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2019 Spring Prescribed Fire Season

Posted by on 8:30 am in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

2019 Spring Prescribed Fire Season

Fire is Nature’s Friend

Before I celebrate the exciting spring fire season with a dramatic, educational slideshow with all the action, you should know that the first great bloom of 2019 is still about a week away. However, on this Easter weekend, if you want to fill your heart with the hope that springtime brings, here are some scouted preserves that are lush, green, and about to explode:

If you’re new to ChicagoNatureNOW!, click here to SUBSCRIBE to our weekly report that tells you where to find local wildflower blooms of national park quality. Now it’s time to talk “fire.”

To signal the arrival of spring, Mother Nature sends up spathes of thermogenetic skunk cabbage. In stark contrast, restoration workers send up smoke signals from inside our nature preserves. Perhaps, in late March on your way home from work, you deciphered one of their billowing white missives in the sky. Or maybe you simply read the orange diamond-shaped sign along the road imploring you to not dial 911. No matter how you were informed, the message was clear, “The burn season is aflame, and the blooming is just around the corner.”

During early spring and late autumn, land managers and restoration volunteers throughout the Chicago region employ the healing benefits of fire to invigorate our native landscapes by stimulating the growth of our indigenous plants and hindering the advance of invaders.

Between the dates of March 18 and March 29, I photographed five prescribed fires inside the Forest Preserves of Cook County. These particular jobs were led by staff from the Forest Preserves and assisted by workers from Friends of the Forest Preserves (one of my favorite organizations). Trained volunteers from the site also participated.

To follow is a slideshow of my photographs that celebrates the healing work performed at five Cook County Forest Preserves sites: Theodore Stone Preserve (Hodgkins), Bemis Woods South (Western Springs), Somme Prairie Grove (Northbrook), Black Partridge Woods (Lemont), and Orland Grassland (Orland Park).

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

2019 Spring
Prescribed Fire
Season

Theodore Stone Preserve - 3/18/19

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.*

At Theodore Stone Preserve, Brendon Jones with Cook County Forest Preserves sets the prairie blazing.

At Theodore Stone Preserve, Brendon Jones with Cook County Forest Preserves sets the prairie blazing.

At Theodore Stone Preserve, Brendon Jones with Cook County Forest Preserves sets the prairie blazing.

At Bemis Woods South, Malikah Frazier with Friends of the Forest Preserves creates a fire break.

At Bemis Woods South, Malikah Frazier with Friends of the Forest Preserves creates a fire break.

At Bemis Woods South, Malikah Frazier with Friends of the Forest Preserves creates a fire break.

Lance Williams with Friends of the Forest Preserves sprays water to protect nearby structures at Bemis Woods South.

Lance Williams with Friends of the Forest Preserves sprays water to protect nearby structures at Bemis Woods South.

Lance Williams with Friends of the Forest Preserves sprays water to protect nearby structures at Bemis Woods South.

Somme Prairie Grove - 3/22/19

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.*

During a prescribed fire at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Steven Ochab with Cook County Forest Preserves lays down fire with a drip torch.

During a prescribed fire at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Steven Ochab with Cook County Forest Preserves lays down fire with a drip torch.

During a prescribed fire at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Steven Ochab with Cook County Forest Preserves lays down fire with a drip torch.

Somme Prairie Grove - 3/22/19

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.*

At Somme Prairie Grove, Alex Taylor with Friends of the Forest Preserves prepares to light the grasses.

At Somme Prairie Grove, Alex Taylor with Friends of the Forest Preserves prepares to light the grasses.

At Somme Prairie Grove, Alex Taylor with Friends of the Forest Preserves prepares to light the grasses.

Somme Prairie Grove - 3/22/19

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.*

At Somme Prairie Grove, Laura Roncal from Friends of the Forest Preserve lays down fire along a fire break.

At Somme Prairie Grove, Laura Roncal from Friends of the Forest Preserve lays down fire along a fire break.

At Somme Prairie Grove, Laura Roncal from Friends of the Forest Preserve lays down fire along a fire break.

Somme Prairie Grove - 3/22/19

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.*

In this oak savanna known as Somme Prairie Grove, mature oak trees are immune to the flames due to their fire-resistant bark. On this day, workers scoured the preserve to protect the younger oaks and the more vulnerable shrubs, such as filberts.

