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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
August 21, 2020

Weekly Wildflower Report

“Chicago’s Best Nature Outings, Outdoor Adventures,
Wildflower Walks, Nature Hikes, & Weekend Getaways!”

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WE NEED MORE SCOUTS!
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PLEASE READ THIS BEFORE VISITING OUR SHOWCASE PRESERVES DURING THIS TIME OF INCREASED OUTDOOR ACTIVITY:

ChicagoNatureNOW! preserves are Sacred Cathedrals of Nature, NOT playgrounds or amusement parks. Please treat these sanctuaries with reverence. Behave as you would in any house of worship:

  • No foraging. And don’t pick flowers or plants or remove anything from a preserve.
    • Our preserves are small and rare. That’s why Chicago has grocery stores and flower shops.
    • Share cherished moments through photography, drawing, painting, and writing.
  • 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.
  • Many of these preserves do NOT allow pets, even if they’re leashed.
  • When in doubt, ask yourself, “Would I do this in a house of worship?”

IMPORTANT COVID-19 SITE ACCESS & SAFETY TIPS

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. Check out these websites before you go:

BE SAFE:

  • WEAR A MASK to protect others. Act as if you are infected because you very well could be.
    • Respect Science: Science doesn’t care what you think or do.
    • Respect Nature: Nature does what it’s programmed to do. It responds to provocation and, like science, doesn’t care what you think or do.
    • Respect Each Other: People DO care about what you do, especially when it affects them. If you don’t respect others, they won’t respect you.
  • WATCH YOUR DISTANCE by giving each other at least TEN feet of space because a breeze can carry the virus.
    • Don’t obstruct people’s progress by blocking trails or gathering around trailheads or intersections.
    • 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.

WE NEED SCOUTS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU LIVE SOUTH.
CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT VOLUNTEERING!

WILDFLOWER HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR WEEKEND OUTDOOR GETAWAY:

The summer wildflower season is still going strong, and once gain, the best flower shows are happening at Somme Prairie Grove and Bluff Spring Fen, where you’ll find a fanfare of color from myriad flowering species, but particularly from the happy, yellow blooms of woodland sunflower and the purple fragrant flower heads of  spotted Joe-Pye weed (our Plant of the Week).  On top of that, cylindrical blazing star is blooming across the region, along with flowering spurge, yellow coneflower sweet Joe-Pye weed and nodding wild onion.  Finally, you don’t miss the miniature yellow flowers of big bluestem, which is now blooming in most of the preserves on our list.  

WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A SUMMER WILDFLOWER GETAWAY AROUND CHICAGO:

Before visiting a preserve, visit the website for the landholder first. Click here for some resources.

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!”)

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (8/18=): Somme is one of my “desert island” preserves, expertly maintained by its talented stewards and volunteers.   By my lazy count, there are over a dozen species in bloom at the moment.  As you enter the preserve and start to traverse the trail towards the woodland, don’t miss the gorgeous emerald mop hairdos of prairie dropseed that appear to clutch at your ankles in a desperate attempt to grab your attention.  During your walk, you’ll encounter the fading Tinker-Toy blooms of rattlesnake master, the redolent orbs of nodding wild onion. the flowering yellow tassels of big bluestem grass, and the intoxicating scent of mountain mint.  But that’s only the beginning.  The woodland is looking great with golden woodland sunflower alongside towering and flowering sweet Joe-Pye weed and the start of tall ironweed and brown-eyed Susan.  As you exit the woodland and enter into the open savannah, you’ll encounter the last remaining blooms of wild quinine and rattlesnake master, along with compass plant, yellow coneflower, more mountain mint and flowering spurge.  Keep an eye out for the iconic and delicate bottlebrush grass , which prefers shady areas, but may be found just about anywhere throughout the preserve.  At the very beginning or end of the day, I just love how its tiny bristles catch the low-angled rays of the sun, bringing them to life!  Coming very soon – early goldenrod and rough blazing star.

NOTE: If you visit Somme in the early morning, we suggest donning rainwear to avoid getting drenched in morning dew.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (8/16=): This preserve has been at the the top of our list for several weeks now.  This week is no different.  And with August comes an an added bonus.  August is typically the foggiest month of the year at Bluff Spring Fen, due to the sultry days and cool nights. It’s not at all uncommon to experience dense early morning fog that gently lifts with the rising sun.   If you’re lucky, you may experience an ethereal fog tap-dancing over of the absolutely epic throng of  spotted Joe-Pye weed growing right along the curving creek just after you enter the preserve at the main trail.  The view this morning moved me to tears.  As you cross the troll bridge (whose troll was unusually ornery today), the trail winds through an oak savanna, complete with fluffy sweet Joe-Pye weed, pale Indian plantain, bottlebrush grass, woodland sunflower, yellow coneflower, and a few remaining American bellflower.  If you take the narrow out-and-back trail on your left to the top of the large kame, you’ll be treated to a hillside full of blooming cylindrical blazing star.  And from the top of the kame, the view of sweet Joe-Pye weed growing at the base of the hillside is gorgeous.  Don’t forget to look east for a beautiful view of the “bowl” of the fen illuminated by the rising sun.  On foggy mornings, the view leaves me with a sense of great peace.  As you leave the savanna, I recommend making a right turn into the open prairie and moving counter-clockwise around the fen.  Be careful not to walk headlong into the wonderful bristled heads of Canada wild rye, for if you do, it will feel like being smacked in the face by a janitor’s wet mop!  To the west, don’t miss the glorious “forest” of tall compass plant pointing heavenward – take the trail at the “Y” to see them up close and personal.  Returning to the main trail, head east through a dense stand of big bluestem grass, giving off fragrant slivers of  yellow pollen.  The next dramatic display along your way happens at the main seep in the center of the bowl.  Be careful on the narrow boardwalks that take you through the bowl as they can be difficult to navigate due to the dense, green understory.   Once in the bowl, you will find nice patches of spotted Joe-Pye weed. I personally like the way the early morning sun illuminates this area of the fen.  Continue up the brae to the “switchback” kame which is yielding some nice patches of cylindrical blazing star.  On the kame, you may notice the stems of the next kid on the block: rough blazing star, which should be blooming in the coming days/weeks.  At the top of the kame, head west towards the savanna until you reach an intersection – go left until you see a small creek with stepping stones.   Patches of early goldenrod are emerging in this area and should be blooming very soon.  Continue along, staying left when you reach the kame and follow the trail to your right until you’ll find yourself where you first began.

