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Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
July 29, 2022

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

 

Summer Nature Walks & Outdoor Getaways!

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Break from your screens to experience
magnificent flower shows
at our showcase preserves.

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:

As July turns into August, our preserves are teeming with unsurpassed beauty, including stunning shows of cylindrical blazing star, nodding wild onion, sweet Joe-Pye Weed, rattlesnake master, compass plant, wild bergamot, and yellow coneflower. 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.

This should be another memorable week with flower shows happening in woodlands, wetlands, and prairies. It’s hard to go wrong when picking a preserve to visit because they all have something exciting to offer. According to my database for this moment in time, this should be another memorable week with flower shows happening in woodlands, wetlands, and prairies. The best flower shows often take place at Spears Woods, Wolf Road Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Somme Prairie Grove, and Shoe Factory Road Prairie

Spears Woods is again the frontrunner for floral beauty with blooming in the prairies, woodlands, and wetlands, especially if it’s a good year for prairie blazing star. This preserve also provides great trails far away from traffic, with varied habitats, and dramatic vistas. And while you’re there, catch a glimpse of the aquatic American lotus in Hogwash Slough. I also love Spears Woods for its the rolling terrain, and Hogwash Slough—easily, the prettiest wetland around here.

NOTE: It’s August. But I sometimes call it Foggust because August is the foggiest month of the year. Therefore, if you visit a preserve in the morning, wear rain gear or risk ending up soaked to the skin from the dew.

Wolf Road Prairie has the potential to blow you away, with flowering happening in both the savanna and the prairie. In the prairie, the purple spikes of prairie blazing star and marsh blazing star add beautifully to the stunning array of gold and white blooms, including the kooky rattlesnake master with its ivory Tinker Toy shaped molecular shaped flower heads.

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.

Somme Prairie Grove and Bluff Spring Fen each feature many performance stages thanks to a fanfare of color from at least two dozen flowering species.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie and the adjacent prairie should be blooming strong with many different species, including the potentially breathtaking expanses of prairie blazing star, wild quinine, and rattlesnake master.

Belmont Prairie can be a beautiful little dream. Nodding wild onion (our Plant of the Week) should be blooming across the vast grasslands of Lockport Prairie, Chiwaukee Prairie, Lake in the Hills Fen, and also at Shoe Factory Road Prairie and Bluff Spring Fen.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie, located in the south suburbs is one of the finest prairies in the world. It offers a wide array of color and blowing seas 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

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve and Pembroke Savanna often overflow with sparkling florets of flowering spurge. And Theodore Stone Preserve usually provides a great show that stars yellow coneflower and a cast of others plants.

TIP: 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.

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 fading purple prairie clover. And of course, experience the scents of the milkweeds of common, whorled, and swamp.

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.

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.

If you’re looking for longer walks, try the showcase preserves: Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Lake in the Hills Fen, Spears Woods, and Somme Prairie Grove.

 

 

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!”):

