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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
May 24, 2019
Memorial Day Edition

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

Plan Your Spring Wildflower Walk This Weekend!

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Last week, WTTW Chicago Tonight told a beautiful television story about ChicagoNatureNOW!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 weekend adventure in Chicago nature:

The flower of the week is the sublime blue-and-white wild lupine. Believe it or not, the show is just as breathtaking as the Virginia bluebell performances of previous weeks. Last week, O’Hara Woods was transformed into an azure ocean of bluebells. But when I visited on Wednesday, virtually every flower had fallen off, and the preserve has returned to an emerald sea. The flowering of our woodlands fade as the tree canopy fills with leaves and the sunlight under the trees becomes more scarce. Now, we begin to turn our attention away from the woodlands and to our light-filled oak savannas and sun-drenched prairies.

The best place to experience wild lupine is in Indiana Dunes National Park at Paul H. Douglas Trail (formerly Miller Woods), Tolleston Dunes, and West Beach,. Alongside breathtaking displays of wild lupine, you’ll find golden hoary puccoon and hairy puccoon blooming in great numbers. Wild geranium was screaming at Messenger Woods (5/22,) Black Partridge Woods (5/22), and Oldfield Oaks (5/23). And wild hyacinth is beginning to flower at  Wolf Road Prairie (5/23) Messenger Woods (5/22), and it’s reached peak bloom at Oldfield Oaks (5/23). 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. Look for 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 times for the northern preserves are about a week behind those in the south.

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

The order of the preserves below is based on the quality of the wildflower experience, starting out with the best. 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. And we have a new section for those preserves that we couldn’t get to this week, but that you can help us explore!

THIS WEEK’S BEST (“GO!”):

Paul H. Douglas Trail (formerly Miller Woods) in Indiana Dunes National Park (5/19): This preserve is a dream, right now. With its vast display of wild lupine mixed with hoary puccoon, this preserve easily tops this week’s list. See the picture below for an example of the glory you might experience. While you’re here, take the trail to the lake. Then check out Tolleston Dunes and West Beach.

Black Partridge Woods in Lemont (5/23): There are several dense and prominent displays of wild geranium atop the bluffs which is why it is ranked as a “Go.” However, we aren’t sure how long the flowers will last. In any case, this preserve gives an immersive emerald experience that will steal your heart. Its bubbling, sparkling stream is the most beautiful in the region. And the bluffs add to the fairy-tale feel. The lush, green feel is prominent in the lowland area where plants of all sorts show off their foliage, including skunk cabbage, wild leek, mayapple, and wild ginger. Look under the leaves of wild ginger to find a fuzzy burgundy blossom. Moving now to the trails atop the bluffs, I found several dense and prominent displays of wild geranium, but they’re past peak and I don’t now how long it will last. This is why I put it under this category. Woodland phlox is the next most prominent flower which, like geranium, can be found in many spots. The wild hyacinth is just starting to bloom, while shooting star is at its peak.

Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin (5/24): We visit this preserve at this time of year because the display of shooting star can be spectacular. Amongst the newly blooming shooting star, you’ll find some beautiful, colorful patches of hoary puccoon, wood betony, and birdfoot violet.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen (5/22): Normally, this preserve would be rated among “This Week’s Best” because the wild geranium is fantastic. However, on our visits, water covered the trail entrance and the bridge over the creek.  Yet, our intrepid scouts, John Boldt and Zeke Wei, we not dissuaded. John, in particular, was not going to let a little water stop him after driving over 150 round-trip miles to scout the place. Both men rolled up their pants, took off their shoes and socks, and waded across in their bare feet. Please contact Forest Preserve District of Will County and ask them to fix the bridge, otherwise this will keeping happening, as it has for years. After our visits, it rained a couple more times. So, if you’d like a little adventure and want to make your Memorial Day weekend memorable, come and wade through the knee-deep water (at your own risk). You’ll probably have the preserve to yourself, and the experience should be well worth it. And bring a towel!

