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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
May 3, 2019

“Weekly Wildflower Reports with
Chicago’s Best Wildflower Hikes & Outdoor Adventures”

Plan Your Spring Wildflower Walk This Weekend!

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

BLUEBELLS, BLUEBELLS, BLUEBELLS! The Virginia bluebell is the flower of the week and the spring season. These sublime performances are proof that Chicago nature offers beauty equal to the national parks. Experience the magnificence with your eyes as well as your nose, as the scent of these azure flowers fill the air with a smell reminiscent of Froot Loops cereal. I’m in the midst of comparing this presumed olfactory resemblance with a side-by-side test. I’ll provide the report in a later post, and I encourage you to do the same. Take the cereal out on your bluebell hike and let me know your thoughts. The flower is reaching peak bloom and should continue for another week. For performances that will take your breath away, visit O’Hara Woods Preserve, Pilcher Park, and Messenger Woods.

The spectacular large-flowered trillium is blooming at at Messenger Woods, the woodland connected to Fermilab Prairie, the Heron Rookery Trail (at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore), and most likely at Harms Woods in Glenview and Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa. The elegant and understated red trillium is flowering in most of our woodlands.

The beginning of May brings an unusual explosion of wildflowers, as the late-blooming flowers of April overlap with the timely blooms of May. Currently, you’ll find many different species. Of course, the highlight of the week is the overwhelming blooms of Virginia bluebells. But if you can’t get to the best preserves to see them (above), you’ll find a lot of flowers elsewhere in the region. You’ll find the diminutive white or light-pink flowers of cutleaf toothwort, false rue anemone, spring beauty, spring cress, Dutchman’s britches, and trout lily. And I love the beautiful foliage displays of umbrella-like mayapple, spears of wild leek, the grand sprawling leaves of skunk cabbage, and the hearts of wild ginger. Red trillium is flowering in most preserves and the glorious large-flowered trillium should be blooming by the weekend at Messenger Woods, the woodland connected to Fermilab Prairie, the Heron Rookery Trail (at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore), and possibly at Harms Woods in Glenview and Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa usually have great displays, too, but they may not be blooming until next week. The preserves to the north are a week behind those to the south. The woodland next to Fermilab Prairie is looking wonderful with a wide range of blooms including sublime yellow patches of large-flowered bellwort.

I mentioned the long emerald swords of wild leek. Research proves that this is 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.” If you pay close attention to your nose in woodlands that do not feature the fragrant bluebell, you may be able to catch its sweet onion scent. Then imagine what the smell would have been like a couple hundred years ago when thousands of these plants grew along the flowing waters. Chicagoua!

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. The top preserves this week feature the Virginia bluebells. Also see our “Go, if You’re in the Neighborhood” section for sites that are worth visiting if you can’t get out to our top preserves.

O’Hara Woods Preserve in Romeoville: See the Virginia bluebells without having to deal with the flooding, though you still want to wear boots on the side trails. 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.

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 peaking this weekend. Bluebells also like the mud. So, look for them along banks of the creek.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont: I cannot express the beauty of this place, even though there aren’t as many flowers to see. It’s mostly green. And that is its magic! This preserve makes me happy because of its lushness and its many shades and patterns of emerald foliage from mayapple, wild leek, skunk cabbage, and the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger. And right now, you’ll also find shimmers of white sparkling amongst the greenery coming mainly from false rue anemone, though you’ll find cutleaf toothwort, spring beauty, and the occasional Dutchman’s breechesVirginia bluebells are at full peak, but not in great expanses.

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee: The floral biodiversity and intensity of green is breathtaking. You’ll find nice strips of Virginia bluebells along the creek, if it’s not flooded, but my favorite display are the mayapple foliage. The foliage of wild leek also adds to the mix of spring beauty Dutchman’s breeches, false rue anemone, and surprisingly large colonies of flowering white trout lily.

Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park: You should go to see the sublime display of 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.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen: This preserve was unscouted this week, which is why it’s at the bottom of our list. (Please help us by becoming an official nature scout. Learn more here.) It’s possible that the bridge leading to the bluebells and the sublime white large-flowered trillium is under water. If you go, wear high boots. You should also experience carpets of fresh foliage and blooming ephemerals throughout. The most common flowers in bloom are spring beautycutleaf toothwortDutchman’s breeches, and false rue anemone, There are patches of large-flowered trillium that are probably at peak bloom.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park: Visit for the vast display of birdfoot violet throughout the preserve and a smattering of sand phlox and wild strawberry.

Fermilab Prairie woodland (Fermilab Natural Areas) in Batavia: We rated this “Go, if you’re in the neighborhood” because the flowers are not as fully bloomed and the trail is also quite muddy. The yet-to-flower mayapple is stealing the show here. However, you should be able to find the gorgeous large-flowered trillium alongside red trillium, spring beauty Dutchman’s breeches, the occasional large-flowered bellwort, and possibly swamp buttercup. The prairie is showing sprouting foliage of golden Alexander, the red-leafed wood betony, and the sublime shooting star.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: The highlight of your hike will be the golden blooms of marsh marigold growing in the wet areas, which is also where skunk cabbage thrives. You’ll find the gorgeous birdfoot violet scattered about. And, in the savanna, look for false rue anemone and colonies of mayapple.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: Go for the beautiful birdfoot violet and the start of hoary puccoon in the prairie and the dense forest of mayapple under the trees.

Somme Prairie Grove woodland in Northbrook (UNSCOUTED): Last week, you would have found 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

The Sublime Virginia Bluebell

Virginia bluebell

Virginia Bluebells will blow your mind this weekend and into next!:

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 breath. Many say that the flower emits 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

At the end of April or the beginning of May, Virginia bluebells bloom in profusion along the creek at Raccoon Grove in Monee, Illinois.*

Large-flowered Trillium:

White trillium carpet the woodland floor at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen, Illinois.*

White trillium carpet the woodland floor at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen, Illinois.*

Large-flowered trillium in the springtime woodland at Fermilab Natural Areas in Batavia, Illinois.*

Large-flowered trillium in the springtime woodland at Fermilab Natural Areas in Batavia, Illinois.*

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 can be seen at many of our woodlands:

Red trillium and setting sun.*

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

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

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.*

The Hidden Flowers of Mayapple and Wild Ginger:

At Black Partridge Woods, take a look underneath the fanning mayapple leaf, and you may find a hidden waxy, white bloom. You may also discover a burgundy flower hiding beneath the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger.*

At Black Partridge Woods, the green foliage is the star of the springtime show. Here you see the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger alongside a blooming mayapple. The flowers of both plants can be found hiding beneath the leaves. Both plants will begin their bloom soon.*

Cutleaf toothwort can still be found 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.

* 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.

—Mike

© 2019, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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