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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
July 3, 2019
(4th of July Edition)

“Weekly Wildflower Reports with
Chicago’s 4th of July Wildflower Walks & Outdoor Outings”

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Chicago Wildflower Report & Info - 07/3/2019 (4th of July Edition)

BECOME ONE OUR PRESTIGIOUS NATURE SCOUTS! Each week, we cover up to 5,000 square miles to bring beauty, peace, and hope to Chicago-area residents. Lean about becoming a nature scout. It’s a rich and rewarding experience.

WILDFLOWER HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR FOURTH OF JULY OUTDOOR OUTING IN CHICAGO NATURE:

Again, the floral star of the week is the miraculous melting flowers of Ohio spiderwort. But if you want to see spiderwort’s blooms, don’t sleep in. The blue flower only opens for a few hours before it begins to turn into a purple liquid! Learn when to see this flower in the caption under the Photo Section. This week, you can also find a beautiful expanse of prairie coreopsis at Shoe Factory Road Prairie. Large areas of pale purple coneflower can be found at Bluff Spring Fen and Belmont Prairie. And butterfly weed is beginning to show its bright orange blooms.

Our Plant of the Week is eastern prickly pear cactus. No, we didn’t scout in Arizona, this week! Chicago has a cactus, and we spotted it last week at Miller Woods. You can find its transcendent yellow blossoms at several other sandy preserves, including Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Powderhorn Marsh & Prairie, and Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve

If spiderwort’s melting blooms weren’t weird enough, now you can see a plant called porcupine grass with a seed that drills itself into the soil. Watch a real-time video of the drilling seed under the Photo Section, below. And then there are the pearly blooms of foxglove beardtongue. I love this plant because, in the fall, their seeds smell exactly, and I mean “exactly,” like vomit! In contrast, right now,  you can find a most wonderful fragrance by dropping to your knees and inhaling the intoxicating scent of the sublime pasture rose.

PRESERVES TO VISIT THIS WEEKEND FOR A WILDFLOWER WALK AROUND CHICAGO:

The order of the preserves below is 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 preserves. And we have a special “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 tell you when we last scouted the preserve.

THIS WEEK’S BEST (“GO!”):

Miller Woods (at Paul H. Douglas Environmental Center for Education) in Indiana Dunes National Park (7/3 phone report from ranger): This preserve is a “Go!” if you visit in the morning when spiderwort is in full flower. In the afternoon, we rate it as a “Go, if you’re in the neighborhood.” However, there’s a lot to explore, here, and you can make a day of it, especially because there are other places in the park to visit. Check in at the visitor center at Miller Woods for guidance. In addition to spiderwort, golden sprays of hairy puccoon add golden tones to the mix, and downy phlox provides splashes of pink. Along your hike, you’ll also see pasture rose, sand coreopsis, and June grass. Walk the main trail that heads to the lake and you’ll find eastern prickly pear cactus where it gets sandy. And then there are the beavers! See photo and caption below to learn where to find them. After your hike, consider checking out Tolleston Dunes.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (7/4): The black oak savanna is full of color. Currently you’ll find lots of spiderwort, hairy puccoon, downy phlox, pasture rose. porcupine grass, and the start of a big bloom of butterfly weed. We’re still a little early for prickly pear cactus. And look for the sublime red prairie lily.

Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest (6/30): This preserve is a “Go!” during the morning hours when the great expanse of Ohio spiderwort are in bloom. Also present are the white flowers of foxglove beardtongue. Out in the wetland, look for the dramatic cream-colored blossoms of fragrant water lily.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates (7/1): The most exciting blooms come from prairie coreopsis and wild quinine. Rattlesnake master is also getting its start. You’ll also find the beginnings of common milkweed and leadplant. One your way in, notice the patches of pale purple coneflower on the slope outside the fence. NOTE: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (7/2): This remnant prairie is a gorgeous little thing. And there are many flowers to appreciate, right now, including pale purple coneflower, scurfy pea, butterfly weed, wild quinine, New Jersey tea, false sunflower, the start of rattlesnake master, the beautiful sprays of porcupine grass and the drooping plumes of prairie brome. When you arrive early, you’ll be treated to blooms of Ohio spiderwort along with the gorgeous leaves of prairie dock and compass plant that glow a bright green in the low sun.

Here is my most profound recommendation for enjoying your time in nature. If the preserve allows, arrive before first light. A morning rendezvous with nature is a magical experience that vastly transcends what’s possible at other times of day. In the early bright, the world expands beyond the usual three dimensions, as the transformation from darkness into light excites more than just the visual sense. As night gives birth to dawn, and the landscape gently turns from azure to gold, the soft and changing light is a spectacle for the eyes. A moist fog or a splash of crisp dew against your skin affirms your existence. The still atmosphere concentrates the fragrances floating in the air and provides a tranquil stage for birds to project their crystal melodies. In the morning, you’ll find all this, along with the promise of a new day.

