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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
August 27, 2020

Weekly Wildflower Report

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

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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.

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WILDFLOWER HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR WEEKEND OUTDOOR GETAWAY:

 

When you wake up in the morning and look outside your window, do you notice the light is getting better?  It is because the time is closer to sunrise.  Well your wake up time does not change, the sunrise is getting later and later.  You probably also notice sunset is getting earlier and earlier.  All these are reminding us summer is coming to an end.  Is the chicagoland wildflower bloom also coming to an end?  Absolutely not.  At least there are two more major events that are coming.  The first should come this weekend and will last one to two weeks through the labor day weekend.  If you followed our post last year, you know it will be rough blazing star.  It is one of my favorites.  You will be able to find it at several preserves that we feature at this website.  This year has been fantastic.  From my own experience, it is one of the best years.  I had a great time almost at every trip in the early morning when it is all quiet except the singing of the birds, the wind is not moving except the morning fog, the light is soft except after the sun comes above the top of the oak trees, and no city crowd except the deers.  This weekend, though not confirmed, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion will look nice with the starting rough blazing star, western sunflower, and white goldenrod.   The next on the list will be Bluff Spring Fen.  You will find rough blazing star,  goldenrod, and spotted Joe-Pye weed that form a colorful painting when looking from a distance.  Somme Prairie Grove  still looks great with woodland sunflower and sweet Joe-Pye weed in the Savanna, and the fresh cream gentian in the open prairie area.  Finally, do not forget all kinds of native prairie grasses are also strong right now.    

 

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!”)

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (8/28+): Though not scouted this week, I predict this place will look nice this weekend and will get even better in the labor day weekend.  Here is the report from the same week in 2019: “Wow! If you only have time for one preserve, this Labor Day weekend, this is the place to visit. Blooms are everywhere, and certainly worth making a trip to Zion. The black oak savanna offers omnipresent displays of western sunflower, rough blazing star, and white goldenrod (they look like asters), along with remaining blooms of flowering spurge and large flowered false foxglove. And like the savanna, the sand prairie is offering a beautiful show of rough blazing star, western sunflower, and white goldenrod. It is this preserve’s grandest display of the year. And that’s saying a lot!

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (8/25+): Though not scouted this week, I am pretty sure there are a lot to see across the preserve, from savanna and kames to prairie and seep.  Go check it out in the morning if you feel like taking a nice walk in nature.  Here is the report from the same week in 2019: “Along the savanna, you’ll find golden wingstem, cutleaf coneflower, and brown-eyed Susan alongside sweet Joe-Pye weed, bottlebrush grass, nodding wild onion, cow parsnip, jewelweed, spotted Joe-Pye weed, and a few specimens of pasture thistle. (Our native thistles can be identified by the the whitish color under their leaves.) As you emerge from the savanna, you’ll have a great view of the bowl that contains the prairie, the seep of fen, and distance kames. Stop here, and soak up the purple hues of the grasses and golden sparkles of flowers. The grasses are prominent this time of year, with big bluestem lining many trails along with the occasional flourish of Canada wild rye. Don’t miss the glorious “forest” of tall compass plant that occupies the southwest corner of the preserve. The seep in the bottom of the bowl is also a glorious place. You’ll find goldenrod, shrubby cinquefoil, and more spotted Joe-Pye weed. As you emerge north from the bowl you’ll climb up the “switchback kame.” It’s now offering the best flowering experience in the preserve. You’ll find flowering spurge, cylindrical blazing star, nodding wild onion, and a beautiful display of rough blazing star. As you descend westward, turn left towards the creek, and you’ll find goldenrods, great blue lobelia, cutleaf coneflower, spotted Joe-Pye weed, and more. If you don’t make the left turn and continue straight, you’ll find sublime blooms of blue bottle gentian along the trail.

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

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (8/28=): Jim counted over a dozen species in bloom last week.  Do not be surprised to find more over there this weekend.  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 still looking great with golden woodland sunflower alongside towering and flowering sweet Joe-Pye weed and the tall ironweed and brown-eyed Susan.  As you exit the woodland and enter into the open savannah, you’ll encounter compass plant, different kinds of goldenrods.  Do not miss the fresh cream gentian that are hidden below the tall grasses.  There are lots of them throughout the open savanna.  They seem to glow at dim light after sunset or before sunrise.  rough blazing star is starting to bloom and scattered throughout the open savanna.  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!

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

 

 

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GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Theodore Stone Preserve in Hogkins:  Though not scouted this week, I think there is a good potential for a very nice rough blazing star show here at the eastern dolomite prairie.  The plants here looked pretty clean and nice earlier in the year when we visited this site.  You should also find white goldenrod in the same gravelly area. If you’re in the area, take a walk to experience the tall grasses that give the tall grass prairie its name.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park (8/28+): Though not scouted this week, I predict it is still a little early to see the rough blazing star show over here.  Here is the report from the same week in 2019: “September is my favorite time to visit this dreamy sand savanna. There’s something special about the softer light and flavescent tones of the understory. On Wednesday, the preserve was preparing for its biggest show of the year: the dramatic display of rough blazing star. Their purple flowers are starting to provide color, while the goldenrods are exhibiting their golden hues. You’re also bound to find more yellows in the form of large flowered false foxglove and western sunflower. The plumes of the elegant round-headed bush clover provide added texture and whimsy as they bob in the wind. And flashes of white can be found in the last blooms of flowering spurge and the senescing blossoms of spotted bee balm.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK: ROUGH BLAZING STAR

 

As the sun rises over the dune, rough blazing star, flowering spurge, and western sunflower grow densely in the protection of a swale at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

As the sun rises over the dune, rough blazing star, flowering spurge, and western sunflower grow densely in the protection of a swale at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

 

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

ROUGH BLAZING STAR

In the dolomite prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois, a single stalk of prairie dock rises above the fog and the purples of rough blazing star and little bluestem grass.*

In the dolomite prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois, a single stalk of prairie dock rises above the fog and the purples of rough blazing star and little bluestem grass.*

 

 

WESTERN SUNFLOWER

Early late-summer light strikes the tops of indian grass, western sunflower, and rough blazing star at the sand prairie along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

Early late-summer light strikes the tops of indian grass, western sunflower, and rough blazing star at the sand prairie along the Lake Michigan shoreline at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, 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.

—Zeke

© 2020, Zhiyong Wei. All rights reserved.

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