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Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
July 22, 2022

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

 

Summer Nature Walks & Outdoor Getaways!

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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, wetlands, and savannas, including stunning shows of 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 should find a fanfare of color from myriad flowering species, including purple prairie clover, the bright pink torches of prairie blazing star and marsh blazing star (Plants of the Week), and omnipresent wild bergamot and yellow coneflower that can be seen in most prairies across the region. 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. Even the grasses of big bluestem and side oats grama should be starting to flower! 

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 most beautiful preserves in the region, and perhaps one of the finest prairies in the world.  It offers a wide array of color and blowing oceans of grasses. And the prairies at Spears Woods offer beautiful blooms and a gorgeous nature experience, especially if it’s a good year for prairie blazing star.  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 its surrounding prairie should be gorgeous, right now. Outside the fence, experience the whimsical and breathtaking expanses 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 bright-green glow of foliage from sunlight shining through it. 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 your 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 and rattlesnake master. But there should also be a lot of blooming taking place 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. The rare hill prairie inside the fence offers some of the same flowers, but fewer in number and less variety. NOTE: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.

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. And look for orange Silly String of parasitic field dodder that wraps around plants and then feeds off them. 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 located nearby.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove: This cute remnant prairie, nestled within a quiet neighborhood, often shows off dense golden displays of compass plant alongside 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 with 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 are located nearby.

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, early goldenrod, 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 partridge pea. 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. Note: Spears Woods and Wolf Road Prairie are located nearby.

 

“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: 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. And the bright yellow flowers of partridge pea may now be blooming. This is a great place to experience spiderwort‘s cousin, slender dayflower, that also features melting flowers that dissolve in a purple liquid a few hours after they bloom. Scattered about the preserve are the wonderfully fragrant plumes of whorled milkweed, which I can smell before I see them. 

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, golden black-eyed Susan, yellow coneflower, and early goldenrod, pale purple coneflower, Culver’s root, blue vervain, spotted Joe-Pye weed, compass plant, and mauve common milkweed that smells like a bunch of over-perfumed old ladies on Bingo night. Look for beautiful patches of purple marsh blazing star, and for plumes of big bluestem grass that will soon flower.

Lockport Prairie in Lockport: The best flower show at this rare dolomite prairie happens around this time, when nodding wild onion spreads across the preserve in a mixed in with fragrant patches of whorled milkweed and waves of towering big bluestem with tassels that may now be flowering. Along the out-and-back path, you should also find pale-spiked lobelia, blue vervain and hoary vervain, spotted Joe-Pye weed, Canada wild rye, and American bellflower under the shade of the trees at the end of the trail.

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, whimsical Tinker-Toy patches of rattlesnake master, dramatic spikes of prairie blazing star, and early goldenrod. 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. In the wet areas, check for beautiful pink displays of swamp milkweed and spotted Joe-Pye weed.

Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin: This prairie-by-the-lake often features beautiful expanses of wondrous patches of tuberous Indian plantain and a mix of other flowers that include pink marsh phlox butterfly weed, golden black-eyed Susan, alabaster wild quinine, and newly blooming marsh blazing star. As you stroll, you may see the yellows of rosinweed, St. John’s wort and shrubby cinquefoil along with the occasional pale-spiked lobelia. Also consider checking out Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in nearby Zion. It’s the most biologically rich preserve in the state.

Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale: This prairie offers a variety of flowers, including rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, mountain mint, wild bergamot, yellow coneflower, compass plant, and big bluestem grass. 

 

 

PLANTS OF THE WEEK: MARSH & PRAIRIE BLAZING STAR

 
Prairie blazing star and rosinweed in July at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois.*

In late July and early August, the spectacular purple blooms of marsh blazing star and prairie blazing star turn the prairie ablaze. They are the first of the blazing stars to flower in the summer, followed by cylindrical, savanna, and then rough blazing star. Both marsh and prairie blazing star can easily reach five feet tall. The only way to differentiate them is to decipher this coded message from the Illinois Wildflowers website:, “Prairie Blazingstar has floral bracts (phyllaries) that are strongly recurved, while the floral bracts of Marsh Blazingstar are appressed together and relatively smooth.” Huh? Even my magic decoder ring can’t decipher that.

The flowers on these plants bloom from the top downward, which is helpful for photographers to know if the flowers are coming or going. 

You can experience one or both of these magnificent plants at Belmont Prairie, Spears Woods, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Wolf Road Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Middlefork Savanna, and many other prairies on our list of showcase preserves.

