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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
August 10, 2018

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The pink, feathery button bloom of cylindrical blazingstar is the newest showy flower on the scene. It has the deepest root of any prairie plant, even compass plant. (See how deep it goes in the illustration near the bottom of the post.) You can find it most prominently in dry or sandy soils like those at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Lake in the Hills Fen, and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Also, the magnificent American lotus continues to bloom at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs. The pale yellow flowers resemble those of a water lily, but they are much larger—up to eight inches wide atop stems that can reach six above the water. And if that’s not enough, the circular leaves are gorgeous and consistently big, up to two and a half feet in diameter! Many open woodlands and savannas are putting on a display of the tall and fluff sweet Joe-Pye weed and the golden rays of woodland sunflower. And, finally, towering prairie dock is flowering in the prairies. Big bluestem and Indian grass are also flowering, but you’ll have to look closely at its top tassel.  And, finally, the purple spikes of prairie blazing star and its slightly shorter cousin, marsh blazing star, are still in bloom, but reaching the end of their spectacular run.

NOTE: Prairies are wet in the morning, so wear rain gear to avoid being drenched in dew.

 

Here’s are some of the highlights of what’s happening in Chicago nature:

 

Wolf Road PrairieSomme Prairie Grove,and the nature center at Sagawau Canyon are giving lessons in biodiversity, both under the tree canopy and beneath the open sky. Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Lake in the Hills Fen, and Miller Woods are showing cylindrical blazingstar. Compass plant and prairie dock are displaying their golden sunflowers upon tall stalks that can easily reach ten feet high. When growing in a group, they look like miniature forests. See these dreamy prairie forests can be seen at Wolf Road Prairie, Belmont PrairieFermilab Prairie, Kickapoo Prairie, Lake in the Hills Fen, and Springbrook Prairie. In most preserves, prairie blazing star and marsh blazing star are reaching the end of their purple bloom. See them before they’re gone at preserves like Bluff Spring Fen, Sagawau Nature CenterKickapoo Prairie, Belmont Prairie, Theodore Stone PreserveGensburg-Markham Prairie, Spears Woods, and Lake in the Hills Fen.

 

 

PLAN YOUR CHICAGO OUTDOOR ADVENTURE THIS WEEKEND 

 

THIS WEEK’S TOP PRESERVES:

Somme Prairie Grove is putting on a nice show of woodland sunflower, brown-eyed Susan, and sweet Joe-Pye weed that are flowering in great numbers under the trees. And the sunny savanna features a panoply of prairie plants, including early goldenrodprairie dock, and prairie dropseed. The long hairlike leaves of dropseed are turning yellow, making a beautiful combination of color and texture against the sprays of brown seed heads of prairie clover.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester: You’ll begin your lesson in biodiversity right from the beginning, as you enter the oak savanna from the 31st Street trail head to discover a beautiful expanse of woodland sunflower and sweet Joe-Pye weed. In the prairie, you find a beautiful mix of color that come from the purple spikes of prairie blazing star alongside many other species: the white blossoms of wild quininerattlesnake master, mountain mint. and flowering spurge, the golden bouquets from rosinweed and forests of skybound compass plant,and prairie dock. Look around for the tallest prairie dock. I found at nine-footer!

Sagawau Canyon nature center is open from 9 am to 4 pm. Under the trees, you’ll find woodland sunflower, brown-eyed Susan, sweet Joe-Pye weed , and American bellflower. And, in the prairie, there’s a stunning late display of prairie blazing star that’s currently at peak bloom. This week begins their hummingbird watch. And call (630) 257-2045 to schedule a tour of the fern-lined canyon.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: Cylindrical blazingstar is the dominant flower within the fence of the preserve, along with some golden patches of fading rosinweed. While the golden rays of woodland sunflower can be found under the trees. Prairie blazing star, early goldenrod and the fading blooms of wild quinine, and rattlesnake master are prominent outside the fence.

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills: Forest of prairie dock can be found along the far southern trail. And on the northern trail, there’s a hillside covered with early goldenrod. The pink plumes of spotted Joe-Pye weed is prominent in the wet areas, and tall boneset is beginning its ivory bloom on the brae of several kames.

Spears Woods in Willow Springs: Visit for the woodland of fluffy sweet Joe-Pye weed and woodland sunflower that surround Hogwash Slough, my favorite Chicago wetland. A hike through the prairie will provide you with a good smattering of flowers, including prairie blazing star, ironweedwild quininerattlesnake mastermountain mintflowering spurgecompass plant, and early goldenrod.