In this oak savanna known as Somme Prairie Grove, mature oak trees are immune to the flames due to their fire-resistant bark. On this day, workers scoured the preserve to protect the younger oaks and the more vulnerable shrubs, such as filberts.

In this oak savanna known as Somme Prairie Grove, mature oak trees are immune to the flames due to their fire-resistant bark. On this day, workers scoured the preserve to protect the younger oaks and the more vulnerable shrubs, such as filberts.

Black Partridge Woods - 3/27/19

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.*

At Black Partridge Woods, Rob Abrham with Friends of the Forest Preserves uses a leaf blower to clear away fallen foliage as the first step in creating a fire break between the woodland and private property.

At Black Partridge Woods, Rob Abrham with Friends of the Forest Preserves uses a leaf blower to clear away fallen foliage as the first step in creating a fire break between the woodland and private property.

At Black Partridge Woods, Rob Abrham with Friends of the Forest Preserves uses a leaf blower to clear away fallen foliage as the first step in creating a fire break between the woodland and private property.

Black Partridge Woods - 3/27/19

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.*

Dawson Cox follows after Rob Abrham's leaf clearing (prev. image), using fire to further widen the fire break along the downwind side.

Dawson Cox follows after Rob Abrham's leaf clearing (prev. image), using fire to further widen the fire break along the downwind side.

Dawson Cox follows after Rob Abrham's leaf clearing (prev. image), using fire to further widen the fire break along the downwind side.

Black Partridge Woods - 3/27/19

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.*

At Black Partridge Woods, Graciela Olmeda with Friends of the Forest Preserves douses a log that might have burn harmlessly throughout the night, but with a glow that could have caused worry in the surrounding neighborhood.

At Black Partridge Woods, Graciela Olmeda with Friends of the Forest Preserves douses a log that might have burn harmlessly throughout the night, but with a glow that could have caused worry in the surrounding neighborhood.

At Black Partridge Woods, Graciela Olmeda with Friends of the Forest Preserves douses a log that might have burn harmlessly throughout the night, but with a glow that could have caused worry in the surrounding neighborhood.

Black Partridge Woods - 3/27/19

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.*

At Black Partridge Woods, Amber Kunz with Friends of the Forest Preserves uses a fire rake (affectionately called a "frake") to clear away combustible material from vulnerable trees.

At Black Partridge Woods, Amber Kunz with Friends of the Forest Preserves uses a fire rake (affectionately called a "frake") to clear away combustible material from vulnerable trees.

At Black Partridge Woods, Amber Kunz with Friends of the Forest Preserves uses a fire rake (affectionately called a "frake") to clear away combustible material from vulnerable trees.

At Orland Grassland, Ryan Buchler with Cook County Forest Preserves sets the prairie ablaze.

At Orland Grassland, Ryan Buchler with Cook County Forest Preserves sets the prairie ablaze.

At Orland Grassland, Ryan Buchler with Cook County Forest Preserves sets the prairie ablaze.

Somme Prairie Grove - 3/22/19

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.*

At Orland Grassland, the fire from Ryan Buchler's torch sends windblown flames across the tall grasses of the prairie..

At Orland Grassland, the fire from Ryan Buchler's torch sends windblown flames across the tall grasses of the prairie..

At Orland Grassland, the fire from Ryan Buchler's torch sends windblown flames across the tall grasses of the prairie..

Somme Prairie Grove - 3/22/19

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.*

Pat Hayes, volunteer steward of Orland Grassland, uses a flapper to extinguish the final flames of the day.

Pat Hayes, volunteer steward of Orland Grassland, uses a flapper to extinguish the final flames of the day.

Pat Hayes, volunteer steward of Orland Grassland, uses a flapper to extinguish the final flames of the day.

At the end of a long day at Orland Grassland, Cinnamon Hoskins with Friends of the Forest Preserve takes in the fruits of her labor as she reaches the culmination of the RX fire season.

At the end of a long day at Orland Grassland, Cinnamon Hoskins with Friends of the Forest Preserve takes in the fruits of her labor as she reaches the culmination of the RX fire season.

At the end of a long day at Orland Grassland, Cinnamon Hoskins with Friends of the Forest Preserve takes in the fruits of her labor as she reaches the culmination of the RX fire season.

