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Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
April 29, 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:

Our Plant of the Week is the spectacular large-flowered trillium, which is blooming best at Heron Rookery Trail (at Indiana Dunes National Park) and at the nearby J. Timothy Ritchie Preserve owned by Shirley Hines Land Trust. These beautiful flowers are also blooming at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen. In DuPage County, you can find them at Meacham Grove. And 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. And speaking of trillium, the elegant and understated prairie trillium is flowering in most of our woodlands.

The Virginia bluebell is still putting on a show. 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. The bloom at O’Hara Woods Preserve has reached peak, but the scent is fading and the flowers are next. The flowers at Messenger Woods and Pilcher Park are probably at peak bloom.

When the larger, more flamboyant flowers begin to bloom, they tend to draw our attention away from the small, shiny flowers of the past three 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 false rue anemone 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 may also find rue anemone, purple cresswhite trout lily, and Dutchman’s breeches. The shy drooping blooms of the yellow large-flowered bellwort can be seen at preserves that include Black Partridge Woods and Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve, yellow trout lily (only at Heron Rookery Trail), and swamp buttercup blooming at most, if not all, of our featured woodlands.

And let’s not forget the bright green leaves of spring: the sprawling leaves of skunk cabbage, the umbrellas of mayapple, and the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger. Take a close look underneath the leaves of wild ginger to find their fuzzy burgundy flowers. And soon, you’ll be able to find the large waxy white flower of mayapple hiding under any two-leafed plants. And then there are the spears 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.”

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 (4/27-): The Virginia bluebells have reached peak bloom at this preserve, so get out there before they fade! Their fragrance has faded, which is a sign that the blooms are also fading. There are a few remaining wildflower species to accompany the bluebells, including cutleaf toothwort, spring beauty, false rue anemone, and prairie trillium. They look especially beautiful amidst the backdrop of the emerald swords of wild leek (Chicago’s namesake), skunk cabbage, and mayapple. 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.

Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park (Extrapolated report based on our last scouting date of 4/17): The large-flowered trillium is at 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.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont (4/25+): Many flowers are blooming amidst a palette of green formed of swords of wild leek, umbrellas of mayapple, hearts of wild ginger, stars of soon-to-bloom wild geranium, sprawling skunk cabbage, the beautiful floating foliage of early meadow rue. Check deep underneath the leaves of wild ginger to find a burgundy blossom. The Virginia bluebells are at peak bloom, most of which are growing west of the creek. The east side offers the richest biodiversity and where common blue violet and woodland phlox are also adding to the azure tones. You’ll also find dense sparkling areas of spring beauty alongside false rue anemone and some remaining cutleaf toothwort. And look for the shy drooping yellow blossoms of large-flowered bellwort.

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee (Extrapolated report based on our last scouting date of 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 false rue anemone, rue anemone, white trout lily, and surprisingly large colonies of the strange and wonderful prairie trillium. You’ll find a nice show of Virginia bluebells along with the purple-blue blossoms of common blue violet and woodland phlox. And experience the jade hues and lush patterns of wild leek, mayapple, and wild ginger that add to the springtime mix. Look carefully, and you may find the fuzzy burgundy flower hiding under the under the heart-shaped wild ginger leaves. Note that many of the small 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.

Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet (Extrapolated report based on our last scouting date of 4/22): Begin your hike at the nature center and you’ll be surrounded a variety of spring wildflowers, including false rue anemone and spring beauty. Continue walking towards the creek to experience the vast seas of Virginia bluebells that should now be at peak bloom. 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 (Extrapolated report based on our last scouting date of 4/22): This preserve is known for its large display of Virginial bluebells, which are at peak. And the gorgeous large-flowered trillium is reaching peak bloom. There are some ephemerals throughout, but not as impressive as some of our other preserves. Blooms include cutleaf toothwort, spring beauty, woodland phlox, and false rue anemone. You’ll also see a carpet of fresh foliage, primarily made of of false mermaid. The foliage of mayapple helps contribute to the lush springtime feel of the place.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (4/27+): 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. To avoid any confusion, visit our web page for complete details or forever hold your peace. Along your stroll, you’ll discover the whitish flowers of spring beauty, white trout lily, cutleaf toothwort, and rue anemone. Yellows are also on display with large-flowered bellwort, wood betony, and yellow water buttercup. And miniature forests of mayapples brings an air of whimsy to the landscape.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (4/28-): The big reason to visit the preserve this week is to see the last blooms marsh marigold, which have since faded in the southern preserves. You’ll find large areas of skunk cabbage and nice patches of mayapple, too, plus a handful of rue anemone and woodland phlox. and a small number of spring ephemerals. Golden Alexander and wood betony are just starting to bloom. (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.)

