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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
June 20, 2019

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

Plan Your Weekend Wildflower Walk!

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WILDFLOWER HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR WEEKEND OUTDOOR OUTING IN CHICAGO NATURE:

Like last week, the floral stars of the week are sand coreopsis and pale purple coneflower in glorious expanses, and the miraculous melting flowers of Ohio spiderwort. But if you want to see spiderwort’s blooms, don’t sleep in. The blue flower only opens for a few hours before it begins to turn into a purple liquid! And if spiderwort weren’t weird enough, you can now see a plant called porcupine grass with a seed that drills itself into the soil. Porcupine grass is, again, our Plant of the Week. See the real-time video of the drilling seed, below. And then there are the pearly blooms of foxglove beardtongue that is now in full flower. I love this plant because, in the fall, their seeds smell exactly, and I mean “exactly,” like vomit! In contrast, right now,  you can find a most wonderful fragrance by dropping to your knees to inhale the intoxicating scent of the sublime pasture rose.

Experience the magnificent vastitude of sand coreopsis at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve (6/16). See pictures in Photo Section. A wondrous expanse of pale purple coneflower is yours at Bluff Spring Fen (6/18). And you’ll find spiderwort at several preserves around the region, including Belmont Prairie (6/19), Wolf Road Prairie (6/18), Bluff Spring Fen (6/18), Fermilab PrairiePowderhorn Prairie, Paul H. Douglas Trail, Chiwaukee Prairie, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve (6/16), and Pembroke Savanna (6/20). Finally porcupine grass (our Plant of the Week) can be found at Belmont Prairie (6/19), Illinois Beach Nature Preserve (6/16), Pembroke Savanna (6/20), and Powderhorn Prairie.

PRESERVES TO VISIT THIS WEEKEND FOR A 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 special “Preserves for You to Scout” section for those preserves that we couldn’t get to this week, but that you can help us explore!

THIS WEEK’S BEST (“GO!”):

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (6/16): This preserve tops our list because the show of golden sand coreopsis in the sand prairie (along the Dunes Trail) is one of the region’s most beautiful performances of the year. In fact, the Sierra Club thinks that it rivals any place in the country, as the image (below) will represent the month of July in their upcoming 2020 Sierra Club Wilderness Wall Calendar. But sand coreopsis is not the only flowers to see here. The wild lupine is still looking good, along with hoary puccoon, sand cress, and sandwort, pasture rose., and porcupine grass.

In a celebration of life, blooms of sand coreopsis spread with golden joy along the banks of the Dead River at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

The Sierra Club chose this June image of the sand coreopsis and sandwort at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve to represent the month of July in their 2020 issue of their Sierra Club Wilderness Wall Calendar.*

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (6/18): The breathtaking show of the gorgeous pink blooms of pale purple coneflower is on. Also, look for porcupine grass and the pearly flowers of foxglove beardtongue and white wild indigo

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (6/19): You’ll find several displays of spiderwort across the preserve and many more flowers, as well, including foxglove beardtongue, daisy fleabane, blue flag iris, and the start of wild quinine. And I can’t forget mentioning the beautiful foliage of prairie dock and compass plant.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (6/19): Find a beautiful symphony of color and texture at this intimate remnant prairie nestled within a quiet neighborhood. Playing the starring role, this week, is pale purple coneflower, supported by textured sprays of porcupine grass and colorful blooms of scurfy pea and spiderwort. However, to experience the ephemeral flowers of spiderwort, you must get there by 8:00 am. Their purple flowers open with the sun and only last a few hours before shriveling and turning to liquid. Learn about spiderwort’s miraculous melting flowers. When you arrive early, you’ll be treated to the gorgeous leaves of prairie dock and compass plant that glow a bright green in the low sun.