Spears Woods in Willow Springs: The last week of July and the first week of August often bring fantastic flowering to the prairie, woodland, and wetlands. In the prairies, expanses of flowers may be seen flowing across the rolling terrain. You may need to catch your breath with large jaw-dropping expanses of purple prairie blazing star amidst drooping heads of early goldenrod and a glistening white filigree of flowering spurge combined with dense colonies of alabaster wild quinine, mountain mint, and the whimsical Tinker Toys of rattlesnake master. Adding to the color are the deep purple hues of ironweed, the golden rays of woodland sunflower that leak out from the wooded edges, 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 floating blooms of showy tick trefoil that can create a pink mist amidst above the grasses. And turkey-footed heads of big bluestem grass may be displaying their miniature flowers. 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 comes alive with a magnificent show of the fluffy mauve sweet Joe-Pye weed and the happy yellow woodland sunflower. And a spectacular scene of the aquatic American lotus blossom is taking place at the the north end of Hogwash Slough. Along the shoreline, it’s difficult to see the lotus through the towering sedges and cattails. But 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. 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.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook: The woodland surrounding the savanna is making a strong statement with a glorious display of woodland sunflower and many more flowers and grasses that include the pink-plumed sweet Joe-Pye weed, the beautiful blue American bellflower, alabaster starry campion and towering pale Indian plantain, yellow sweet coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and large flowered false foxglove, the purple buttons of ironweed, and the perfectly named bottlebrush grass. Under the open sky, golden rays of prairie dock and compass plant stretch for the clouds. Closer to the ground, you’ll find scores of other flowers that will take your breath away with sparkling textures and colors. You should see the shining yellow coneflower and early goldenrod along with pinks of swamp milkweed and spotted Joe-Pye weed, nodding wild onion, and obedient plant, You find orange butterfly weed amongst the whites of spiked Culver’s root, cauliflowers of wild quinine, whimsical rattlesnake master, and sparking filigrees of flowering spurge and mountain mint. Along your walk, you may also find these flowering plants: wild bergamot, prairie blazing star, self heal, showy tick trefoil, blue vervain, and the tiny blooms of big bluestem. If you run into the yellow-flowered rosinweed, run your fingers over the foliage and you’ll instantly understand the name. The floppy stringy hairdos of prairie dropseed is growing everywhere under the sun, but watch your step. It’s very easy to trip over. Come early or late in the day to experience green glow from compass plant and prairie dock. NOTE: If you visit in the morning, wear waterproof pants and shoes, otherwise you’ll probably get soaked from the dew. 

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: You can usually find tremendous beauty around this time, with at least twenty flower species blooming across the preserve. The trail begins by the kiosk where the oak savanna greets you and where, you’ll find yourself protected under the warm embrace of majestic oaks. The trail winds you through the trees and along the kames, around the sunny prairie, and through the main wetland known as a fen. At first, should see the fluffy and tall sweet Joe-Pye weed, towering white pale Indian plantain, the aptly named bottlebrush grass, the white five-petaled fringed blooms of starry campion, lavender puffs of wild bergamot, rockets of yellow coneflower, and possibly some remaining blue American bellflower. The towering stands of white pale Indian plantain and mauve sweet Joe-Pye weed are stunning. At the troll bridge, where friendly trolls have helped to restore the adjacent wetland habitat, look to your right for what will soon be a grand expanse of spotted Joe-Pye weed. Continuing under the protection of oaks, look to your right at the base of the kame to find the the beginnings of tall cutleaf coneflower and the start of wingstem. On your left is narrow trail that takes you to the top of the “big kame.” On your way up, look for the white five-petaled fringed blooms of starry campion and whimsical displays of the aptly named bottlebrush grass. Once atop gravelly peak, you’ll experience a unique view of the preserve with the start of pink-buttoned cylindrical blazing star alongside pearly plumes of whorled milkweed, flat-topped wild quinine, and blue hoary vervain. After returning to ground level, as you pass the savanna, I recommend making a right turn into the open prairie and moving counter-clockwise around the preserve back to this spot. Once under the sun, you’ll find blue vervain, marsh blazing star, wild bergamot, creamy tuberous Indian plantain, sparkling flowering spurge, plus wild quinine, flowering rattlesnake master and big bluestem grass, and the wonderful bristled heads of Canada wild rye that will soak you to the skin when loaded with morning dew. You’ll also find a glorious “forest” of tall compass plant to the west. To see them up close, take the trail to the right at the “Y.” Twist and turn through a tangle of delightfully bristly compass plant stalks to experience the best skin exfoliation service that Chicago nature has to offer, Talk about the best arm-scratch ever!

