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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 3, 2020
Labor Day Edition

Weekly Wildflower Report

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

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During the COVID-19 pandemic,
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WE NEED MORE SCOUTS!
CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT VOLUNTEERING.


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:

Asters! Asters! Asters! That’s the theme of this weekend’s show in many of the preserves throughout the Chicago region. While many people assume that asters are merely the diminutive daisy-like flowers that bloom in late-summer and early-fall, there are actually many other species of flowers that belong to the aster family, particularly the many goldenrods (tall goldenrod is our plant of the week) and towering sunflowers that we all enjoy this time of year. Indeed, the season of gold is upon us, and it’s sure to take your breath away, no matter which of our featured preserves you choose to visit, and there are many:  Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake In The Hills, Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham, Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest, and Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie Wisconsin.  Be safe and enjoy the Labor Day weekend!

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 (9/1+): Somme Prairie Grove is known for the simultaneous blooms of many species, and that’s what you’ll find right now. Our dedicated scouts were quite excited to report that the most notable bloomers this week are both stiff and grass-leaved goldenrod, tall coreopsis, sawtooth sunflower, and the glorious cream and bottle gentian, all of which can be found throughout the preserve, but most prolifically in the prairie. In addition, red and brown hues from big bluestem and Indian grass help to augment the colors from the asters and gentians. On occasion, you’ll run into purple stalks of rough blazing star, the delicate pink petals of obedient plant, large flowered false foxglove, and the bushy green flower heads of round-headed bush clover. Under the trees, there are pleasing numbers of the anise-scented sweet coneflower, its butter-yellow leaves contrasting nicely with the dark chocolate central core. Yum. Finally, don’t miss the dramatic display of rattlesnake master “skeletons” located in the open prairie.  While long past bloom, these decaying cadavers of nature prove that even death is beautiful at Somme Prairie Grove!

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 (9/1=): There’s a lot to see across the preserve, from savanna and kames to prairie and seep. Our tireless scout Mike reported, “GO for the rich yellows of sunflowers and goldenrods along with the autumn tones and splashes of pinks”.  As you enter the fen from the kiosk and hike the short trail to the curving creek, take note of the captivating sea of spotted Joe-Pye weed. While no longer in peak condition, it’s fragrant purple blossoms are still gorgeous. Also in this area are touches of gold from assorted sunflowers. Along the savanna, you’ll find fading but still dramatic displays of cutleaf coneflower and wingstem, cup plant, and good numbers of brown-eyed Susan under the trees. Also, look closely for the poisonous white snakeroot. It is responsible for “milk sickness”, a deadly disease encountered during early settlement by Europeans. Cows that ate the plant secreted a poison into their milk.The cattle themselves developed a disease called “trembles” for its chief symptom. In 1818, Abe Lincoln’s mother, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, died from a brief agonizing bout of milk sickness. On a more positive note, research has shown that the active ingredient eupitorin in white snakeroot may have anticancer properties. On top of the big kame, rough blazing star is just starting, and intermixed with the last remaining blooms of cylindrical blazing star. As you emerge from the savanna, you’ll have a great view of the bowl that contains the prairie, the seep of the fen, and distant kames. Stop here, and soak up the purple hues of the grasses and golden sparkles of flowers. The grasses of big bluestem and Indian grass provide beautiful tones of reds, rusts, and browns. The seep in the bottom of the bowl is also a glorious place, and features beautiful displays of shrubby cinquefoil, grass-leaved goldenrod and assorted sunflowers. As you emerge north from the bowl, you’ll climb up the “switchback” kame. Once there, you’ll see a few new blooms of rough blazing star contrasted with the aging remains of cylindrical blazing star. Following the trail to the east a few hundred feet will lead to a nice patch of western sunflower, but if you descend westward instead and turn left towards the flowing stream, you’ll find a nice patch of goldenrods overlooking the curvy creek. Finally, keep an eye out for the beautiful great blue lobelia which is scattered throughout the preserve.

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

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (8/21+): While IBNP might be labeled the richest and most biologically diverse preserve in the state, we love it because it fills our hearts with joy.  Be on the lookout for omnipresent displays of western sunflower, rough blazing star, white goldenrod, the glorious chromatic blooms of large flowered false foxglove, and the aging but still beautiful flowering spurge.  Our scout Charlie recommends to casually walk the trails during the cool morning hours to avoid the rowdy beachgoers and Covid-19 spreaders not wearing masks.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham (8/31=): Overall, the abundant yellows blooms of stiff and grass-leaved goldenrod steal the show at this luscious urban prairie, while tall coreopsis, long-bracted tickseed sunflower and sneezeweed play important supporting roles. And more yellow is on the way. But fear not – there’s plenty of other color as well: whites, pinks, purples, blues and greens, with the latter now starting to change into the fall hues of reds, rusts, and browns. Copious amounts of the pearly white tall boneset can be seen in many locations, while slender false foxglove, pasture thistle, ironweed, rough blazing star, big bluestem, and blue vervain add splashes of white, pink, purple and blue to the prairie canvas. Eat your heart out, Picasso!

Spears Woods in Willow Springs (8/29+): At this idyllic locale, all the excitement is happening in the prairie, and once again, the golden aster flowers are taking center stage, most notably, tall coreopsis, grass-leaved goldenrod, rosinweed, sawtooth sunflower (just starting), and long-bracted tickseed sunflower, whose name is partially derived from the way its seeds stick to clothing. But that’s not all. Augmenting all of those golden hues comes the purple blossoms of ironweed, slender false foxglove, and prickly pasture thistle, set against a backdrop of reddish Indian grass and big bluestem. All of the colors, hues and textures of this panoramic paradise are foreshadowing an exciting chromatic climax as autumn draws near.

Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest (9/2=): Middlefork Savanna is named after the rare tallgrass savanna along the middle fork of the Chicago River, but the prairie is the reason to go this weekend.  Our dedicated scout Zeke reported that while there is abundant blooms of sawtooth sunflower and black-eyed Susan growing in the prairie at the moment, it was the tubular, crimson blooms of cardinal flower, the deep purple blossoms of ironweed, and the delicate pink petals of obedient plant that stole his heart.

Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake In The Hills (8/31+): After nearly 6 months of wildflower blooms throughout the region, “The Lake” is finally elevated to “GO” status. One of the most alluring qualities of this preserve is its magnitude – whenever I’m there, I have a feeling that its rolling hills go on forever. And right now, the wildflower blooms are on par with its grandeur. Goldenrod (both tall and gray) is exploding throughout the fen, frequently intermixed with the off-white blooms of tall boneset. In addition, the red-hued stalks of Indian grass serve as a dramatic backdrop. My personal favorite is the cute, diminutive gray goldenrod, which grows only a foot or so off the ground. Look for it in the rocky sections of the fen, frequently growing amongst beautiful patches of flowering spurge and sometimes the purple blooms of rough blazing star. In the soggy sections to the west, you’ll find the fading blooms of fragrant spotted Joe-Pye weed. And to the south, don’t miss the towering yellow blossoms of sawtooth sunflower. When you enter the preserve through the maze-like fencing, I suggest first taking a left and hiking the short looping trail that ends right back at the entrance. If you’re adventurous, take the longer trail (making a right at the entrance) leading into the southern section of the fen and walk all the way to “Barbara’s Bench”, a resting stop paying tribute to Barbara Key, a devout nature lover and also the preserve’s namesake. On your journey, you’ll encounter multiple dense patches of tall goldenrod and boneset, sawtooth sunflower, and the occasional flowering stalks of rough blazing star. For extra credit, see if you can locate a lone patch of the low leafy rosettes of ethereal prairie smoke. If you visit in the early morning, there’s a good chance you’ll experience rolling fog hovering over the bowl of the fen, but you may experience other miracles as well. For example, on my last visit, I was immediately thrust into a heated discussion between two owls, whose Morse code-like banter was suggestive of nocturnal birds of prey having relationship troubles. And all of this occurred on the trail between the parking lot and the main entrance! Please do let us know about your own personal miracles from “The Lake”.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (8/29+): This Great Depression era prairie features some nice blooms, and because of its floral diversity, the preserve just makes the “GO” list this week. Keep an eye out for large clusters of the pearly white tall boneset, which is perhaps the most dominant flowering forb at the moment. For splashes of pinks, purples and reds, you’ll find obedient plant, pasture thistle, rough blazing star, Indian grass and big bluestem. Adding to the mix are round-headed bush clover and rosinweed.  And just starting out is sawtooth sunflower and stiff goldenrod, with MANY more on the way.

We need scouts, especially Southsiders!
Click here to learn about how you can help us share the beauty.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie Wisconsin (8/29=): This gorgeous preserve by the lake garners a “go, if in the neighborhood” status after being left off the list for several months. The main contributors include various goldenrods, some very nice patches of western sunflower, a smattering of rough blazing star, and the fading blooms of flowering spurge. On Sunday, our scout Charlie was enamored by the large quantity of active butterflies fluttering from flower to flower.

PLANT OF THE WEEK: TALL GOLDENROD

In late August, tall goldenrod and purple rough blazing star contribute to an explosion of color at Lake in the Hills Fen.

In late August, tall goldenrod and purple rough blazing star contribute to an explosion of color at Lake in the Hills Fen.

PHOTO SECTION

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.*

Obedient Plant

September at Wolf Road Prairie gives proof of nature’s comfort, as sawtooth sunflower and obedient plant tangle in a glorious embrace.*

September at Wolf Road Prairie gives proof of nature’s comfort, as sawtooth sunflower and obedient plant tangle in a glorious embrace.*

Rough Blazing Star

Rough blazing star glows in the morning light at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

Rough blazing star glows in the morning light at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

Gentian

Blue bottle gentians survive under the shadow of the dense September prairie, where plants, like this sawtooth sunflower, can tower twelve feet into the air.*

Blue bottle gentians survive under the shadow of the dense September prairie, where plants, like this sawtooth sunflower, can tower twelve feet into the air.*

When I first set eyes upon these fading blooms of bottle gentian, I was taken aback, struck by an arrow through my heart. Instantly, I fell in love with the prettiest flowers I had ever seen. Maybe I was just having one of those days, but I was close to tears.

Indian Grass

Rough blazing star and Indiana grass dominate the top of this kame at Lake in the Hill Fen.

Rough blazing star and Indian grass dominate the top of this kame at Lake in the Hill Fen.

Cardinal Flower and Great Blue Lobelia

Great blue lobelia and cardinal flower in the panne at Montrose Beach Dunes in Chicago, Illinois.*

Great blue lobelia and cardinal flower in the panne.

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.

Sawtooth Sunflower

Sawtooth sunflowers bloom in fields of towering, endless gold in one of the last dramatic displays of the summer season at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

Sawtooth sunflowers bloom in fields of towering, endless gold in one of the last dramatic displays of the summer season at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

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.*

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, Jim Yassick. All rights reserved.

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