 

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (7/1): There are many plants in bloom, but not in great prominence. At the moment, the most noticeable flower is foxglove beardtongue. You’ll also find spiderwort, daisy fleabane, black-eyed Susan, New Jersey tea, prairie sundrop, and wild quinine. The flowers of butterfly weed and leadplant are now starting. And I can’t forget mentioning the beautiful foliage of prairie dock, compass plant, and prairie dropseed. NOTE: Even though there is construction on Dundee Road east of Waukegan Road, you can still pass by the “Detour” barricade because it’s open to local traffic. The preserve entrance is located about 500 feet east on the left passed the barricade. Also consider using the alternate parking location mentioned on our web page for this preserve.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (unscouted): This is a beautiful preserve and one of my favorites. We weren’t able to get there during this short holiday week, but I think you’ll find it worth the visit as long as you’re nearby. Last week, you would experience a breathtaking show of the gorgeous pink blooms of pale purple coneflower, especially by the “switchback kame” in the northeast section. Also, look for porcupine grass, pasture rose, and the pearly flowers of foxglove beardtongue. NOTE: Consider checking out Shoe Factory Road Prairie. It’s in the same area.

 

PRESERVES FOR YOU TO SCOUT:

This is a category for those who’d like do a little exploring for us. The preserves listed below were not scouted, this week, but may be worth the trip. Please send us your findings and images by email or, better still, join our Friends of ChicagoNatureNOW! Facebook page. While visiting a preserve, take mostly scenic pictures, tell us which flowers are blooming, and then give us your bottom-line opinion of your experience. Tell us if it’s a “GO,” a “Go, if you’re in the neighborhood,” or a “NO.” If you’d like to scout more regularly, then learn about becoming an official Nature Scout.

Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale: Let us know what’s going on at this beautiful south-side prairie.

Powderhorn Marsh & Prairie in Chicago: This high-quality preserve is located inside the city of Chicago.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK: EASTERN PRICKLY PEAR CACTUS

What!? Chicago has a cactus? Yes we do!

Eastern prickly pear cactus blooms can be found in late June in sandy preserves around the Chicago area.*

Eastern prickly pear cactus blooms can be found in late June in sandy preserves around the Chicago area, including Illinois Beach Nature PreserveMiller WoodsPowderhorn Marsh & Prairie, and Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve.*

PHOTO SECTION

Ohio Spiderwort

Ohio spiderwort in the morning light at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois.

Each morning, Ohio spiderwort opens a new bud or two that only last a few hours before turning into a purple liquid. This process can repeat for more than a month. The flowers do not open based on the clock, but they do like the sunlight. The process is also affected by temperature. On warmer mornings, the buds can begin opening before sunrise. On cooler mornings, you may not see many flowers until an hour or longer after sunrise. Then, eventually, the blooms will close up. From my observations, if you visit between 7:30 and 10:00 am, you should find all of the flowers in bloom, though they can last into the afternoon on cool, cloudy days. You can find spiderwort, right now, at Belmont Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Pembroke Savanna, Powderhorn Prairie, Miller Woods, Middlefork Savanna,  Wolf Road Prairie, and more.

Prairie Coreopsis at Shoe Factory Road Prairie

Atop this hill prairie, deep-rooted leadplants combine with the happy yellow faces of coreopsis as they shine through the dissipating fog.*

Shoe Factory Road Prairie is a hill prairie. Here, deep-rooted leadplants combine with the happy yellow faces of coreopsis that shine through the dissipating fog.*

Butterfly Weed (or Butterfly Milkweed)

Butterfly milkweed (or butterfly weed) blooms in the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

Butterfly milkweed (or butterfly weed) is beginning to bloom in the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois. And you can find it at many other preserves in the region, including Belmont Prairie, Powderhorn Prairie, and Somme Prairie Grove.*

Pale Purple Coneflower

In addition to experiencing the prairie as a whole, take a closer look and discover the many attractions that hide in plain sight. Here, within a scene of a thousand coneflowers, I attended a iniature, slow-motion rodeo that was taking place upon one prickly flower head. I watched as a tiny ant rode the back of a slinking inchworm.*

In addition to experiencing the prairie as a whole, take a closer look and discover the many attractions that hide in plain sight. Here, within a scene of a thousand coneflowers, I attended a miniature, slow-motion rodeo that was taking place upon one prickly flower head. I watched as a tiny ant rode the back of a slinking inchworm.*

Pale purple coneflowers rise above the prairie at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Pale purple coneflowers rise above the prairie at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

Purple pale coneflowers, scurfy pea, and porcupine grass at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois.*

Pale purple coneflower is ending its show at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove.”

