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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
April 26, 2019

“Plan your Chicago spring outdoor adventure
with our weekly Chicago wildflower reports.”

Welcome to the first official post of the 2019 season!

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Wildflower highlights to help you plan your spring outdoor adventure into Chicago’s woodlands:

It’s the end of April and, finally, spring has arrived with a celebration of delicate wildflowers in many of Chicago’s woodlands. The first flowers to bloom are plentiful, but they are also diminutive. But bend down and take a closer look. You’ll be marveled by their intricate beauty. At the moment, most of the springtime flowers are flowering white (or a light pink), like cutleaf toothwort, spring beautyfalse rue anemone, spring cress, Dutchman’s breeches, and bloodroot. Marsh marigold is still in bloom at Pilcher Park, Bluff Spring Fen, and at McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park (by the parking lot across the stream). In some woodlands, you’ll find the shy yellow bloom of large-flowered bellwort. Also, red trillium is beginning its understated run in our high-quality woodlands. And let’s not forget the bright green leaves of spring. The umbrella leaves of mayapple are looking great, along with the think spears of wild leek and the sprawling leaves of skunk cabbage. And finally, the Virginia Bluebell is just beginning to flower, but we don’t expect peak bloom until later next week or the weekend of May 4. The sea of blue is the most breathtaking event of early spring.

Now is also a good time to see the long emerald spears of wild leek, the plant that gives Chicago its name. In the late 1600s, Potawatomi Indians who traveled the area rivers were commonly heard to yell “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.”

 

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

The order of the preserves below is based on the quality of the wildflower experience, starting out with the best.

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee: This is my favorite preserve of the week. I visited Raccoon Grove on Earth Day, April 22, and I was impressed with the whitish pink expanse of spring beauty and myriad of other spring wildflowers, including Dutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone, and surprisingly large colonies of flowering white trout lily. And then there’s the jade hues and patterns of wild leek and mayapple that beautifully add to the mix. This preserve will soon offer a nice display of Virginia bluebells, but not an overwhelming ocean.

Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park: You should go to see the sublime display large-flowered trillium at peak bloom! This newly minted national park offers the greatest density of native plants in the entire national park system and, quite possibly, the nation. On your visit, you’ll also find sparkles of false rue anemone, Dutchman’s breeches, and a few remaining blooms of cutleaf toothwort and spring beauty. Also look for flowers of yellow trout lily occasionally poking up above its carpet of spotted trout-like leaves. The lush, green springtime experience is further enhanced by the spreading foliage of mayapple and wild leek. Thanks to Laura Brennan, ranger at Indiana Dunes National Park, for phoning in her report to me.

O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville: The preserve was once called Dynamite Woods because the site was used to store explosives during World War II. You can still see the crumbling bunkers, but they’re being taken over by woodland plants. Right now, white flowers of cutleaf toothwort are in full explosion, like sparklers across the woodland floor. Walk towards the stream along the south end of the preserve, and you’ll find Dutchman’s breeches (that look like white, puffy overalls), spring beauties, skunk cabbage, and wild leek (Chicago’s namesake), and soon-to-bloom Virginia bluebells. This should be the top preserve to visit next weekend when I predict Virginia bluebells. to be at peak bloom.

Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet: This is a great preserve to visit, especially if you have kids. They have a nature center with animals on display and the the best maintained trails of those in the current alert. Begin your hike at the nature center and you’ll be surrounded by a lush understory of spring wildflowers. My favorite flower-of-the-moment is marsh marigold, but it’s at the end of its run. Look for its yellow blooms in the low, muddy areas of the site. You can find them near the nature center and around the trail after the bridge at this GPS coordinate: 41.532780, -88.016478. In the same place and anywhere you find muddy spot, look for the large fanning foliage of skunk cabbage. They’re hard to miss. This preserve is also one of the best places to experience a see vastitude of Virginia bluebells, which should be at peak during the weekend of May 4. Bluebells also like the mud. So, look for them along banks of the creek.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont: This preserve makes me happy because of its lushness and its many shades and patterns of emerald foliage, especially wild leek, mayapple, the glorious leaves skunk cabbage, and the small heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger.. And right now, you’ll also find shimmers of white sparkling amongst the greenery coming mainly from cutleaf toothwort, along with some false rue anemone, spring beauty, and the occasional Dutchman’s breechesVirginia bluebells are present, but not in great expanses. They should begin their bloom this weekend.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen: This preserve is always provides that green and luxuriant feeling of spring. Currently, you’ll see a carpet of fresh foliage and blooming ephemerals throughout. The most common flowers in bloom are spring beauty cutleaf toothwortDutchman’s breeches, and false rue anemone, In the uplands, I also spotted several patches of the sublime white large-flowered trillium, only days away from bloom. This preserve was known nationwide for its vast display of bluebells, which will probably reach peak bloom by the May 4th weekend.