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Somme Prairie Grove Overflows with Beauty and Biodiversity

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.*

 

Wolf Road Prairie: A State of Glorious Chaos in July

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.*

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.*

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

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

 

Spears Woods Often Explodes

Here in late July at Spears Woods, wildflowers float above the prairie like musical notes in a symphony of color and texture.*

Here in late July at Spears Woods, wildflowers float above the prairie like musical notes in a symphony of color and texture: rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, and early goldenrod *

Prairie blazing star and wild quinine light up the prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois.*

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, the July prairie erupts with an array of wildflowers like wild quinine, prairie blazing star, and early goldenrod.*

 

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 in 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 in Elgin.*

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.*

 

 

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.*

 

Theodore Stone Preserve

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.*

 

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.*

 

Fermilab Prairie

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.*

 

American Bellflower

Sweet Joe-Pye weed, American bellflower, and woodland sunflower put on a show in the woodland at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.*

The beautiful blue American bellflower blooms alongside sweet Joe-Pye weed and woodland sunflower, here at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook and other local woodlands.*

 

Flowering Spurge

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

The floating white blooms of flowering spurge erupts across the sand savanna at Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve in Hopkins Park, Illinois.*

 

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.*

 

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.*

 

Nodding Wild Onion

In late July, pink blooms of nodding wild onion are the highlight of Lockport Prairie.*

The drooping pink blossoms of nodding wild onion are just beginning to flower. The display is often quite dense at Lockport Prairie, but it depends on the year.*

 

Prairie & Marsh Blazing Star

Spears Woods’ finest show takes place in the August prairie, when blazing stars shoot toward the sky, leaving behind yellow flames of early goldenrod.*

In late July and early August, the spectacular purple blooms of marsh and prairie blazing star turns the prairie ablaze. They are the first of the blazing stars to flower in the summer, followed by cylindrical, savanna, and then rough blazing star. Both marsh and prairie blazing star can easily reach five feet tall The only way to differentiate them is to decipher this coded message from the Illinois Wildflowers website:, “Prairie blazingstar has floral bracts (phyllaries) that are strongly recurved, while the floral bracts of marsh blazingstar are appressed together and relatively smooth.” Huh? Even my magic decoder ring can’t decipher this message.
The flowers on these plants bloom from the top downward, which is helpful for photographers (and our scouts) to know if the flowers are coming or going. 
You can experience one or both of these magnificent plants in most of our prairies on our list of showcase preserves.*

Gensburg-Markham Prairie is famous for its late July fanfare, when the fields ignite with white sparks of flowering spurge and purple torches of marsh blazing star. *

 

Cylindrical Blazing Star

In August, cylindrical blazingstar covers the northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Cylindrical blazing star blooms cover the northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

In August, cylindrical blazingstar blooms in the sand savanna at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. You can also find it Illinois Beach Nature Preserve and, in large numbers, at Shoe Factory Road Prairie and Bluff Spring Fen.*

Cylindrical blazing star blooms in the sand savanna, here at Indiana Dunes National Park, and at other preserves that include Bluff Spring Fen and Shoe Factory Road Prairie.*

 

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.*

The prairie at Spears Woods teems with midsummer plant life: rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, ironweed, early goldenrod, and sawtooth sunflower.*

The prairie at Spears Woods teems with midsummer plant life: rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, ironweed, early goldenrod, and sawtooth sunflower.*

 

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 is Fading

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

The July prairie erupts with an array of wildflowers at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois.*

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, the July prairie erupts with an array of wildflowers like wild quinine, prairie blazing star, and early goldenrod.*

 

 

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.*

 

Sweet Joe-Pye Weed

In the open woodland at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, summer brings tall blooms of sweet Joe-Pye weed.*

In the open woodland at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, summer brings tall blooms of sweet Joe-Pye weed.*

 

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.*

 

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.*

 

Grasses of the Season

The plume of Canada wild rye covered drenched in morning dew at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

In the morning, this plume of Canada wild rye and all the plants of the prairie become drenched in morning dew. Wear your rain gear!

 
Grasses sparkle with dew in the morning prairie Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Grasses of Canada wild rye and big bluestem sparkle with dew in the morning prairie Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

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

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

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.*

Side-oats Grama grass blooms with delicate red flowers in the tallgrass prairie at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

In the second half of August, the delicate red flowers of side oats grama bloom in Chicago’s dry prairies, including here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

 

Butterfly Weed

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.*

 

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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