Navigation Menu

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
July 15, 2022

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

 

Summer Nature Walks & Outdoor Getaways!

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

Each week, we offer you opportunities to find peace during this trying time!
PLEASE DONATE IF WE’VE HELPED YOU FIND SOLACE IN NATURE
.

 

Find peace by getting out into nature!
Break from your screens 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:

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.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie and the surrounding prairie are getting better by the day, including a whimsical and breathtaking expanse of rattlesnake master.

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 quinineflowering 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 rosinweedearly 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 clovershrubby 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

Yellow Coneflower

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

Yellow coneflower (aka, gray-headed coneflower) of species Ratibida pinnata 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 inhale the licorice scent of the gray 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.*

 

Wild Bergamot

The sun sets over Fermilab Prairie brimming with wild bergamot, cordgrass, and big bluestem.*

Wild bergamot of species Monarda fistulosa is a popular and prolific pioneer species and part of the mint family. The plant often inhabits gaps of disturbed soil, which is a great service to the prairie because it prevents non-native invaders to take hold. The flowers have a lavender color, whereas the flowers of its cousin, bee balm (Monarda didyma), are bright red. Most notably, wild bergamot is known for its minty fragrance and frequently used in tea. The name comes from the similarity of its fragrance to the aromatic oils pressed from Bergamot oranges that are grown around Bergamot, Italy. Here, the sun sets over Fermilab Prairie brimming with wild bergamot, prairie cordgrass, and big bluestem.*

 

 

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.*

 

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.*

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

This is the main seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin. In July, marsh blazing star blooms in the high ground surrounding it.*

During the second half of July at Bluff Spring Fen, the seep of the main fen brings marsh blazing star to the high ground surrounding it.*

 

Wolf Road Prairie: A State of Glorious Chaos in July

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

In July at Wolf Road Prairie, wildflowers combine to resemble a fireworks display.*

The July prairie explodes with diversity here at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

This image is fairly representative of what you’ll see, right now, at Wolf Road Prairie: wild bergamot, wild quinine, rattlesnake master, rosinweed, Culver’s root, and prairie blazing star, and early goldenrod.*

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

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

 

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

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.*

Near the Lake Michigan shore at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, amidst marram grass and bearberry, the low light of morning revealed shapes in the sand that chronicled the secrets of time and affirmed the existence of wondrous creatures and invisible forces.*

Near the Lake Michigan shore at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, the low light of morning revealed shapes in the sand that chronicled the secrets of time and affirmed the existence of wondrous creatures and invisible forces.*

A common snapping turle trudges through the sandy Lake Michigan shoreline on its way to the Dead River at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

A common snapping turtle trudges through the sandy Lake Michigan shoreline on its way to the Dead River at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

The Dead River, at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, is the only remaining river in Illinois that flows into Lake Michigan. The name comes either from deep pools of quicksand hidden along the banks that devour unsuspecting hikers or from water that remains still and barely flows. On this sapphire morning, the latter was true.*

 

Gensburg-Markham Prairie

The summer sun goes down on wild quinine and marsh phlox as nonstop tollway traffic rolls past its eastern border. Each hour of each day, people drive by, unaware of the natural treasures they’d discover by taking the West 159th Street exit.*

The summer sun goes down on wild quinine and marsh phlox  as nonstop tollway traffic rolls past the eastern border of Middlefork Savanna in Markham. Each hour of each day, people drive by, unaware of the natural treasures they’d discover by taking the West 159th Street exit.*

 

Middlefork Savanna in July

As summer progresses, most prairie plants grow ever taller in a battle for the sun. Like elegant dancers, they always want their moment in the spotlight. Here, in the morning stillness, blazing star, compass plant, and prairie dock stand adorned and erect.  In perfect dancing posture they wait for their partners to arrive. Soon, a feathered friend may be the first to show—possibly a bobolink moving from one bloom to another. A flighty partner, in a flash, it shares a fast flamenco with each awaiting dancer. Next on hand might be a soft morning breeze or a brief breath of wind. In the tentative hold of these reluctant leaders, the stalks sway like green children at their first dance. Later comes the firm embrace of an afternoon gale when the tall dancers twirl and waltz. And then comes you. As you brush past their slender torsos, they can’t help but do a little disco.*

As summer progresses, most prairie plants grow ever taller in a battle for the sun. Like elegant dancers, they always want their moment in the spotlight. Here, in the morning stillness, blazing star, compass plant, and prairie dock stand adorned and erect.
In perfect dancing posture they wait for their partners to arrive. Soon, a feathered friend may be the first to show—possibly a bobolink moving from one bloom to another. A flighty partner, in a flash, it shares a fast flamenco with each awaiting dancer. Next on hand might be a soft morning breeze or a brief breath of wind. In the tentative hold of these reluctant leaders, the stalks sway like green children at their first dance. Later comes the firm embrace of an afternoon gale when the tall dancers twirl and waltz. And then comes you. As you brush past their slender torsos, they can’t help but do a little disco.*

 

Purple Prairie Clover and its Remarkably Fresh Scent

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 holds 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. You can find purple prairie clover in great abundance at Somme Prairie Grove  Bluff Spring Fen Nature Preserve, Somme Prairie Grove , and in fewer numbers at Wolf Road Prairie, Gensburg Markham Prairie, and Illinois Beach Nature Preserve.*

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.

 

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.*

 

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.*

 

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.*

 

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.*

 

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.*

 

American Lotus at Tomahawk & Hogwash Sloughs

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois

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.*

 

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.

Compass plant reaches for the summer clouds in the prairie at Middlefork Savanna."

Compass plant reaches for the summer clouds in the prairie at Middlefork Savanna.”

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

Landscape of compass plant at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville.*

 

Mountain Mint

Summer storm clouds brew at Kickapoo Prairie where rattlesnake master, Indian grass, and compass plant glow in the sun.

Summer storm clouds brew at Kickapoo Prairie where mountain mint, rattlesnake masterIndian grass, and compass plant glow in the sun.*

 

 

Wild Bergamot & Yellow Coneflower

“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.*

 

Swamp Milkweed

Swamp Milkweed glistens in the late afternoon sunlight at Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest, Illinois.*

Swamp milkweed glistens in the late afternoon sunlight at Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest, Illinois.*

 

Big Bluestem Grass

Big bluestem grass gives the true meaning to the term "tallgrass prairie."*

The towering height of big bluestem grass gives true meaning to the term “tallgrass prairie.” It can be found at every black soil prairie on our list.*

Look closely for miniature flowers that delicately hang from the tassel of big bluestem grass.*

Miniature flowers delicately hang from the tassel of big bluestem grass at a prairie near you.*

 

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.*

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.*

 

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.*

 

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

Let Us Know About Your Chicago Nature Experience

You CANNOT copy this COPYRIGHTED CONTENT.

error: Content is protected !!