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2019 Chicago Nature Spring Preview

Come to Pilcher Park in April for the dramatic performance starring Viriginia bluebells.

Come to Pilcher Park in April for a dramatic performance starring Viriginia bluebells. The miracles of nature are all around us. And ChicagoNatureNOW! brings them to you every week from April through September. The new season is upon us and this is the perfect time to join our team by becoming a scout. You can even help by donating here.

Spring is officially here in Chicago, but we’re still waiting for the native flowers to bloom. But you won’t have to wait much longer. In just days, Chicago nature will put on a show in the muddy bottoms of some woodlands, with the emergence of marsh marigolds. Soon after will come performances from an array of diminutive spring wildflowers, like toothwort, Dutchman’s breeches, and spring beauties. April’s show concludes with an encore performance, as endless expanses of Virginia bluebells fill your eyes with blue and your nose with the scent of Froot Loops cereal. See the video slideshow below for a preview of spring wildflowers. SUBSCRIBE NOW (for free) to learn when these wonderful events are taking place.

Also, in April, the fourth season of ChicagoNatureNOW! scouting begins. And this means that, each week over the six-month growing season (mid-April through mid-September), you can use this website to experience breathtaking displays of wildflowers around Chicago. Our scouts will begin venturing out across the 5,000-square-mile region to find out what’s going on at our twenty-eight showcase preserves. That’s a lot of land to cover! Click here to learn about becoming a nature scout.

In the meantime, here’s an interactive slideshow of what’s to come:

April at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.*

Chicago Nature
Spring Preview

Skunk Cabbage

In Chicago, the beginning of spring does not arrive in a fanfare of color. Rather, it begins subtly. In early March, burgundy spathes of skunk cabbage, dappled with yellow stripes and spots, quietly emerge from beneath a cloak of brown decaying leaves or, by way of a rare heat-generating process called thermogenesis, melt their way to the surface through layers of late-winter ice and snow. Thermogenesis is a rare property that is shared by only a few of Earth’s plants, one of which is skunk cabbage. Concealed deep inside this burgundy hood is a tiny “green” furnace, generating heat that can rise as much as 63°F above the ambient air temperature. This easily allows the curling spathe to melt the surrounding snow and break through the surface. You can find skunk cabbage at high quality woodlands like Pilcher Park, Black Partridge Woods, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

When skunk cabbage sprouts in late February, we know that spring is on the way.

When skunk cabbage sprouts in late February, we know that spring is on the way.

When skunk cabbage sprouts in late February, we know that spring is on the way.

Skunk Cabbage

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.  The spadix emits a foul odor that, to a human, is reminiscent of skunk. However, to flesh flies, carrion flies, and several kinds of gnats, the spadix smells and looks more like a yummy dead animal, a trick the plant uses to lure them in for pollination. The spadix is also where the process of thermogenesis takes place. It warms the confines of the spathe, providing a cozy haven for pollinating insects while transmitting the smell of carrion far and wide.*

Skunk cabbage's burgundy spathe becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its heat-generating yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The spadix warms the air with the foul odor of a dead animal to lure pollinating insects.

Skunk cabbage's burgundy spathe becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its heat-generating yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The spadix warms the air with the foul odor of a dead animal to lure pollinating insects.

Skunk cabbage's burgundy spathe becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its heat-generating yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The spadix warms the air with the foul odor of a dead animal to lure pollinating insects.

Skunk Cabbage

In Chicago, during the month of March, skunk cabbage is the first plant to sprout, announcing the beginning of spring. It emerges in woodlands across the region. These tender leaves of skunk cabbage will soon develop into giants, up to two feet long and one foot wide.*

These tender leaves of skunk cabbage will soon develop into giants, up to two feet long and one foot wide.

These tender leaves of skunk cabbage will soon develop into giants, up to two feet long and one foot wide.

These tender leaves of skunk cabbage will soon develop into giants, up to two feet long and one foot wide.

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.

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.

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.

Marsh Marigold

In early spring, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.

In early spring, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.

In early spring, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.

In early spring, I come to Pilcher Park to play in the mud. Here, skunk cabbage and marsh marigold thrive in a woodland floodplain of inky water and the blackest muck I’ve ever seen.

In April, the woodland floor at O'Hara Woods explodes with spring ephemerals including flowers like toothwort.

In April, the woodland floor at O'Hara Woods explodes with spring ephemerals including flowers like toothwort.

In April, the woodland floor at O'Hara Woods explodes with spring ephemerals including flowers like toothwort.

Dutchman's Breeches

Dutchman's Breeches at O'Hara Woods.*

Dutchman's breeches with its beautiful foliage at O'Hara Woods.

Dutchman's breeches with its beautiful foliage at O'Hara Woods.

Dutchman's breeches with its beautiful foliage at O'Hara Woods.

Virginia Bluebell

Virginia bluebell

Virginia bluebells can be found in profusion at a few of our southern woodlands.

Virginia bluebells can be found in profusion at a few of our southern woodlands.

Virginia bluebells can be found in profusion at a few of our southern woodlands.