Fermilab Prairie woodland (Fermilab Natural Areas) in Batavia: We rated this “Go, if you’re in the neighborhood” because the flowers are just starting out, as opposed to the warmer southern preserves listed above. This beautiful woodland abuts the east side of the prairie. You’ll find many flower species that are easily viewed from the trail, which can get muddy at times. Just wear your boots. (Learn some Outdoor Tips.) The white, pink-striped spring beauty is the most prominent blooming flower. You’ll also see some nice colonies of bloodroot and white trout lily, along with cutleaf toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, and the occasional large-flowered bellwort. Swamp buttercup, red trillium, and large-flowered trillium are not quite flowering.

Somme Prairie Grove woodland in Northbrook: Like Fermilab’s woodland, we rated this “Go, if you’re in the neighborhood” because the flowers are just starting out. You’ll find a carpet of spring beauty with some nice patches of  cutleaf toothwort. We also found bloodroot, false rue anemone, and white trout lily. Red trillium is not yet blooming. And wood betony is just showing its reddish foliage at the moment.

 

PHOTO SECTION

Cutleaf toothwort can be found exploding across our woodlands:

In April, cut-leaved toothwort blooms in profusion amongst a backdrop of mayapples at O'Hara Woods in Romeoville, Illinois.

Like firecrackers, cut-leaved toothwort explodes in profusion against a backdrop of mayapples at O’Hara Woods in Romeoville, Illinois. This preserves was previously known as Dynamite Woods because explosives were stored here during World War II. Nowadays, spring is when the preserve explodes with flora.*

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

Dutchman's Breeches at O'Hara Woods

O’Hara Woods 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.

Bloodroot (catch it before it goes away for another year):

Bloodroot

This is bloodroot. The name comes from the fact that breaking the stem makes the plant bleed red. Please, just take my word for it, and don’t pick the flower to find out.

Wow! Large-flowered Trillium is in PEAK BLOOM at Indiana Dunes National Park:

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 white trillium is at peak bloom. It’s a magnificent sight.*

Red Trillium is just starting to bloom and can be seen at every preserve in this week’s alert:

Red trillium and setting sun.*

Red trillium blooms as the sun sets at O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville, Illinois.*

Pilcher Park’s marsh marigolds are ending their blooms:

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.

In April, 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.*

Marsh marigolds and skunk cabbage at McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park, Illinois.*

Marsh marigolds and skunk cabbage at McClaughry Springs Woods in Palos Park, Illinois. They can also be found at Bluff Spring Fen, Pilcher Park Nature Center, and Black Partridge Woods.*

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.*

Mayapple:

Above: Imagine. It’s a rainy April morning in the city and, from a window above, shiny hexagons, mostly black, can be seen floating over wet sidewalks and along glassy, gray streets. In woodlands across northeastern Illinois, April showers bring out the umbrellas, too. Green, and up to a foot wide, the large leaves of mayapples open up across the forest floor. In May, a single waxy, white flower will secretly bloom beneath the plant’s fanning foliage, like a pedestrian under a parasol. (To see the flower, turn to page 204.)

In every woodland across northeastern Illinois, like here at Black Partridge Woods (Lemont), April showers bring out the umbrellas in the form of mayapples. And the white flowers of false rue anemone sparkle like raindrops.*

THE SPECTACULAR SHOWS OF VIRGINIA BLUEBELLS ARE COMING SOON!

The Sublime Virginia Bluebell

Virginia bluebell

The Bluebell Experience:

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

At O’Hara Woods in Romeoville, Illinois, the sun rises to warm the springtime woodland brimming with Virginia bluebells. While you’re there, take a deep breathe. The air is filled with the sweet scent of Froot Loops cereal.*

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

At Messenger Woods in Homer Glen, sunlight filters through the thin green foliage of the foggy forest where a profusion of Virginia bluebells populate the woodland floor.*

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

Visit Pilcher Park now for the dramatic performance starring Virginia bluebells.*

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

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




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—Mike

© 2019, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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