 

RATED “GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD”:

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: The trail begins under the oaks of the savanna and continues into the prairie and the bowl of the fen. Watch your step along the way. And, if you find the trails obstructed or unsafe, please contact John McCabe at [email protected] or 708-771-1180. Under the tree canopy, you’ll find towering sweet Joe-Pye weed and the aptly named bottlebrush grass.  Located at the moist base of the opening kames, golden sunflowers grow atop tall stalks of cutleaf coneflower. And, under the open sky, you’ll find nodding wild onion and the flower of the week, cylindrical blazingstar. Other sun-loving flowers of mention are flowering spurge, spotted Joe-Pye weedswamp milkweedcompass plant, and shrubby cinquefoil.

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins: Many flower species can be found, but many are beyond their peak blooms. However, the grasses will help make up for the lack of color. Big bluestem is blooming and Indian grass is just starting to flower. Little bluestem is turning red. And switch grassCanada wild rye, and prairie dropseed provide rich texture.

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Somme Prairie Grove

In 1985, this area was cast in total darkness, a dirt floor under an endless gray barrier of scraggly buckthorn. Now, after lots of love from volunteers, it is the edge of a woodland, well lit and teeming with tall flowers that reach for the sun.*

In 1985, this area was cast in total darkness, a dirt floor under an endless gray barrier of scraggly buckthorn. Now, after lots of love from volunteers, it is the edge of a woodland, well-lit and teeming with tall flowers that reach for the sun. Here, we can see an August celebration of woodland sunflower, brown-eyed Susan, sweet Joe-Pye weed, and ironweed.*

 

At Somme Prairie Grove, woodland sunflowers surround this majestic bur oak in the savanna.*

At Somme Prairie Grove, woodland sunflowers surround this majestic bur oak in the savanna.*

 

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

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

 

 

Wolf Road Prairie

In July, Wolf Road Prairie gives a lesson in biodiversity. Pictured are prairie blazing star, wild quinine, rattlesnake master, flowering spurge, rosinweed, and yellow coneflower.*

This was the view of Wolf Road Prairie on Tuesday, July 24 with a lesson in biodiversity. Pictured are prairie blazing star, wild quinine, rattlesnake master, flowering spurge, Culver’s root, rosinweed, and yellow coneflower.

 

 

Spears Woods

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, Illinois, summer brings tall blooms of sweet Joe-Pye weed.*

 

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.*

 

Soft sunlight, diffused by morning mist, filters across the preserve. Gathered at the base of the kame, fire-resistant bur oaks hover above a colorful caboodle of spotted Joe-Pye weed and tall goldenrod.*

Soft sunlight, diffused by morning mist, filters across the preserve. Gathered at the base of the kame, fire-resistant bur oaks hover above a colorful caboodle of spotted Joe-Pye weed and tall goldenrod.*

Cylindrical Blazingstar

In August, cylindrical Blazingstar blooms in the sand savanna at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.*

In August, cylindrical blazingstar blooms in the sand savanna at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.*

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois.

 

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

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois is teeming with the grand American lotus. You can reach the wetland by first parking at the far end of the Pulaski Woods lot and then walking a short distance along the trails.

 

Big Bluestem Grass

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

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

 

Miniature flowers delicately hang from the tassel of big bluestem grass.*

Miniature flowers delicately hang from the tassel of big bluestem grass.*

 

 

Prairie Dock & Compass Plant

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 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.*

 

Landscape of Compass Plants at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Illinois.*

A landscape of compass plant at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Illinois.*

 

Compass plant towers into the sky.*

This bloom of compass plant reaches for the sky.*

 

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 from a cousin called compass plant.

 

 

Ferns & Canyon Tours

Royal ferns in the light fog of the savanna at Hoosier Prairie in Highland, Indiana

Royal ferns in the light fog of the savanna at Hoosier Prairie in Schererville, Indiana.*

 

A forest of royal ferns thrives in a wetland that has formed at the base of a high dune.

In the Cowles Bog area, you’ll find many species of fern. Here, a forest of royal ferns thrives in a wetland that has formed at the base of a high dune.*

 

Lush ferns line the walls of Sagawau Canyon in Lemont, Illinois.

Lush ferns line the walls of Sagawau Canyon in Lemont, Illinois. But you can only see it if you sign up for their upcoming canyon tours. Register soon. They fill up quickly.*

 

Sultry Summer Sunsets Over Saganashkee Slough (That’s a mouthful!)

The sun sets on this hot summer afternoon at Saganashkee Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois near Chicago.

On this sweltering, sultry afternoon, a soft flavescent sun sets over Saganashkee Slough in Palos Hills, Illinois.*

 

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’d like to help your neighbors discover national-park quality natural events around our homes, then become an official scout. Or, you can help by just sending us pictures and a text description from your visit. Another way is to post your pictures to Instagram using these essential hashtags: #ChicagoNatureNow and #NameOfPreserve.

Do you find this website useful? Do you benefit from our many hours of weekly scouting? Then please help keep it going by donating or purchasing my nationally-acclaimed book.

—Mike

 

© 2018, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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