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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
May 16, 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 on TV! On Thursday, May 16th, between 7:30 and 8:00 pm, we’ll be featured on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight. If you can’t watch it live, you can watch it here.

WE NEED SCOUTS! Each week, we cover up to 5,000 square miles to bring beauty, peace, and hope to Chicago-area residents. Consider volunteering for us by becoming a nature scout. It’s a rich and rewarding experience.

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

BLUEBELLS, BLUEBELLS! Again, the Virginia bluebells are flowering in profusion at three preserves. Many of the flowers have already reached peak bloom, and we’re nearing the end of their phenomenal performances. See them now or you’ll have to endure another cold winter for your next opportunity!

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 I like smelling things. (Sometimes I think that I’m part drooling hound dog.) So, when I stuck my face into a box of Froot Loops cereal, I quickly realized that its smell was much sharper than blooms of bluebell. However, when I smelled the multi-colored O’s from farther away, the sharpness faded into what I think is the essential scent that most people are referring to. Still, the flower has its own unique floral fragrance that is slightly stronger than the cereal smell. Therefore, after a side-by-side olfactory comparison, I can describe the smell of the bluebell as “a fragrant floral scent with the clear fruity, citrusy undertone of Froot Loops cereal.” 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. 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. Large-flowered trillium 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. Drooping trillium is flowering at Raccoon Grove. And 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. See picture below.) Note that the bloom time for the northern preserves are about a week behind those to the south.

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: This is the preserve that will be featured in the Chicago Tonight segment. On Tuesday, the Virginia bluebells were looking great., and mayapples add to the mix.

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen: On Wednesday, the Virginia bluebells looked fantastic. And the bluebell wasn’t the only flower putting on a show! The pink flowers of wild geranium seem to be everywhere, with a mix of purple woodland phlox, yellow swamp buttercup, red trillium, and the sublime blooms of white large-flowered trillium. The umbrella leaves of mayapple add wonderful texture to the woodland floor.

Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet (Report by Pilcher Park staff): Like last week, the Virginia bluebells steal the show. Begin your hike at the kid-friendly nature center, and you’ll be surrounded by a lush understory of spring wildflowers. You should also find nice blooms of wild geranium, and the mayapple and skunk cabbage patches are wonderful.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont: I love this place. 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, including woodland phlox, wild geranium, spring beauty, rue anemone, and false rue anemone. The lowland is rich with the green foliage of skunk cabbage, wild leek, mayapple, and wild ginger. Look under the leaves of mayapple and wild ginger to discover a single hidden flower. There are still some fading patches of Virginia bluebells. And, atop the bluffs, look for the newly blooming shooting star and wild hyacinth.

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee: The floral biodiversity and intensity of green is breathtaking. This week, the most prominent blooms come from woodland phlox, rue anemone, and wild geranium. Look for the a gorgeous drooping white flower growing in patches along the trail with the apt name of drooping trillium. As the Virginia bluebells fade, the hidden blooms of mayapple and wild ginger are now flowering. Just look under their leaves. The sword-like foliage of wild leek also adds to the mix.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park: Visit this world-class sand savanna for its vast display of birdfoot violet and sand phlox. Starry false Solomon’s seal is now in bloom with it’s geometric leaves, and stout blue-eye grass grass is also beginning to flower. Oh, how I love blue-eyed grass! (See picture below in Photo Section.) On Wednesday, our scout, John, was startled by a turkey as he hiked the trail! I’ve twice been startled by quail that suddenly flew out from the brush.

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates: The flowers of the spring prairie grow very low to the ground and aren’t as showy as the woodlands. But take a closer look and you’re be in for a treat, as the hill prairie is covered with large patches of buttery wood betony, purple birdfoot violet, the golden blooms of hoary puccoon and the newly flowering golden Alexander. Large areas of mayapple can be found by the trees along the eastern slope. See picture below from Saturday, May 11.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Fermilab Prairie woodland (Fermilab Natural Areas) in Batavia: The woodland offers a large number of woodland phlox and mayapple.  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.

PHOTO SECTION

The Sublime Virginia Bluebell

Virginia bluebell

Virginia Bluebells will blow your mind. But this 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 a scent reminicent 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.*

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 as 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.*

Here at Black Partridge Woods, woodland phlox grows up the brae. This flower can also be found at the other featured woodlands, like Raccoon Grove, Messenger Woods, and Fermilab Natural Areas.*

Stout Blue-Eyed Grass

Common blue-eyed grass

The sublime blooms of stout blue-eyed grass are now being revealed at Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park, Illinois.*

Wood Betony at Shoe Factory Road Prairie

On this May morning at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, wood betony blooms under a red sunrise.*

On the morning of Saturday, May 11, 2019, wood betony and golden Alexander bloomed under a red sunrise at Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates.

* 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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