Here is my most profound recommendation for enjoying your time in nature. If the preserve allows, arrive before first light. A morning rendezvous with nature is a magical experience that vastly transcends what’s possible at other times of day. In the early bright, the world expands beyond the usual three dimensions, as the transformation from darkness into light excites more than just the visual sense. As night gives birth to dawn, and the landscape gently turns from azure to gold, the soft and changing light is a spectacle for the eyes. A moist fog or a splash of crisp dew against your skin affirms your existence. The still atmosphere concentrates the fragrances floating in the air and provides a tranquil stage for birds to project their crystal melodies. In the morning, you’ll find all this, along with the promise of a new day.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park (6/20): If you want to see spiderwort, this is the place. It’s almost everywhere! But as stated before, you need to get here early. The spiderwort is mixed in with a prolific display of daisy fleabane, along with some pasture rose and remaining hairy puccoon. And you’ll also see lots of porcupine grass.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (6/18): Like Belmont Prairie, this preserve is a “Go!” for the Ohio spiderwort but only if you visit by 8:00 am. You might be able to get away with a later time, but the flowers fade pretty quickly, especially when it’s hot.  In the prairie, you’ll also find downy phlox and the large beautiful leaves of prairie dock.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Miller Woods (at Paul H. Douglas Environmental Center for Education) in Indiana Dunes National Park (report by park ranger on 6/18): The preserve is large and provides a nice long hike to the beach. The most prominent blooming flower is hairy puccoon, and there’s a lot of spiderwort, too. Along your hike, you’ll also see two-flowered Cynthia, wild columbine,, pasture rose, and downy phlox. And then there are the beavers! See photo and caption below to learn where to find them. After your hike, consider checking out Tolleston Dunes.

PRESERVES FOR YOU TO SCOUT:

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.

Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale: Let us know what’s going on at this beautiful south-side prairie.

Powderhorn Marsh & Prairie in Chicago (last scouted on 5/31): This high-quality preserve is located inside the city of Chicago.

PLANT OF THE WEEK: PORCUPINE GRASS

You can find porcupine grass at Belmont Prairie, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Pembroke Savanna, Bluff Spring Fen, and Powderhorn Prairie.

Porcupine grass (Hesperostipa spartea, previously known as Stipa spartea, for anyone who cares) is a particularly fun and interesting plant because of its fascinating seed. The common name refers to its long needles, which apparently resemble the spines of a porcupine, though I think the needle-like fruit best resembles a six- to seven-inch spear. The seed head represents the blade, and the long shaft is known as the awn. As the javelin-shaped fruit falls from the plant, the heavy seed head leads the way and embeds its sharp tip into the soil. As the awn dries, it twirls counter-clockwise until the shaft becomes so tightly wound that the implanted seed head begins to drill into the ground. Humidity and moisture have the opposite effect on the awn, causing it to uncoil, allowing rain or heavy dew to straighten it out. As the awn unwinds, the seed is left in place. The drilling process resumes when the environment dries out, and the cycle repeats until the seed is deposited as far as three to four inches beneath the surface, where the awn decays and the grain germinates. Seeds of porcupine grass can’t help but drill, so much so that they’ve been known to cause fatal wounds in animals. Hence, trust me when I tell you that putting them in your pocket is a big mistake.

The seeds of porcupine grass are long sharp needles that fall off the plant and slowly drill themselves into the soil.

Watch this video to see porcupine grass drill itself into the soil as you watch!


 CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT PORCUPINE GRASS.

PHOTO SECTION

Sand Coreopsis at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

The turning earth is the dimmer switch, gradually recasting every dim dewdrop, petal, and blade of grass into a galaxy of blazing bulbs and lustrous lamps. On this morning in late May, blooms of golden coreopsis and New Jersey tea are set aglow alongside shimmering spider webs that cling to last year’s grasses.*

The turning earth is the dimmer switch, gradually recasting every dim dewdrop, petal, and blade of grass into a galaxy of blazing bulbs and lustrous lamps. On this morning in late May at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, blooms of golden coreopsis and New Jersey tea are set aglow alongside shimmering spider webs that cling to last year’s grasses.*

