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Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
April 16, 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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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)

SITE ACCESS:

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:

BE SAFE:

  • 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:

The delicate wildflowers of spring are filling up our woodlands, including the sublime yellow blooms of marsh marigold (our Plant of the Week). The flower is at or near peak bloom at Pilcher Park, Bluff Spring Fen, Trout Park, and McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park (by the parking lot across the stream). Oh, how I love the flowers and the round-hearted leaves. Spring’s first blooms are plentiful, but their flowers are diminutive, Bend down and take a closer look. Marvel at their intricacy. Most of the flowers currently blooming in our woodlands are colored 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.

In some woodlands, you’ll find the shy elongated blossoms of large-flowered bellwort. The Virginia Bluebell is beginning to flower, and we’re not far away from peak bloom. The ocean 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 leekthe 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 (4/14+): 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, white trout lily, and surprisingly large colonies of the stange and wonderful prairie trillium. 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 (last scouted on 4/4): Begin at the west parking lot. Along the narrow trail, you may still find sparkles of sharp-lobed hepatica,. But you’ll definitely see 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 (4/14+): The petite white blossoms of cutleaf toothwort are putting on a spectacular show. Like fireworks, they sparkle into the distance across the verdant woodland floor. They look especially beautiful amidst the backdrop of the emerald swords of wild leek (Chicago’s namesake). 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. 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,  and soon-to-bloom Virginia bluebells, which are beginning to flower, but only at 5% peak. This should be the top preserve to visit in a week or two, when the bluebells create a sea of blue.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont (4/13+): 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 sharp-lobed hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, rue anemonespring beauty, and the occasional Dutchman’s breechesVirginia bluebells are starting to bloom in the sunnier areas. The beautiful leaves I love the leaves of early meadow rue, and the plant is also just beginning to bloom along with the shy drooping blossoms of large-flowered bellwort.

Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet (4/14+): Begin your hike at the nature center, and you’ll be surrounded by a lush understory of spring wildflowers, including 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, our Plant of the Week, which has reached 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 are now beginning to flower and should soon be at peak bloom.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen (last scouted on 4/4): 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 beautycutleaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, 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 the next week or so.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (4/11+): 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 rue anemone and 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 (last scouted on 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. Visit our web page for complete details or forever hold your peace. Along your stroll, you’ll discover spring beauty, white trout lily, cutleaf toothwort, mayapple, and others.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK:  MARSH MARIGOLD

At Bluff Spring Fen, Yellow flowers of marsh marigold were covered in a magical patina of morning frost.

l love marsh marigold. My heart skips a beat when I see the flowers and the clusters of rounded heart-shaped leaves. The Latin name is Caltha palustris. “Caltha” means yellow flower, and “palustris” means “swampy” or “marshy.” And yes, this yellow flower loves wet and mucky soil. It likes full or partial sun, and grows in the aforementioned swamps and marshes, but also in woodlands, fens, floodplains, seeps and springs, and places where the soil is kept wet by underground seepages. The word “marigold” is a misnomer, as this plant is part of the buttercup family.

On this chilly morning at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, happy blossoms of marsh marigold were covered in a magical patina of morning frost. Visit nearby Trout Park for the best view of these plants. Pilcher Park Nature Center has a beautiful display. And you can also find them at Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa.*

In early spring, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.

In early spring, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.*

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Hepatica opens the blooming season:

Sharp-lobed hepatica blooms on the bluff at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.

On the side of a bluff at Black Partridge Woods, sharp-lobed hepatica make their way through a layer of leaves.*

Sharp-lobed hepatica of species Hepatica nobilis acuta at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.

This is short-lobed Hepatica of species Hepatica nobilis acuta. It beacons the start of the blooming season with floral color that ranges from white to pink, blue to purple. They’re fading fast, so get out and find them before it’s too late. Go to Heron Rookery Trail, Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve, and here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.*

 

Cutleaf Toothwort is blooming strong across Chicago’s woodlands:

Cutleaf toothwort at O'Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville, Illinois.