Returning to the main trail, head east through a dense stand of big bluestem grass full of miniature flowers that can give off fragrant plumes of pollen as you brush past. and into a gravelly area with hoary vervain, named for its soft hairy leaves, and some remaining blooms of purple prairie clover. Ahead to your right is what we call the “transplant kame.” We call it that because Healy Road Prairie, located six miles away, was being mined for its gravel, and a community of hundreds of volunteers dug it up and transplanted it here. Years before, the transplant kame was also mined to the ground, but it was reconstructed to become the new home of Healy Road Prairie. Blossoming upon the kame are compass plant, wild quinine, and yellow coneflower. If you circumnavigate the base of the kame, you might find lots of yellow coneflower, wild bergamot, and whorled milkweed, each emitting its own wonderful fragrance. Make a left at the end of the kame to descend into the bowl of the fen. Move slowly and watch your step as you pass through dense willows (which always need trimming) that also hides a narrow boardwalk that’s easy to trip over. Crossing the boardwalk will take you towards gravelly bowl with pools of trickling water. That’s the main seep of the fen and one of the rarest habitats on earth. On higher, drier ground surrounding the bowl you should find nice patches of pale Indian plantain mixed in with wild quinine, wild bergamot yellow coneflower, mountain mint, black-eyed Susan, early goldenrod, showy tick trefoil, and the glorious purple spikes marsh blazing star. In and immediately around the alkaline water of the seep, you’ll find the yellow blooms of prairie loosestrife, rough cinquefoil, and bushy shrubby cinquefoil along with the start of the flamboyantly pink spotted Joe-Pye weed.

As you continue to the north, watch for the narrow hard-to-see boardwalk. After crossing it, stay straight (don’t veer left), as the trail ducks under a low tree and up the “switchback kame.” On your way to the top you should find the start of the beautiful pink show of cylindrical blazing star. with the deepest roots of any prairie plant. (See an illustration of root depth at the very bottom of this post.) On the switchback kame, you’ll also notice a plant with white balls dotting the vertical stems. That’s rough blazing star which will start blooming as its cylindrical cousin fades. As the trails steers left and down, you’ll see some of the same species as before, including especially nice stands of pale Indian plantain, sweet Joe-Pye weed, and American bellflower. At the top of the kame, head west towards the savanna. Soon, you’ll reach an intersection that you’ll take to the left and across a small creek with stepping stones. This is the place to experience plants from the fen, the prairie, and oak savanna. As you reach the kame, stay left with the kame to your right and you’ll soon find yourself back where you began your journey into the sun. If you visit early in the morning, wear rain gear or you’ll end up soaked to the skin from dew. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Note: While you’re here, consider checking out nearby Shoe Factory Road Prairie.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester” At this point, the flowering can be tremendous, especially in the southernmost portion of preserve, which includes both prairie and oak savanna. The savanna comes alive with dense blooms of woodland sunflower alongside pink plumes of sweet Joe-Pye weed and bristly sprays of bottlebrush grass. The prairie overflows with all manner of flowers, including incredible forests of golden flowering prairie dock and compass plant. Rosinweedearly goldenrod, yellow coneflower, and black-eyed Susan add a range of yellows to the palette. The shimmering and exploding whites of wild quinine, rattlesnake master, and Culver’s root are joined by purple torches of prairie blazing star, touches of lavender wild bergamot, early puffs of ironweed, balls of nodding wild onion, and a pink haze of showy tick trefoil. White flowering spurge and the occasional splashes of mountain mint add sparkle amidst the tall big bluestem grass that may be in bloom. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Spears Woods are located nearby.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: This is usually when the official preserve Illinois Nature Preserve, located inside the fence, puts on a beautiful show of cylindrical blazing star amidst a variety of flowers and grasses. But most likely, the much more dramatic show is taking place outside the fence in the larger prairie, home to a breathtaking amount of wild quinine, whimsical rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, yellow coneflower, and wild bergamot, along with compass plant, mountain mint, black-eyed Susan, and the final fragrant blooms of purple prairie clover. Note: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove: At this time, this remnant prairie can be gloriously aglow with tones of mostly yellow and white. The most prominent shows are often staged by towering compass plant and prairie dock. These golden blossoms are joined by others of its hue, including yellow coneflower, early goldenrod, black-eyed Susan, false sunflower, and rosinweed. The whimsical ivory balls of rattlesnake master are supported by sparkling sprays of flowering spurge, wild quinine, and the fragrant, but occasional, wild bergamot and mountain mint. And along the way, you’ll also experience purple torches of prairie blazing star and beautiful orange highlights of butterfly weed. On the more intimate side, I particularly like the nodding tassels of prairie brome that frolic between the forbs. And look for the beautiful filigreed foliage of scurfy pea floating amidst the large leaves of prairie dock and compass plant that glow bright green in the low warm sunlight.

Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest: Many dramatic plants may be blooming in large quantities. The most conspicuous and widespread shows come from wild bergamot, cup plant, yellow coneflower, rattlesnake master, and rosinweed. Dramatic purples of prairie blazing star and ironweed add visual excitement. Skyward stalks of pale Indian plantain make an impression. And there’s much more to see: mountain mint, blue vervain, obedient plant, Culver’s root, nodding wild onion, and the gloriously red cardinal flower. In the wetter areas, you’ll find the gorgeous pink blooms of swamp milkweed, the bright pink blooms of spotted Joe-Pye weed, the spectacular purple spikes of pickerel weed, and the large pink blossoms of swamp rose mallow.

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 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.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park: At this time, the yellow blossoms of partridge pea is often at peak bloom along with the pink spotted bee balm. And the sparkling flowering spurge is reaching its peak, as well. The tiny ivory flowers of whorled milkweed may still be still hanging on, which you can smell if you simply stop for a moment and concentrate on the fragrances around you. It might help to first calibrate your nose by bending down to smell it. And while you’re down there, take in the minty aroma of spotted bee balm (also known as, spotted or dotted horsemint).

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, which can sometimes take over large portions of the prairie. 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, nodding wild onion, 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, early goldenrod, rosinweed, prairie blazing star, compass plant, Culver’s root, pale Indian plantain, false sunflower, and the new yellow flowers of partridge pea. The deep pinks of ironweed make a great addition to the panorama. You should also see an abundance of rattlesnake master and wild quinine alongside fragrant mountain mint. And check for the beautiful pink swamp milkweed in the low or wet areas. 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. And 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. Also, the grasses of Canada wild rye, Indian grass. switch grass, northern dropseed, and big bluestem provide rich texture. The latter is probably flowering, right now. And finally, look for 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. 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: The floating white blooms of flowering spurge may be aflower across the preserve, in both the savanna and sand prairie. It can be a beautifully sparkling scene. Look for a flower that makes me very happy: the round trumpeted yellow blossoms of large flowered false foxglove. Along your way, you’ll find a few remaining blooms of butterfly weed, plus purple prairie clover, early goldenrod, and shrubby cinquefoil. The tall golden rays of western sunflower should be just starting to flower and will soon be blooming throughout the site.

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 so hot and sunny. Enjoy an array of flowers that flow along the vast rolling landscape of the prairie and fen, including potentially dense displays of yellow coneflower, wild bergamot, and prairie blazing star along with black-eyed Susan, the lovely pinks of marsh phlox and nodding wild onion, and the start of sawtooth sunflower. The rare white prairie clover can be quite abundant. Early goldenrod can sometimes carpet the brae of the kames, and cylindrical blazing star is probably blooming. The large sunny flowers of towering compass plant reach for the clouds. And many other flowers are abloom, including white spikes of Culver’s root and the azure spikes of blue vervain and hoary vervain, prominent pink plumes of spotted Joe-Pye weed in the wet areas, and the mauve-flowered common milkweed that smells like a bunch of over-perfumed old ladies on Bingo night. And look for the tall tassels of big bluestem grass that may now be flowering.

Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin: This prairie-by-the-lake often features beautiful expanses of many flowers including nodding wild onion, marsh blazing star, tuberous Indian plantain and a mix of other flowers that include pink marsh phlox, orange butterfly weed, golden black-eyed Susan, alabaster wild quinine, and prairie dock. As you stroll, you may see the yellows of rosinweed, St. John’s wort and shrubby cinquefoil along with the occasional pale-spiked lobelia. Look for beautiful pink displays of spotted Joe-Pye weed in the wet spots. And 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 southside prairie offers a variety of flowers, including rattlesnake master, prairie blazing star, mountain mint, wild bergamot, yellow coneflower, compass plant, and big bluestem grass that should be blooming about now..