 

 

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK:  LARGE-FLOWERED TRILLIUM

Large-flowered trillium bloom in profusion at Harms Woods in Cook County, Illinois. The flowers turn pink as they fade.*

Trillium is Latin for “triple,” and the plant lives up to the word.  The showy plant is comprised of three leaves, three sepals, and three petals. The gorgeous white blooms of large-flowered trillium can now be found at our featured preserves of O’Hara Woods Preserve, Pilcher Park, and Messenger Woods and at other preserves like Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Metawa Meacham Grove in Bloomingdale, and, here, at Harms Woods in Glenview. Notice how the flowers turn pink as they fade.*

In May, large-flowered white trillium cover the woodland floor at Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.*

At Heron Rookery Trail in Indiana Dunes National Park, large-flowered trillium have reached peak bloom. It’s a magnificent sight.*

Large-flowered trillium carpet the woodland floor at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen, Illinois.*

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen offers a decent display of large-flowered trillium. But don’t get too excited.. It doesn’t look like the above picture, anymore. Most of the plants have been eaten by deer due to decades of willful neglect.*

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Virginia Bluebells begin their spectacular must-see performance:

Virginia bluebell

Ah, the Virginia bluebell. This is the April performance that we’ve all been waiting for. This flower not only looks beautiful, but it smells wonderful, as well. When the flowers are blooming, the woodland fills with a fragrance that some say resembles the scent of Froot Loops cereal. So, last year, I put this to a test, in side-by-side comparison. First, I lowered my nose into a small plastic bag filled with the cereal. Wow! I didn’t realize how “sharp” the sweetness was. Then, I cleared my nose by smelling my glove, and moved my nostrils into the fragrant blue trumpets. Here’s what I found. The bluebells do smell like the cereal, but not as sharp. But they also have a floral aroma. Therefore, bluebells smell like a floral Chanel version of Froot Loops cereal. 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.*

At O'Hara Woods in Romeoville, Illinois, the April sun rises to warm the springtime woodland brimming with Virginia bluebells.*

The bluebells have reached peak bloom at O’Hara Woods and still presents the best show of its kind. Get out now to see them.*

Virginia bluebells fill the April woodland of O'Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville, Illinois.

The bluebells have reached peak bloom at O’Hara Woods and still presents the best display of of Virginia bluebells around. Get out now to see them.

Come to Pilcher Park in April for the dramatic performance starring Virginia bluebells.*

Come to Pilcher Park Nature Center for one of the best performance of Virginia bluebell in the region.*

In April, Virginia bluebells bloom in profusion along the creek at Raccoon Grove in Monee, Illinois

Virginia bluebells bloom en mass along the creek at Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee, though not in vast expanses like other woodlands on our list.*

April at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.*

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen is also a great site to experience breathtaking expanses of Virginia bluebells.*

 

Woodland Phlox is adding some newfound color to our woodlands:

Woodland phlox at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.*

Many of our featured woodlands are home to the blue and purple woodland phlox. Here at Black Partridge Woods, they flow in a serpentine wave up the bluff..*

 

Cutleaf Toothwort is still blooming, but fading in the southern suburbs:

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

Cutleaf toothwort has small flowers that make a big impact for their size, 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.

 

False Rue Anemone:

False rue anemone

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

 

Prairie Trillium:

Red trillium and setting sun.*

This wonderful flower can be found at most of our featured woodlands. But Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve is my favorite place to see them because they grow in such large numbers. Here at O’Hara Woods in Romeoville, prairie trillium rises as the sun sets.*

 

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

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.*

 

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. The waxy white flower of the mayapple will soon be blooming under any plant with two “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.*

 

 

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. And you can also find them at Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa. The blooms at Pilcher Park Nature Center are gone until next year.*

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.

This beautiful plant can still be found at some locations across the region, but the show is over at the southern preserves, including here at Pilcher Park in Joliet.*

 

 
 
* 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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