Cutleaf toothwort is small flowers makes a big impact for their size of its flowers, especially when blooming in large numbers. Even when closes, they still impart a sparkle because the petals are much longer than the sepals. Initially, I thought that the “toothwort” name came the toothed leaves or the closed flowers that look like molars. But I was wrong. It is the rhyzome, a root-like structure located just below the soil between the stem and the root. Most people would not figure this out. I mean, I only discovered it after employing my X-ray vision. However, there was a time when people relied on plants, and often their roots, for survival. And Native Americans ate the tooth-shaped tuber. Now, this isn’t the only plant named after its root. The root of bloodroot, as the name suggest, bleeds a red liquid when broken. Native Americans used this sanguine solution as body paint and to dye clothes and baskets. This shot was taken at O’Hara Woods in Romeoville, but you can find it at any of our featured woodlands.*

In April, cutleaf toothwort blooms in profusion amongst a backdrop of mayapples at many woodlands including Raccoon Grove, Black Partridge Woods, Pilcher Park, Messenger Woods, and here at O'Hara Woods where they explode like firecrackers. This preserve was previously known as Dynamite Woods because explosives were stored here during World War II. Nowadays, only thing the spring wildflowers blow up.*

In April, cutleaf toothwort blooms in profusion amongst a backdrop of mayapples at every local woodland, including here at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve where they explode like firecrackers. This preserve was previously known as Dynamite Woods because explosives were stored here during World War II. Nowadays, the only thing that blows up are the spring wildflowers.*

April at O'Hara Woods Nature Preserve brings a woodland floor sparkling with cutleaf toothwort and the greenery of wild leek and mayapple.

April at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve brings a woodland floor sparkling with cutleaf toothwort and the greenery of wild leek and mayapple. You can see all of these plants at all of our featured woodlands.

 

Dutchman’s Breeches (or Dutchman’s Britches):

Dutchman's Breeches at O'Hara Woods

O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve has a large number of Dutchman’s Breeches. It is one of my favorite spring flowers because the flower is just so kooky and the leaves are a dream. You can find them at Heron Rookery Trail, Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve, and many of our showcase woodlands.*

Pink Dutchman's breeches at O'Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville, Illinois.

I discovered this pink variety of Dutchman’s breeches at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville. Notice the beautiful parts and details.*

 

Bloodroot (catch it before it goes away for another year):

This is bloodroot. The name comes from the fact that breaking the stem or the roots makes the plant bleed red. Please, just take my word for it, and don't pick the flower to find out. Native Americans used the plant for dying their clothes and baskets, and for body paint.

This is bloodroot. The name comes from the fact that breaking the stem or the roots makes the plant bleed red. Please, just take my word for it, and don’t pick the flower to find out. Native Americans used the plant for dying their clothes and baskets, and for body paint. Check them out at most of our showcase woodlands.*

 

False Rue Anemone:

False rue anemone

False rue anemone is a beautiful flower that often blooms in clusters. During the day, they close up into little white balls.

 

Prairie Trillium:

Prairie trillium and setting sun.*

At O’Hara Woods in Romeoville, prairie trillium rises as the sun sets.*

 

Mayapple:

In woodlands across northeastern Illinois, like here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois, April showers bring out the umbrellas in the form of mayapples. And the white flowers of false rue anemone sparkle like raindrops.*

In woodlands across northeastern Illinois, like here at Black Partridge Woods, in Lemont, April showers bring out the umbrellas in the form of mayapples. And the white flowers of false rue anemone sparkle like raindrops. At the moment, mayapples are either just sprouting or just starting to open their umbrellas.*

 

Skunk Cabbage:

It's springtime at Pilcher Park and sunlight shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage which, if broken, releases a strong scent reminiscent of skunk, though sweeter and not nearly as overpowering. If you’re someone who, like me, finds the powerful essence of skunk to be an invigorating and life-affirming experience, the skunk inside the cabbage will definitely let you down.*

It’s springtime at Pilcher Park and sunlight shines through the enormous fanning foliage of skunk cabbage which, if broken, releases a strong scent reminiscent of skunk, though sweeter and not nearly as overpowering. If you’re someone who, like me, finds the powerful essence of skunk to be an invigorating and life-affirming experience, the skunk inside the cabbage will definitely let you down. You’ll find many at Pilcher Park Nature Center, Black Partridge Woods, Bluff Spring Fen, Trout Park, and O’Hara Woods.*

 

Virginia Bluebell:

Virginia bluebell

Right now, you’ll find mostly buds and maybe a few open flowers of Virginia bluebell (species Mertensia virginica) at Messenger Woods, Pilcher Park, Black Partridge Woods, and here at O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville.*

 
 
 
* 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

© 2021, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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