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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
May 9, 2019

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

Plan Your Spring Wildflower Walk This Weekend!

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ChicagoNatureNOW! is making news! We’re being featured on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight and also on Jay’s Chicago! On Tuesday, I was out filming with Jay Shefsky, host of Jay’s Chicago, and cameraman Felix Mendez. For more than four hours, we immersed ourselves in the glorious expanse of bluebells at O’Hara Woods. The story is about ChicagoNatureNOW!, my style of photography, and how I use photography to bring attention to Chicago nature. Chicago Tonight will air the segment very soon, and it’ll then be compiled into Jay Shefsky’s TV series called Jay’s Chicago. I’ve been a fan of this show for years, which features interesting people from around town.

WE NEED SCOUTS! You’ll notice that many of our featured sites could not be scouted this week. That’s because we have a lot of ground to cover and not enough scouts.  Consider volunteering for us by becoming a nature scout. It’s a rich and rewarding experience.

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

BLUEBELLS, BLUEBELLS, BLUEBELLS! Again, the Virginia bluebells are flowering in profusion at three preserves. Many of the flowers have already reached peak bloom, and this glorious experience will not last much longer. It is a wonder to behold and easily the best flower show of the week.

On Tuesday, when Jay and Felix first set eyes on the expanse of bluebells at O’Hara Wood, their stunned reactions were priceless! These sublime performances are proof that Chicago’s natural beauty rivals the national parks. Experience the magnificence of the bluebells with your eyes as well as your nose, as the scent of these azure flowers fill the air with a sweet scent that is reminiscent of Froot Loops cereal.

FROOT LOOPS FINDINGS: I have a sensitive nose and sometimes I think that I’m part drooling hound dog. If you stick your face into a box of Froot Loops, you’ll quickly realize that its smell is quite sharp. Bluebells do not emit such sharpness. Though, if you don’t stand so close to the cereal, that sharpness fades, which I think is the essential scent that most people are referring to. And this scent is closer to what I detect when I’m out there with the bluebells. Still, the flower has its own obvious floral scent that tends to come in slightly stronger than that of the cereal. Therefore, after a side-by-side olfactory comparison, I can describe the smell of bluebells as “a fragrant floral scent with the clear fruity, citrusy undertone of Froot Loops cereal.” However, before I was told of the Froot Loops resemblance, I always described the fragrance as “quintessentially blue.” If blue had a smell, then that would be it. For marketing purposes, to get people’s attention, it’s better to use the Froot Loops reference. But, personally, the “quintessentially blue” description is my favorite. And, I’d have to say, it’s much more poetic. Now it’s time to do the Froot Loops test for yourself. And let me know what your nose comes up with!

For bluebell performances that will take your breath away, visit O’Hara Woods Preserve, Pilcher Park, and Messenger Woods.

If you can’t get to the best preserves to see the bluebells, you’ll find a many other wildflower displays throughout the region. The spectacular large-flowered trillium is blooming at Messenger Woods, the woodland connected to Fermilab Prairie, Heron Rookery Trail (Indiana Dunes National Park), Harms Woods in Glenview and Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa. We didn’t scout the latter two preserves, so please let us know what you find there. This flower was first to bloom at Heron Rookery Trail, and it’s now fading. But their age brings a fresh and wondrous beauty, as their white petals turn to pink. (See image below from Harms Woods.) Yet, as the white trillium fades, another species has emerged to take its place. The elegant and understated red trillium is now blooming in many of our woodlands.

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. You may even find flowers hiding under the foliage of wild ginger and double-leafed mayapples. (Mayapples with one leaf do not produce a flower.) Note that the bloom time for the northern preserves are about a week behind those to the south.

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: Go here this weekend! See the Virginia bluebells at their finest in a setting that’s simply breathtaking. This is one of America’s finest woodland wildflower displays. 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. The mayapples are looking wonderful and they might even be flowering by the weekend.

Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet (UNSCOUTED): 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. This preserve is also one of the best places to experience a vastitude of Virginia bluebells, which should be peaking this weekend. Bluebells also like the mud. So, look for them along banks of the creek. And the mayapple and skunk cabbage patches are wonderful.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen (UNSCOUTED): This preserve was unscouted this week, as well, but the Virginia bluebells are still going strong. The bridge leading to the bluebells and the sublime white large-flowered trillium is under water. So wear high boots or just take off your shoes to cross. You should also experience carpets of fresh foliage and blooming ephemerals throughout, including false rue anemone, There are patches of large-flowered trillium that should still be looking quite good. The mayapples may also be blooming by this weekend.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont (UNSCOUTED): Even though we didn’t see this place with our own eyes, this is my favorite time to visit and I am certain that you’ll love it. This intimate preserve will steal your heart. Its bubbling, sparkling stream is the most beautiful in the region. And the bluffs add to the fairy-tale feel. You’ll find many spring flowers and plants, including woodland phlox, skunk cabbage, and wild leek. You may see the blooms of mayapple and wild ginger hiding under their leaves. Accenting the emerald understory are the sparkling white flowers of rue anemone and false rue anemone. And there are still some nice patches of Virginia bluebells.

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee (UNSCOUTED): The floral biodiversity and intensity of green is breathtaking. You’ll find nice strips of Virginia bluebells along the creek. But my favorite display is the mayapple foliage and, right now, you may find many of them flowering. Check under the leaves of plants with two leaves. The foliage of wild leek also adds to the mix.

Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park (UNSCOUTED): We couldn’t get out to Indiana, this week. Please help us scout this preserve and others by becoming a nature scout. This newly minted national park offers the greatest density of native plants in the entire national park system and, quite possibly, the nation. A week ago, you could still find the magnificent large-flowered trillium. I predict that the white petals are transforming into a beautiful, delicate pink. On your visit, you’ll also find sparkles of false rue anemone, and the lush, green springtime foliage of mayapple and wild leek. I suspect that mayapples are already blooming because this preserve is about a week or two ahead of the others.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

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 along the eastern slope.

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.

Fermilab Prairie woodland (Fermilab Natural Areas) in Batavia (UNSCOUTED): The gorgeous large-flowered trillium blooms alongside red trillium. Mayapple can be found in many places, and you may find some swamp buttercup. The prairie is showing the sprouting foliage of soon-to-bloom 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 rue anemone and colonies of mayapple.

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

PHOTO SECTION

The Sublime Virginia Bluebell

Virginia bluebell

Virginia Bluebells will blow your mind. But his is the final week! So get out there, or wait another year!

Virginia bluebells fill the April woodland of O'Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville, Illinois.

SUNDAY, MAY 5, 2019: Virginia bluebells fill the April woodland of O’Hara Woods Nature Preserve in Romeoville, Illinois.

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, the flowers are now fading, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not just as beautiful. See the picture below from Harms Woods.*

Large-flowered trillium bloom in profusion at Harms Woods in Cook County, Illinois. The flowers turn pink as they fade.*

Large-flowered trillium bloom in profusion at Harms Woods in Cook County, Illinois. Notice how their white flowers turn pink as they age.*

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.*

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.*

This is the time to check underneath the double-leafed plants of mayapple for a single waxy white flower. Here at Black Partridge Woods, I found one! You may also discover a burgundy flower hiding beneath the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger.*

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.*

Woodland Phlox 

In May, woodland phlox covers the bluffs at Black Partridge Woods.*

Woodland phlox covers the bluffs at Black Partridge Woods. They can also be found at the other featured woodlands, like Raccoon Grove and Fermilab Natural Areas.*

* 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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