Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
April 9, 2021
“Weekly Wildflower Reports Featuring
Chicago’s Best Weekend Getaways & Nature Trips”
Plan the Best COVID-19 Walks & Getaways Around Chicago!
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Welcome to the first wildflower report of 2021. I wish you an exciting and uplifting new year. We can all use it!
Without warning, over the last few days, spring erupted in our woodlands. Yet just one week ago, flowers were only beginning to bloom amidst a bronze carpet of 2020’s discarded foliage. In just days, last year’s scattered skeletons have been pushed aside by a verdant filigree of renewal. The door to 2020 is officially closed, and a new door has opened. Cross the threshold into nature wonders, and begin your revival.
PLEASE READ THIS BEFORE VISITING OUR SHOWCASE PRESERVES DURING THIS TIME OF INCREASED INTEREST IN NATURE:
ChicagoNatureNOW! preserves are Sacred Cathedrals of Nature, NOT playgrounds or amusement parks. Please treat these sanctuaries with reverence, and behave as you would in any house of worship:
- Stay on the trails.
- Walk, don’t run.
- If your kids need to run around, there are THOUSANDS of more appropriate places to play.
- Speak quietly as to not interfere with the spiritual experiences of others.
- Don’t pick flowers or remove anything from a preserve.
- Share cherished moments by through photography, drawing, painting, and writing.
- Many of these preserves do NOT allow pets, even if they’re leashed.
- If a rule isn’t listed here, then ask yourself, “Would I do this in church?”
IMPORTANT COVID-19 SITE ACCESS & SAFETY TIPS
(which I hope to remove as more people are vaccinated)
Most sites and trails that are owned by Chicago-area counties and Indiana Dunes National Park are open, except for visitor centers, buildings, and bathrooms. Fermilab Prairie woodland (Fermilab Natural Areas) in Batavia is closed. Period. And Shoe Factory Road Prairie will be closed for a little while longer because the public abused the site, last year. Check out these websites before you go:
- Forest Preserve District of Cook County
- Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
- Lake County Forest Preserves
- McHenry County Conservation District
- Forest Preserve District of Will County
- Indiana Dunes National Park
- Wear a mask. Period. This keeps your exhalations from taking to the air.
- Give each other ten feet of space.
- The wind carries the virus. When people are present, be conscious of the wind and its direction.
- When having a conversation, position yourselves so that the wind is blowing from the left or the right.
- Don’t block people’s progress by gathering along trails, trailheads, or intersections.
WILDFLOWER HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR OUTDOOR ADVENTURES INTO CHICAGO’S WOODLANDS:
Spring has arrived with a celebration of delicate wildflowers in many of Chicago’s woodlands. Spring’s first blooms are plentiful, but their flowers are diminutive, including cutleaf toothwort (our Plant of the Week). Bend down and take a closer look. Marvel at their intricate beauty. At the moment, most of the flowers are white, like cutleaf toothwort, spring beauty, false rue anemone, rue anemone, spring cress, white trout lily, Dutchman’s breeches, and bloodroot. Spring beauty is white with pink stripes, and hepatica offers a beautiful palette ranging from white to lavender to purple. Visit Heron Rookery Trail and Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve to experience hepatica at its finest.
The sublime lemon flowers of marsh marigold are nearing peak bloom at Pilcher Park and McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park (by the parking lot across the stream). And the show is just starting at Bluff Spring Fen. Oh, how I love the flowers and the round-hearted leaves. In some woodlands, you’ll find the shy elongated blossoms of large-flowered bellwort. The Virginia Bluebell is still a couple of weeks away from peak. The sea of blue is the most breathtaking event of early spring.
And let’s not forget the bright green leaves of the vernal season. The leafy umbrellas of mayapple are just opening, along with the sprawling leaves of skunk cabbage and the floppy swords of wild leek—the plant that gives Chicago its name. In the late 1600s, Potawatomi Indians who paddled the area rivers were commonly heard yelling “Chicagoua!” after catching a strong whiff of chicagoua, or wild leek, growing prolifically along the wooded banks. Wild leek is part of the onion family, hence the Chicago nickname, “The Big Onion.” It is illegal to remove this plant, or any other plant, from any preserve in the Chicago region.
WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A SPRING WILDFLOWER GETAWAY AROUND CHICAGO:
We’ve ranked the preserves on this week’s list based on the quality of the wildflower experience, 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 get out to our top-rated preserves. And our “Preserves for You to Scout” section for those preserves that we couldn’t get to this week, but that you can help us explore! The date within the parentheses tells you when we last scouted the preserve. After the date, you may see one of these three mathematical symbols: +, –, = (plus, minus, equal). They represent our prediction about how the flowers will look like on the coming weekend: “+” is Probably Better; “-” is Probably Less Dramatic; “=” is Probably the Same. Notice the word “probably.”
THIS WEEK’S BEST (“GO!”):
The order of the preserves below is based on the quality of the wildflower experience, starting out with the best.
Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee (4/4+): This is my favorite preserve of the week. Ignore the charred earth from a recent burn. After the first 300 feet, the flowers begin! A rich variety of flowers is really putting on a show. Experience the whitish pink expanse of spring beauty and myriad other spring wildflowers, including Dutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone, rue anemone, bloodroot, and surprisingly large colonies of flowering white trout lily. The strange and wonderful prairie trillium may also be in bloom. Also, experience the jade hues and lush patterns of wild leek, mayapple, and wild ginger that add to the springtime mix. This preserve will soon offer a nice display of Virginia bluebells, but not an overwhelming ocean like other preserves. Note that many spring flowers don’t open up at the break of day. They are awakened by the light. On cloudy days, they may remain enclosed safely in their buds. Fortunately, when closed, the white petals of toothwort are still visible and continue to twinkle.
Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park (4/4+): Begin at the west parking lot. Along the narrow trail, you’ll also find sparkles of sharp-lobed hepatica, rue anemone and false rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwort, purple cress, bloodroot, and spring beauty. Look for patches of spear-like foliage that resemble green spotted trout. In there, you may find magnificent blooms of yellow trout lily. And prairie trillium may be flowering by now. The lush, sprawling foliage of mayapple and wild leek greatly enhance the springtime experience.
O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville (4/8+): The preserve was once called Dynamite Woods because the site stored explosives during World War II. You can still see the crumbling bunkers, but they’re being taken over by woodland plants. Right now, white flowers of cutleaf toothwort are in full explosion, like sparklers across the woodland floor. Walk towards the stream along the south end of the preserve, and you’ll find Dutchman’s breeches (that look like white, puffy overalls), spring beauty, skunk cabbage, mayapple, wild leek (Chicago’s namesake), and soon-to-bloom Virginia bluebells. This should be the top preserve to visit in a couple of weeks when the Virginia bluebells reach their peak.
Black Partridge Woods in Lemont (4/8+): This preserve makes me happy with its lushness and many patterns and shades of emerald foliage, especially wild leek, mayapple, the glorious leaves of skunk cabbage, and the small heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger. And right now, you’ll also see sparkles amongst the greenery from the shimmering petals of bloodroot, sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, and the occasional Dutchman’s breeches. Virginia bluebells are present, but not really blooming yet.
Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet (4/8+): Begin your hike at the nature center, and you’ll be surrounded by a lush understory of spring wildflowers, including sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, purple cress, and Dutchman’s breeches. Just as beautiful as the flowers are the fresh green leaves of wild leek, mayapple, and skunk cabbage. My favorite flower-of-the-moment is marsh marigold, which is reaching peak bloom. Look for its yellow flowers in the low, muddy areas of the site. You can find them near the nature center and around the trail after the bridge at this GPS coordinate: 41.532780, -88.016478. In the same place, and just about anywhere with mud, look for the large fanning foliage of skunk cabbage. They’re hard to miss. Virginia bluebells also like the mud, usually along the banks of the creek. This preserve is one of the best places to experience a vastitude of bluebells, which should flower in the next couple weeks.
Messenger Woods in Homer Glen (scouted on 4/4, but interpolated for recent growing spurt): This preserve exudes that green and luxuriant feeling of spring. Currently, you’ll see a carpet of fresh foliage and blooming ephemerals throughout. The most common blossoms in bloom are spring beauty, cutleaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot, and false rue anemone. The foliage of mayapple and wild leek greatly contribute to the lush springtime feel of the place. This preserve was known nationwide for its vast display of bluebells, which will probably reach peak in late April.
GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:
Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (4/9+): The transcendent yellow blooms of marsh marigold, are currently blooming. And the large areas of skunk cabbage are refreshingly green. There are also some nice patches of mayapple and a small number of spring ephemerals. Under the trees, you’ll find small patches false rue anemone. For great views of marsh marigold and skunk cabbage, visit Trout Park for dense populations of these plants in an intimate setting. The trail takes you up and down through the bluffs, using a wooden boardwalk that carefully guides you through the extremely sensitive wet areas. When you’re on the boardwalk, look for Chicago’s only native evergreen tree, the rare northern white cedar. Yes, all of those evergreens you see at homes and preserves are not from around here. At the top of the bluff, you’ll also find other spring wildflowers.
Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (4/7+): To see the most spring ephemerals, remain under the tree canopy. Park at the main parking lot for this preserve, located at Somme Woods, and then follow the narrow trail to Somme Prairie Grove. Along your stroll, you’ll discover spring beauty, white trout lily, some bloodroot, cutleaf toothwort, mayapple, and others.
PLANT OF THE WEEK: CUTLEAF (or Cut-leaved) TOOTHWORT
Hepatica opens the blooming season:
Cutleaf Toothwort is blooming strong across Chicago’s woodlands:
Dutchman’s Breeches (or Dutchman’s Britches):
Bloodroot (catch it before it goes away for another year):
False Rue Anemone:
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.
© 2021, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.