quinine. As you stroll, you may see the yellows of rosinweed, St. John’s wort and shrubby cinquefoil along with the occasional pale-spiked lobelia and purple milkweed. Also consider checking out Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in nearby Zion. It’s the most biologically rich preserve in the state.
PLANTS OF THE WEEK: YELLOW CONEFLOWER & WILD BERGAMOT
Somme Prairie Grove Overflows with Beauty and Biodiversity
Bluff Spring Fen
Wolf Road Prairie: A State of Glorious Chaos in July
Illinois Beach Nature Preserve
Middlefork Savanna in July
Purple Prairie Clover and its Remarkably Fresh Scent
Wild Quinine Can Be Found in Many Prairies
Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus Blooms at our Sandy Sites
American Lotus at Tomahawk & Hogwash Sloughs
Wild Bergamot & Yellow Coneflower
Big Bluestem Grass
The Charismatic Foliage of Compass Plant & Prairie Dock
Light Shows in the Prairies
Prairie Root System
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