NOTE: If you visit early in the morning, wear rain gear or you’ll end up soaked to the skin from dew.

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GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake In the Hills (8/14=): The best area to visit is very close to the main entrance.  Make a right as you enter the fen and follow the trail until it leads slightly downhill, then briefly uphill.  This rocky area has very nice displays of flowering spurge mixed in with cylindrical blazing star, nodding wild onion, and fresh blooms of early goldenrod and tall boneset.  In the coming weeks, tall goldenrod and showy goldenrod will be growing en masse.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park (8/14): Nice patches of sparkling flowering spurge along with smaller groups of round-headed bush clover, slender dayflower, and Cleland’s evening primrose can be found throughout the preserve.  But the most notable bloomer this week comes from spotted bee balm (also known as spotted or dotted horsemint.) Take a moment to bend down and smell it by gently wafting the minty aroma towards your olfactory organ – the nose knows!

PLANT OF THE WEEK: SPOTTED JOE-PYE WEED

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.*

PHOTO SECTION

Yellow Coneflower

Yellow coneflowers bloom in the mesic prairie in the western half of Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins.*

Yellow coneflowers bloom in the mesic prairie in the western half of Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins.*

Flowering Spurge

In August, the white blooms of flowering spurge erupts across the sand savanna at Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve in Hopkins Park, Illinois.*

In August, the white blooms of flowering spurge erupts across the sand savanna at Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve in Hopkins Park, Illinois.*

Sweet Joe-Pye Weed

Sweet Joe-Pye weed grows tall in the oak savanna at the side of a kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

Sweet Joe-Pye weed grows tall in the oak savanna at the side of a kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

Cylindrical Blazing Star

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

Cylindrical blazing star blooms in the sand savanna, here at Indiana Dunes National Park, and at other preserves that include Bluff Spring Fen and Shoe Factory Road Prairie.*

Nodding Wild Onion

In late July, pink blooms nodding wild onions are the highlight of Lockport Prairie.*

The drooping pink blossoms of nodding wild onion are just beginning to flower. The display is often quite dense at Lockport Prairie, but it depends on the year.*

Canada Wild Rye

The plume of Canada wild rye covered drenched in morning dew at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

In the morning, this plume of Canada wild rye and all the plants of the prairie become drenched in morning dew. Wear your rain gear!

Big Bluestem Grass

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

The towering height of big bluestem grass gives 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.*

Mountain Mint 

Mountain mint and prairie blazing star flower in the July prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs.*

Inhale the invigorating white flowers of mountain mint that grow here at Spears Woods and at many other preserves on our list.*

Compass Plant

Compass plant towers into the sky.*

The golden flowers of compass plant beginning to blooming atop a stalk that reaches for the sky.*

Landscape of compass plants at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Illinois.*

Landscape of compass plant at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville.*

Compass Plant, Prairie Dock, and the Glorious Green Glow

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 its cousin compass plant.

Light shines through a translucent leaf of prairie dock, as golden Alexander casts their shadows.*

Green glow describes leaves that glow a bright green from sunlight shining through them. Here, we see a special kind of green glow that results in a shadow play, as sunlight shines through a translucent leaf of prairie dock, as golden Alexander casts its distinctive silhouette.*

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.*

Bottlebrush grass and wild bergamot glow in the morning light in the oak savanna at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Bottlebrush grass and wild bergamot glow in the morning light in the oak savanna at Bluff Spring Fen.*

In August, cylindircal blazingstar covers the northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Cylindrical blazing star is now blooming on the big kame and northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

Somme Prairie Grove

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

At Somme Prairie Grove, woodland sunflower surrounds this majestic bur oak in the savanna.

Here, at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois , we see the large, deeply lobed leaf of compass plant among a sea of purple prairie clover.*

Here at Somme Prairie Grove we see the deeply lobed leaves of compass plant splash above a sea of purple prairie clover.*

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.*

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.*

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 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.

—Jim

© 2020, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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