Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
April 23, 2021
“Weekly Wildflower Reports Featuring
Chicago’s Best Weekend Getaways & Nature Trips”
Plan the Best COVID-19 Walks & Getaways Around Chicago!
Don’t miss one beautiful moment.
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Each week, we offer you opportunities to find peace during this trying time!
PLEASE DONATE IF WE’VE HELPED YOU FIND SOLACE IN NATURE.
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:
BLUEBELLS, BLUEBELLS, BLUEBELLS! The Virginia bluebell is our Plant of the Week, and it’s current putting on the most breathtaking performance of early spring. The oceans of blue are proof that Chicago nature offers beauty that rivals the national parks. Experience the magnificence with your eyes, as well as your nose, as the scent of these azure flowers fills the air with a sweet fragrance that some people liken to Froot Loops cereal. Instead of listening to “some people,” I did a little experiment of my own. I took the cereal into the field and compared its scent to the flowers. Click here to learn what I found. The show of bluebells should last for at least another week depending on the location. As of Thursday afternoon on April 22, the blooming at O’Hara Woods Preserve was at 85 to 100 percent peak, and Messenger Woods and Pilcher Park were at 35 to 60 percent.
The spectacular large-flowered trillium is confirmed to be blooming in great numbers at Heron Rookery Trail (at Indiana Dunes National Park). They can also be found at Messenger Woods. If you live up north, you should soon be able to experience these alabaster beauties at Harms Woods in Glenview and Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa, both of which are not featured preserves. And speaking of trillium, the elegant and understated prairie trillium is flowering in most of our woodlands.
Usually, spring’s earliest 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, and Dutchman’s breeches. Spring beauty is white with pink stripes, and hepatica offers a beautiful palette ranging from white to lavender to purple.
When the larger, more flamboyant flowers begin to bloom, they tend to draw our attention away from the smaller, sparkly flowers of the past two weeks. They now take on a supporting roles that can be just as breathtaking. For instance, at Heron Rookery Trail in Indiana Dunes National Park spring beauty and cutleaf toothwort create a wonderful show as they carpet the woodland floor. You’ll find these same flowers at all of our other preserves to one degree or another. While you’re walking through the woods, you’ll also find hepatica, cutleaf toothwort, spring beauty, false rue anemone, rue anemone, spring cress, purple cress, white trout lily, and Dutchman’s breeches. Marsh marigold is still blooming at many preserves, including Pilcher Park, Bluff Spring Fen, and at McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park (across the stream from the parking lot). Other yellow flowers that you may find are the spectacular blooms of yellow trout lily (only at Heron Rookery Trail) and large-flowered bellwort.
And let’s not forget the bright green leaves of spring: the umbrellas of mayapple, the sprawling leaves of skunk cabbage, the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger., and the spears 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.” If you pay close attention to your nose in woodlands that do not feature the fragrant bluebell, you may be able to catch its sweet onion scent.
NOTE: 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.
O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville (4/22+): The Virginia bluebells has reached peak bloom at this preserve! And they’re also joined by sparkling white blossoms of cutleaf toothwort which are also putting on a spectacular show of their own. 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, and mayapple.
Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park (4/17+): Wow! This national park offers the greatest density of native plants in the entire national park system and, quite possibly, the nation. And now, you definitely need to see the sublime display of large-flowered trillium that is close to peak bloom! Waves of flowers are washing over the forest floor, including the omnipresent spring beauty You’ll also find dense displays of sharp-lobed hepatica and false rue anemone, along with rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, cutleaf toothwort, purple cress, common blue violet, and common yellow violet. Look for patches of spotted fishlike foliage that resemble trout. In there, you may find magnificent blooms of yellow trout lily The otherworldly prairie trillium is flowering well. And large numbers of bright-yellow swamp buttercup wade in wet and muddy areas. The lush, green springtime experience is further enhanced by the spreading foliage of mayapple, wild leek, and wild ginger.
Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee (4/17+): This pretty place offers a rich variety of flowers that are really putting on a show. Ignore the charred earth from a recent burn. After the first 300 feet, the flowers begin! 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 strange 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. And you’ll find a nice show of Virginia bluebells as you approach the creek. 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.
Black Partridge Woods in Lemont (4/21+): This preserve makes me happy with its lushness and many patterns and shades of emerald foliage, especially the swords of wild leek, umbrellas of mayapple, hearts of wild ginger, stars of soon-to-bloom wild geranium, and sprawling skunk cabbage. Also look for the beautiful floating foliage of early meadow rue. And right now, the Virginia bluebells are at peak bloom, most of which are growing on the west of the creek. Also pitching in some azure tones are common blue violet and woodland phlox. On the east side, which offers the richest biodiversity and scenery, you’ll also see sparkles amongst the greenery from the shimmering petals of cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, rue anemone, spring beauty, and the occasional Dutchman’s breeches. And look for the shy drooping yellow blossoms of large-flowered bellwort.
Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet (4/22+): 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 maybe some remaining Dutchman’s breeches. Continue walking towards the creek to experience the vast seas of Virginia bluebells that are looking very good and closing in on peak bloom. Just as beautiful as the flowers are the fresh green leaves of wild leek, mayapple, and skunk cabbage. In the same place, and just about anywhere with mud, look for the large fanning foliage of skunk cabbage. They’re hard to miss.
Messenger Woods in Homer Glen (4/22+): CALL TO ACTION to save the wildflower population and ecosystem by controlling the overpopulation of deer at Messenger Woods! Contact JOE VANDUYNE, President of the Board of Commissioners with Forest Preserve District of Will County at JVanDuyne@WillCountyIllinois.com. If you have Outlook, you can click this link: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If we at ChicagoNatureNOW! don’t something, then what’s the point of ChicagoNatureNOW!? I can’t do this alone. I’ll just look like a raving idiot. I’M COUNTING ON YOU TO HELP, especially if you live in Homer Glen and Will County.
Yesterday, I visited Messenger Woods. At the freshly maintained entrance to the nature preserve, they put up a brand new sign with flowery writing. The words on the sign tell a story of how the preserve is known across the country for its wildflower displays of Virginia bluebell, large-flowered trillium, and blue-eyed Mary. In fact, I used to see pictures of the place in national magazines. The sign also mentions that is a rare preserve because has been spared from grazing. But it’s all a big lie! No longer is Messenger Woods a national treasure. The sign is a disguise to distract you from seeing the results of two decades of purposeful mismanagement that allow the plants to be devastated by an out-of-control deer population that grazes as much as any herd of cows ever could.
When I read the new sign, my hopes were raised. I thought, “Wow! If they’re bragging about the flowers, they must be doing something about decades-long deer problem.” Then I came upon a hill where only three blue-eyed Mary flowers bloomed. Like the wildflower population, I was devastated. At one time, hundreds of flowers created a blue-and-white carpet that covered the hillside. Then I walked to where the large-flowered trillium are known to bloom. Again, the flowers were few, except inside the safety of a terribly ironic deer exclosure—a small fenced-in area where deer cannot reach. A dense population of trillium lived inside. Yet outside, I saw very few trillium. Deer exclosures are used for measuring the impact of deer on the habitat. But at this preserve, it’s really just a cruel joke. They’ve knowingly neglected this preserve for years. At least fifteen years ago, an article by photographer Joe Kayne was published in Chicago Wilderness magazine. He showed before-and-after pictures that illustrated how the trillium population had dramatically declined due to overgrazing by the deer. There was outrage from the nature community, but nothing changed. But we eventually got a new sign!
Five deer per square mile is a healthy population that provides a good balance so that all living things can thrive. Ten deer per square mile is what many biologists would settle for. Twenty is Will County’s standard. But at Messenger Woods, there are many more that that. And it has taken it’s toll. Except for Messenger Woods, every other preserve owned by Will County has a deer-control program to protect the biodiversity and health of the ecosystem. In the absence of predators, humans need to take on that role or the ecosystem collapses.
To deer, flowers are very tasty. But flowers are how plants reproduce. And why do we need flowers? Let’s take one example. Flowers are essential for feeding pollinating insects. And if there are no pollinating insects, then the birds don’t eat. And birds need protein to make eggs and for feeding their hungry chicks. The connections go on and on.
Deer are magical creatures, but too much of a good thing is never a good thing. And it’s a self mistake to allowing deer to exist at the exclusion of everything else.
A famous conservationist told me this story:
As the number of deer increase, they eat and eat, and eventually there are so many deer they’ve killed your nature preserve. Now with so many hungry deer around, they cross the street to devour and kill off everyone’s gardens. Finally, with nothing left to eat, they starve to death and the population decreases to a low and sustainable number. But why let it get that far? You lose so much. Reduce the population to begin with!
Please contact President Joe VanDuyne and others:
(815) 530-4388 – Cell
Rachel Ventura – Vice President
(815) 954-1981 – Cell
CEO – Forest Preserve District of Will County
(815) 727-8700 – Office
Executive Director – The Nature Foundation of Will County
And now for the report. This preserve is known for its large display of Virginial bluebells, which are at about 40% peak as of this post. My guess is that it’ll reach peak bloom in the next few days. You’ll also see a carpet of fresh foliage, primarily made of of false mermaid. And there are some ephemerals throughout, but not as impressive as some of our other preserves. Blooms include cutleaf toothwort spring beauty, false rue anemone, and some Dutchman’s breeches,. The foliage of mayapple helps contribute to the lush springtime feel of the place.
GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:
Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (4/11+): The transcendent yellow blooms of marsh marigold, are currently at peak bloom. 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: VIRGINIA BLUEBELL
Virginia Bluebells begin their spectacular must-see performance:
Large-flowered Trillium is also putting on a show:
Cutleaf Toothwort is blooming strong across Chicago’s woodlands:
False Rue Anemone:
Dutchman’s Breeches (or Dutchman’s Britches):
Bloodroot (catch it before it goes away for another 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.
© 2021, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.