Pale Purple Coneflower is in Full Flower

In addition to experiencing the prairie as a whole, take a closer look and discover the many attractions that hide in plain sight. Here, within a scene of a thousand coneflowers, I attended a iniature, slow-motion rodeo that was taking place upon one prickly flower head. I watched as a tiny ant rode the back of a slinking inchworm.*

In addition to experiencing the prairie as a whole, take a closer look and discover the many attractions that hide in plain sight. Here, within a scene of a thousand coneflowers, I attended a miniature, slow-motion rodeo that was taking place upon one prickly flower head. I watched as a tiny ant rode the back of a slinking inchworm.*

Pale purple coneflowers rise above the prairie at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Pale purple coneflowers rise above the prairie at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

Purple pale coneflowers, scurfy pea, and porcupine grass at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois.*

Pale purple coneflowers are also putting on a show at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove.”

The predawn clouds take on the colors of the pale purple coneflowers at this dolomite limestone prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois.*

The predawn clouds take on the colors of the pale purple coneflowers at this dolomite limestone prairie at Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins, Illinois.*

Ohio Spiderwort

Ohio spiderwort in the morning light at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois.

Each morning, Ohio spiderwort opens a new bud or two that only last a few hours before turning into a purple liquid. This process can last for more than a month. You can find spiderwort, right now, at Belmont Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Pembroke Savanna, Powderhorn Prairie, Indiana Dunes National Park, Wolf Road Prairie, and many more.

Foxglove Beardtongue

In June, foxglove beardtongue blooms in profusion at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

In June, foxglove beardtongue blooms here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin and at many other preserves in the region. In the fall, the seeds smell EXACTLY like vomit! Ah, be still my heart!*

Wild Lupine

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.*

The lupines at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion always put on a show. Currently, they’re past their peak bloom, but still looking decent.*

Wild Lupine of species Lupinus perennis.

Wild lupine of species Lupinus perennis. Notice how the flowers bloom from the bottom up.

Painterly image of Wild lupine of species Lupinus perennis

An exploration into the inner landscape of the lupine.

The Wonderfully Large Leaves of Compass Plant & Prairie Dock

These are the large leaves of the prairie's most iconic plants. The heart-shaped leaf is that of prairie dock, and the long-lobed leaf is from a cousin called compass plant.

These are the large leaves of the prairie’s most iconic plants. The heart-shaped leaf is that of prairie dock, and the long-lobed leaf is from a cousin called compass plant.

Pasture Rose

Pasture Rose grows in the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. The fragrance of pasture rose is transcendent—a spiritual experience. Over several weeks in late spring, it blooms barely inches from the ground. During that time, whenever we’re together, I partake in a sacred ritual. I drop to my knees and bow in reverence, nose to petal.*

Pasture Rose grows here in the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. And you can also find it at Bluff Spring Fen and Pembroke Savanna. The fragrance of pasture rose is transcendent—a spiritual experience. Over several weeks in late spring, it blooms barely inches from the ground. During that time, whenever we’re together, I partake in a sacred ritual. I drop to my knees and bow in reverence, nose to petal.*

Beaver Activity at Miller Woods (just off the Paul H. Douglas Trail)

Along the Paul H. Douglas Trails, part of Indiana Dunes National Park in Gary, Indiana, this path was made by beavers as they moved from their pond in one swale, over a dune, and into an adjacent swale.*

To possibly see a beaver at Miller Woods in Indiana Dunes National Park, begin by taking the trail that starts at the nature center. Along the way, the trail crosses a wide gravel path that goes straight east-west. Head west, and you’ll find beaver lodges and beaver activity. If you arrive early in the day, chances are you’ll be greeted by a beaver slapping its flat tail against the water to alert others of its kind about that human lurking about. This gravel railroad right-of-way isn’t as intimate as the official narrow trail, but I like the views better. Here, we see that the beavers created this dark thoroughfare as they moved across the trail from one swale to another.*

* 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 poetically celebrates all of the preserves featured on this website.

—Mike

© 2019, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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