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Chicago Nature Now! Alert
June 27, 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:

The floral star of the week and, also, the month is 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! Learn when to see this flower in the caption under the Photo Section. This week, you can also find beautiful expanses of sand coreopsis and pale purple coneflower.

Our Plant of the Week is eastern prickly pear cactus. No, we didn’t scout in Arizona, this week! Chicago has a cactus, and we spotted it the other day at Miller Woods. You can find its transcendent yellow blossoms at several other sandy preserves, including Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Powderhorn Marsh & Prairie, and Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve

If spiderwort’s melting blooms weren’t weird enough, now you can see a plant called porcupine grass with a seed that drills itself into the soil. Watch a real-time video of the drilling seed under the Photo Section, below. And then there are the pearly blooms of foxglove beardtongue. 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 and inhaling the intoxicating scent of the sublime pasture rose.

I visited Miller Woods on Wednesday morning (6/26), and the spiderwort was spectacular! The show rivals the breathtaking display of wild lupine from late May. In other words, you should not miss this experience. The oak-covered dunes take on a faint purple hue of the spiderwort with highlights of golden hairy puccoon sprinkled about. You can see spiderwort at several preserves around the region, including Belmont Prairie (6/26), Wolf Road Prairie (6/25), Bluff Spring Fen (6/25), Fermilab PrairiePowderhorn Prairie, Paul H. Douglas Trail, Chiwaukee Prairie, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve (6/126), and Pembroke Savanna (6/20). Experience the magnificent vastitude of sand coreopsis at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve (6/26). See pictures in Photo Section. A wondrous expanse of pale purple coneflower is yours at Bluff Spring Fen (6/25). And finally, porcupine grass can be found at Belmont Prairie (6/26), Illinois Beach Nature Preserve (6/26), Pembroke Savanna (6/20), and Powderhorn Prairie. A wondrous expanse of pale purple coneflower is yours at Bluff Spring Fen (6/25).

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 or “Go!” The “Go, if You’re in the Neighborhood” section is 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! The date within the parentheses tell you when we last scouted the preserve.

THIS WEEK’S BEST (“GO!”):

Miller Woods (at Paul H. Douglas Environmental Center for Education) in Indiana Dunes National Park (6/26): Wow! The spiderwort will blow your mind, here. It’s everywhere, turning the dune-sides a faint shade of blue. Golden sprays of hairy puccoon, adds golden tones to the mix, and downy phlox provides splashes of pink. Along your hike, you’ll also see two-flowered Cynthia, pasture rose, sand coreopsis, and June grass. Walk the main trail that heads to the lake and you’ll find prickly pear cactus where it gets sandy. 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.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (6/25): The breathtaking show of the gorgeous pink blooms of pale purple coneflower is still happening, especially by the “switchback kame” in the northeast section. Also, look for porcupine grass, pasture rose, and the pearly flowers of foxglove beardtongue.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (6/26): To appreciate the full color and texture of this prairie requires that you arrive in the morning before the purple blossoms of spiderwort melts away. 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. 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.

Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest (6/25): This preserve is a “Go!” during the morning hours when the great expanse of Ohio spiderwort are in bloom. Also present are the white flowers of foxglove beardtongue and purple meadow rue. In the wetland, look for the alabaster blossoms of fragrant water lily.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park (6/20): If you want to see spiderwort, this is a great spot to see it. It’s almost everywhere! But as stated before, you need to get here early. Joining the spiderwort are daisy fleabane, along with some pasture rose and remaining hairy puccoon. And you’ll also see lots of porcupine grass and, possibly, the white plumes of June grass.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (6/26): This preserve could probably be a “Go,” but the sand coreopsis in the sand prairie (along the Dunes Trail) is fading. While you’re here, look for hairy puccoon, downy phlox, sandwort, pasture rose., and porcupine grass.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (6/25): At the moment, the most prominent flower is foxglove beardtongue. You’ll find spiderwort, daisy fleabane, blue flag iris, tall plumes of purple meadow rue, along with the start of wild quinine. and black-eyed Susan. And I can’t forget mentioning the beautiful foliage of prairie dock, compass plant, and prairie dropseed. NOTE: Even though there is construction on Dundee Road east of Waukegan Road, you can still pass by the “Detour” barricade because it’s open to local traffic. The preserve entrance is located about 500 feet down on the left. Also consider using the alternate parking location mentioned in our web page for this preserve.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (6/28):This preserve is only on this week’s list for the morning hours while the Ohio spiderwort is blooming. You might be able to get away with a later time on a cloudy day, but the flowers fade pretty quickly when it’s hot. In the prairie, you’ll also find the tall white plumes of purple meadow rue and the large leaves of prairie dock.

PRESERVES FOR YOU TO SCOUT:

This is a 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: This high-quality preserve is located inside the city of Chicago.

PLANT OF THE WEEK: EASTERN PRICKLY PEAR CACTUS

What!? Chicago has a cactus? Yes we do!

Eastern prickly pear cactus blooms can be found in late June in sandy preserves around the Chicago area.*

Eastern prickly pear cactus blooms can be found in late June in sandy preserves around the Chicago area, including Illinois Beach Nature PreserveMiller WoodsPowderhorn Marsh & Prairie, and Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve.*

PHOTO SECTION

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 repeat for more than a month. The flowers do not open based on the clock, but they do like the sunlight. The process is also affected by temperature. On warmer mornings, the buds can begin opening before sunrise. On cooler mornings, you may not see many flowers until an hour or longer after sunrise. Then, eventually, the blooms will close up. From my observations, if you visit between 7:30 and 10:00 am, you should find all of the flowers in bloom, though they can last into the afternoon on cool, cloudy days. You can find spiderwort, right now, at Belmont Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Pembroke Savanna, Powderhorn Prairie, Miller Woods, Middlefork Savanna,  Wolf Road Prairie, and more.

At Miller Woods (Indiana Dunes National Park), spiderwort and ferns cover the side of the dunes.

At Miller Woods (Indiana Dunes National Park), spiderwort and ferns cover the side of the dunes.

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.”

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 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.*

Porcupine Grass and it’s Spinning Seed

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. You can find it Belmont Prairie, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Pembroke Savanna, Miller Woods, Bluff Spring Fen, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, and Powderhorn Prairie.

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


 CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT PORCUPINE GRASS.

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!*

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.*

American Lotus

American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois

American Lotus can be found at Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest and at Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois.

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois teeming with American lotus.

Tomahawk Slough in Willow Springs, Illinois the grand American lotus is beginning to bloom. You an reach the wetland by first parking at the far end of Pulaski Woods parking lot and then walking a short distance along the trails.

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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