Porcupine Grass and it’s Spinning Seed

Porcupine grass (Hesperostipa spartea, previously known as Stipa spartea, for anyone who cares) is a particularly fun and interesting plant because of its fascinating seed. The common name refers to its long needles, which apparently resemble the spines of a porcupine, though I think the needle-like fruit best resembles a six- to seven-inch spear. The seed head represents the blade, and the long shaft is known as the awn. As the javelin-shaped fruit falls from the plant, the heavy seed head leads the way and embeds its sharp tip into the soil. As the awn dries, it twirls counter-clockwise until the shaft becomes so tightly wound that the implanted seed head begins to drill into the ground. Humidity and moisture have the opposite effect on the awn, causing it to uncoil, allowing rain or heavy dew to straighten it out. As the awn unwinds, the seed is left in place. The drilling process resumes when the environment dries out, and the cycle repeats until the seed is deposited as far as three to four inches beneath the surface, where the awn decays and the grain germinates. Seeds of porcupine grass can’t help but drill, so much so that they’ve been known to cause fatal wounds in animals. Hence, trust me when I tell you that putting them in your pocket is a big mistake.

The seeds of porcupine grass are long sharp needles that fall off the plant and slowly drill themselves into the soil. You can find it Belmont Prairie, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Pembroke Savanna, Miller Woods, Bluff Spring Fen, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, and Powderhorn Prairie.

Watch this video to see porcupine grass drill itself into the soil as you watch!


 CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT PORCUPINE GRASS.

Foxglove Beardtongue

In June, foxglove beardtongue blooms in profusion at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Foxglove beardtongue blooms here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin and at many other preserves in the region. In the fall, the seeds smell EXACTLY like vomit! Ah, be still my heart!*

The Wonderfully Large Leaves of Compass Plant & Prairie Dock

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 from a cousin called compass plant.

Pasture Rose

Pasture Rose grows in the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. The fragrance of pasture rose is transcendent—a spiritual experience. Over several weeks in late spring, it blooms barely inches from the ground. During that time, whenever we’re together, I partake in a sacred ritual. I drop to my knees and bow in reverence, nose to petal.*

Pasture Rose grows here in the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. And you can also find it at Bluff Spring Fen and Pembroke Savanna. The fragrance of pasture rose is transcendent—a spiritual experience. Over several weeks in late spring, it blooms barely inches from the ground. During that time, whenever we’re together, I partake in a sacred ritual. I drop to my knees and bow in reverence, nose to petal.*

Miller Woods

At Miller Woods (Indiana Dunes National Park), spiderwort and ferns cover the side of the dunes.

Last week at Miller Woods (Indiana Dunes National Park), spiderwort and ferns cover the side of the dunes. If you like what you see, know that this image is only a tiny sample of what you’ll find.

Along the Paul H. Douglas Trails, part of Indiana Dunes National Park in Gary, Indiana, this path was made by beavers as they moved from their pond in one swale, over a dune, and into an adjacent swale.*

To possibly see a beaver at Miller Woods in Indiana Dunes National Park, begin by taking the trail that starts at the nature center. Along the way, the trail crosses a wide gravel path that goes straight east-west. Head west, and you’ll find beaver lodges and beaver activity. If you arrive early in the day, chances are you’ll be greeted by a beaver slapping its flat tail against the water to alert others of its kind about that human lurking about. This gravel railroad right-of-way isn’t as intimate as the official narrow trail, but I like the views better. Here, we see that the beavers created this dark thoroughfare as they moved across the trail from one swale to another.*

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

Near the Lake Michigan shore, the low light of morning revealed shapes in the sand that chronicled the secrets of time and affirmed the existence of wondrous creatures and invisible forces.*

Near the Lake Michigan shore at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, the low light of morning revealed shapes in the sand that chronicled the secrets of time and affirmed the existence of wondrous creatures and invisible forces.*

Chicago Wildflower Report & Info - 07/3/2019 (4th of July Edition)

A common snapping turtle trudges through the sandy Lake Michigan shoreline on its way to the Dead River at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

The Dead River, at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, is the only remaining river in Illinois that flows into Lake Michigan. The name comes either from deep pools of quicksand hidden along the banks that devour unsuspecting hikers or from water that remains still and barely flows. On this sapphire morning, the latter was true.*

The Dead River, at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, is the only remaining river in Illinois that flows into Lake Michigan. The name comes either from deep pools of quicksand hidden along the banks that devour unsuspecting hikers or from water that remains still and barely flows. On this sapphire morning, the latter was true.*

 

* Photo is representational and was not recorded this year. Bloom times vary from year to year.


Chicago Wildflower Report & Info - 07/3/2019 (4th of July Edition)

If you find this website of Chicago nature information useful, please consider donating or purchasing my nationally-acclaimed book that poetically celebrates all of the preserves featured on this website.

—Mike

© 2019, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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