 

PLANTS OF THE WEEK: NODDING WILD ONION

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

On this sweltering and sticky August evening at Lockport Prairie, I returned to the car relieved to unload my nearly thirty pounds of camera gear and sweat-soaked photo vest. As I took my seat and started my Easy-Bake Oven of a car, the air conditioning suddenly circulated a cold breeze from below and I recognized a familiar scent, one that made me instinctively glance to the floor expecting to find a discarded Burger King bag baking in the heat. But there was no bag. Then it came to me. I was smelling exactly what I had been photographing: these pink, nodding wild onions that had transferred their sweet aroma to my boots. The pink blooms of nodding wild onion are the highlight of Lockport Prairie. But the sweetly stinky plant can also be found at many other prairies in our region and in our showcase preserves.*

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

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.*

 

Somme Prairie Grove Overflows with Beauty and Biodiversity

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.*

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.*

 

 

Wolf Road Prairie: A State of Glorious Chaos

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.*

 

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.*

Sweet Joe-Pye weed grows tall in the oak savanna at the side of a kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

Sweet Joe-Pye weed grows tall in the oak savanna at the side of a kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin*

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.*

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.*

 

Lockport Prairie

Nodding wild onion blooms across the vast prairie at Lockport Prairie in Lockport.*

Nodding wild onion blooms across the vast prairie at Lockport Prairie in Lockport and in lesser amounts at many prairies on our list.*

 

Gensburg-Markham Prairie

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. *

 

Middlefork Savanna

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.*

 

 

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.*

 

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.*

 

Pembroke Savanna

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.*

 

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

Flowering spurge glows in the summer morning light on the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

Flowering spurge glows in the summer morning light on the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

At the end of this late-summer day, large-flowered false foxglove blooms across the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach State Park. You can also experience this plant in large numbers at Bluff Spring Fen, Indiana Dunes National Park, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, and Pembroke Savanna, and more.*

In late summer, large flowered false foxglove blooms in profusion in the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois. You can also experience this flower at Pembroke Savanna, Indiana Dunes National Park, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

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.*

 

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.*

 

 

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.*

 

Flowering Spurge

In late summer, early flowering spurge and purple rough blazing star blanket the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.

In late summer, early flowering spurge and purple rough blazing star blanket the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

 

Prairie & Marsh 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.

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 prairies at Spears Woods can be a memorable experience. However, it’s not uncommon for the prairie to have a cast of thousands, one year, and only a handful the next.*

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.*

 

Cylindrical Blazing Star

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.*

 

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. The males are forced to carry wallets prior to mating. That’s because the males penises get ripped off their bodies after the five-second mating process. The pollen basket is a smooth cavity located on the hind legs. It’s perimeter is covered with a fuzzy corona of hair. The bee licks its foreleg and then rubs and compacts the pollen into a sticky ball. A single follicle resides inside the pollen basket, which acts as a skewer to securely hold the load of moistened pollen in place.*

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

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

 

Rattlesnake Master

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

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

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.

 

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.*

 

Prairie Dock

You can find prairie dock at Middlefork Savanna, an imaginative creation dreamt up by Mother Nature. Stretching at least twelve feet beneath the prairie is the taproot—the life, the energy source, and the heart of this plant. The root is also the artery, transporting cold water from deep below to nourish and cool the affection of heartshaped leaves, which are prone to shriveling under the summer sun.Where the root meets the air, a blood-red stalk takes over the job. Swerving towards the sky, the thick stem carries life to multiple golden flowers that may float as high as ten feet above the prairie. Here, the first flower has bloomed, while many ball-like buds are about to follow suit.

You can find prairie dock at Middlefork Savanna, an imaginative creation dreamt up by Mother Nature. Stretching at least twelve feet beneath the prairie is the taproot—the life, the energy source, and the heart of this plant. The root is also the artery, transporting cold water from deep below to nourish and cool the affection of heart-shaped leaves, which are prone to shriveling under the summer sun. Where the root meets the air, a blood-red stalk takes over the job. Swerving towards the sky, the thick stem carries life to multiple golden flowers that may float as high as ten feet above the prairie. Here, the first flower has bloomed, while many ball-like buds are about to follow suit.

A "forest" of prairie dock reaches for the sky at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

A “forest” of prairie dock reaches for the sky 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.*

 

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 the dry Chicago 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.*

 

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.*

 

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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