Virginia Bluebell

April at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.*

April at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.

April at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.

April at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.

Virginia Bluebell

This Chicago scene is reminiscent of silver winters in Yosemite, where every inch of exposed landscape is covered in heavy snow and every bough bows in deference to sublime beauty. Here, the rising curtain of morning revealed an abundance of sticky snow that had fallen during the night, draping every available surface with a shining cloak of blue-white magic in a paradise all our own.*

Come to Pilcher Park in April for the dramatic performance starring Virginia bluebells.

Come to Pilcher Park in April for the dramatic performance starring Virginia bluebells.

Come to Pilcher Park in April for the dramatic performance starring Virginia bluebells.

Virginia Bluebell

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, the April sun rises to warm the springtime woodland brimming with Virginia bluebells.

At O'Hara Woods in Romeoville, the April sun rises to warm the springtime woodland brimming with Virginia bluebells.

At O'Hara Woods in Romeoville, the April sun rises to warm the springtime woodland brimming with Virginia bluebells.

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.

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.

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.

Starry False Solomon's Seal

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.*

At Black Partridge Woods, springtime brings greens of every shade to the woodland floor, including skunk cabbage, wild ginger, starry false Solomon's seal.

At Black Partridge Woods, springtime brings greens of every shade to the woodland floor, including skunk cabbage, wild ginger, starry false Solomon's seal.

At Black Partridge Woods, springtime brings greens of every shade to the woodland floor, including skunk cabbage, wild ginger, starry false Solomon's seal.

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 all featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.

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 all featured woodlands. Here, at Black Partridge Woods, the pink blooms float above its star-shaped foliage.

Large-flowered Trillium

Large-flowered trillium carpet the woodland floor at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen, Illinois.*

In late April to early May, large-flowered trillium carpet the woodland floor at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen.

In late April to early May, large-flowered trillium carpet the woodland floor at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen.

In late April to early May, large-flowered trillium carpet the woodland floor at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen.

Large-flowered Trillium

When skunk cabbage sprouts in late February, we know that spring is on the way.

In May, large-flowered trillium cover the woodland floor at Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park.

In May, large-flowered trillium cover the woodland floor at Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park.

In May, large-flowered trillium cover the woodland floor at Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park.

Pembroke Savanna

In May, Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare bird-foot violet."

In May, Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare bird-foot violet.

In May, Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare bird-foot violet.

In May, Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare bird-foot violet.

Wild Hyacinth

Each May, wild hyacinths bloom in woodlands and oak savannas across the Chicago region including, here, at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

Each May, wild hyacinths bloom in the oak savanna at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.

Each May, wild hyacinths bloom in the oak savanna at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.

Each May, wild hyacinths bloom in the oak savanna at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester.

Shooting Star

May at Chiwaukee Prairie offers a breathtaking display of shooting stars.*

In May, Chiwaukee Prairie offers a breathtaking display of shooting stars.

In May, Chiwaukee Prairie offers a breathtaking display of shooting stars.

In May, Chiwaukee Prairie offers a breathtaking display of shooting stars.

Hoary Puccoon

At Illinois Beach State Park, hoary puccoon blooms in here in the dunes and also throughout the sandy preserve.*

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, hoary puccoon blooms in here in the dunes and also throughout the sandy preserve

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, hoary puccoon blooms in here in the dunes and also throughout the sandy preserve

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, hoary puccoon blooms in here in the dunes and also throughout the sandy preserve

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.*

In the savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, blue lupines share precious space with hoary puccoon.

In the savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, blue lupines share precious space with hoary puccoon.

In the savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, blue lupines share precious space with hoary puccoon.

Wild Lupine

Wild lupine bloom on the dunes of this black oak savanna at Indiana Dunes National Park.*

Wild lupine bloom on the dunes of this black oak savanna at Indiana Dunes National Park.

Wild lupine bloom on the dunes of this black oak savanna at Indiana Dunes National Park.

Wild lupine bloom on the dunes of this black oak savanna at Indiana Dunes National Park.

Sand Coreopsis

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.*

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.

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.

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.

Sand Coreopsis & New Jersey Tea

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.*

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.

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.

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.

Pale Purple Coneflower

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

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

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

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

Pale Purple Coneflower

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.

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

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

Foxglove Beardtongue

The spring prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs provides a show of foxglove beardtongue.*

The spring prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs provides a dreamy show of foxglove beardtongue.

The spring prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs provides a dreamy show of foxglove beardtongue.

The spring prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs provides a dreamy show of foxglove beardtongue.

Foxglove Beardtongue

At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois, pearl blossoms of foxglove beardtongue catch the morning rays and a new day awakens—one as splendid and picturesque as any place on Earth.*

At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, pearl blossoms of foxglove beardtongue catch the morning rays and a new day awakens.

At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, pearl blossoms of foxglove beardtongue catch the morning rays and a new day awakens.

At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, pearl blossoms of foxglove beardtongue catch the morning rays and a new day awakens.

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—Mike

© 2019, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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