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates (5/24): 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 in for a treat, as the hill prairie is covered with large patches of golden hoary puccoon, alongside purple birdfoot violet, golden Alexander, and shooting star. Yellow star grass can be found outside the fence. And, in the woodland, there is a clump of the fascinating Jack-in-the-pulpit.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (5/23): There are some nice flowers blooming around the preserve, but not in great densities. The bloom with the greatest population throughout the site is wood betony. Other flowers showing their stuff are balsam ragwort, hoary puccoon, large-flowered trillium, red trillium, blue-eyed grass, and hoary puccoon. Golden Alexander is just starting out.

PRESERVES FOR YOU TO SCOUT (A NEW CATEGORY):

This is a new 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.

Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee: Check for wild geranium and woodland phlox , which could be past peak. If you find wild hyacinth, it should be at peak. And check on the status of false Solomon’s seal, which will soon be putting on a nice show.

Fermilab Prairie & woodland (Fermilab Natural Areas) in Batavia: In last week’s report, “The woodland offers a large number of woodland phlox and mayapple. The gorgeous large-flowered trillium blooms alongside red trillium. Also look for 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.” You mission is to first check the woodland to see what remains. Then visit the prairie where you’ll find golden Alexander, wood betony, and the sublime shooting star.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park: In last week’s report, “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 is also beginning to flower.  On his scouting mission, 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.” For this week, check for the same flowers and let us know if you notice anything else.

PHOTO SECTION

Wild Lupine in Our Black Oak Savannas (Sand Savannas)

Atop this spring dune thrives wild lupine at Miller Woods Nature Preserve, part of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Gary, Indiana.*

Atop this spring dune thrives wild lupine at Paul H. Douglas Trail (prev. Miller Woods), part of Indiana Dunes National Park in Gary, Indiana.*

Biodiversity is about the many, not the few. Here, it’s springtime in the savanna, where blue lupines share precious space with hoary puccoon. But, as the season advances, both will fade, making room for an array of other species, in a cycle where each has its time in the sun and then returns to the soil.*

Unlike the southern preserves at Indiana Dunes National Park, the lupines at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion are still about a week away.*

Wild Lupine of species Lupinus perennis.

Wild lupine of species Lupinus perennis.

Painterly image of Wild lupine of species Lupinus perennis

An exploration into the inner world of wild lupine.

Wild Geranium

You can find wild geranium at all featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.*

You can find wild geranium at most of our featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.*

At Raccoon Grove, as evening nears in this beautiful spring woodland, the final streaks of sunlight penetrate the emerald canopy. The shining rays highlight the broad leaves of false Solomon’s seal and animate the soft, pink blooms of wild geranium, making all that is illuminated stand apart from the surrounding foliage.*

At Raccoon Grove, as evening nears in this beautiful spring woodland, the final streaks of sunlight penetrate the emerald canopy. The shining rays highlight the broad leaves of false Solomon’s seal and animate the soft, pink blooms of wild geranium, making all that is illuminated stand apart from the surrounding foliage.*

May brings glorious displays of wild geranium to Oldfield Oaks in Darien, Illinois, part of Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.*

This week brings glorious displays of wild geranium to Oldfield Oaks in Darien, Illinois, part of Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.*

Large-flowered Trillium

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

You may still be able to find large-flowered trillium blooming in the northern woodlands, like Captain Daniel Wright Woods and, here, at Harms Woods. Notice how their white flowers turn pink as they age.*

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.*

Shooting Star

The beautiful blooms of shooting star

The beautiful blooms of shooting star.

Shooting stars and woodland phlox at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois

Shooting star and woodland phlox at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.”

Wild Hyacinth in Our Woodlands

Wild hyacinth at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

Wild hyacinth at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

Wild hyacinths bloom in abundance at Oldfield Oaks in Darien.*

Right now, wild hyacinths are blooming in abundance at Oldfield Oaks in Darien.*

Hoary Puccoon at Shoe Factory Road Prairie

Hoary puccoon and birdfoot violet glow in the morning light at the hill prairie called Shoe Factory Road Prairie.*

Hoary puccoon and birdfoot violet glow in the morning light at the hill prairie called Shoe Factory Road Prairie.*

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.*

* 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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