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For those who are featured in the slideshow, I’m happy to send you a digital image (big enough for printing) when you click here to fill out a model release. If you’re not pictured here, I still may have a great shot of you. Just let me know.

Thanks to all the workers for welcoming me and for indulging me as I followed them around with my camera and donned in my orange flame-retardant jumpsuit and blue helmet! With some self-awareness, I jokingly expressed to one of the workers that I always remove my orange jumpsuit before I enter the real world because I worry that I might be mistaken for an escaped convict. That’s when he told me that he used to wear an orange jumpsuit at his previous restoration job. And my fear came true for him when the police arrived after receiving an emergency call from a concerned citizen. So, like they say, “Many a truth is said in jest.”

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—Mike

ChicagoNatureNOW! Needs Your Financial Support

Posted by on 9:33 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

ChicagoNatureNOW! Needs Your Financial Support

ChicagoNatureNOW! Needs Your Financial Support


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A national-park quality blooming event happens every single day from mid-April through mid-September in the Chicago area. On this June morning, a celebration of life is unfolding. Endless blooms of sand coreopsis spread with golden joy along the banks of the Dead River at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.

It’s remarkable to imagine that, every day from mid-April to mid-September, a national-park quality blooming event is taking place somewhere around Chicago. Please help us to continue to bring you reliable news about our nation’s finest natural events, like June’s show of sand coreposis at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion.

Before I ask for your support, I’d like to send my heartfelt thanks to those who wrote us with their warm and inspiring words about what ChicagoNatureNOW! means to you. You made a difference. Remember, you can always post your stories and encouraging remarks below.

Now I’m hoping that you can give your financial support as we begin the new six-month reporting season.

Over the past three years, I’ve taught you about Chicago’s most well-kept secret—the rich habitats and fascinating plant species that have thrived here for thousands of years, yet have gone unnoticed by most Chicagoans.

Here are some of our dedicated Nature Scouts aseembled at O'Hara Woods: (left to right) Charlie Yang, Jim Yassick, Mike MacDonald, and Zeke Wei.

Some of our hard-working Nature Scouts gathered at O’Hara Woods in March just to take this photo: (left to right) Charlie Yang, Jim Yassick, Mike MacDonald, and Zeke Wei.

I sincerely hope that you’ve enjoyed and benefited from our reliable research and journalism services, where we seek out and bring you the glorious weekly news. And I hope that we’ve helped you find healing, peace, and newfound optimism while exploring the world-class natural beauty of the Chicago region.

Please help me continue this inspirational effort by giving a one-time gift or by becoming a sustaining contributor with a recurring monthly donation. Learn about how we use the money.




Thanks! And let the blooming begin!

—Mike

Left to Right: Charlie Yang, Jim Yassick, Mike MacDonald, and Zeke Wei.

2019 Chicago Nature Spring Preview

Posted by on 1:27 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

2019 Chicago Nature Spring Preview

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

Tell Me What ChicagoNatureNOW! Means to You

Posted by on 5:45 pm in Blog, Featured | 20 comments

Tell Me What ChicagoNatureNOW! Means to You

Tell Me What ChicagoNatureNOW! Means to You

 

We all need inspiration, myself included.
Please help inspire me to keep inspiring you.

 

I’d personally like to hear from you about how our work brings value to your life. Please share your story in the comment section (below), send me an email, or use our Facebook group.

 

Mike MacDonald stands in the prairie at a cusp in time, as the full moon sets and a new day begins.

If ChicagoNatureNOW! has inspired you, your family, or your community, please inspire us with your story. You can post a comment below, send me an email, or join our Facebook group to stay in touch throughout the year.

Lately, I’ve been doing some soul-searching because, in the three years since launching ChicagoNatureNOW!, we’ve heard very little from our 670 subscribers. Of course, this makes me wonder how many people are using this platform to visit the preserves that we scout every week for six months of the year. Now, as we embark on a new season of hard work, I need to be inspired by your story. It’s important for me to know, as I sit at the computer crafting the weekly report, that there are people relying on us to bring beauty into their lives. Please tell me and our wonderful volunteers how you’ve used this platform to enrich your life.

From the beginning, I’ve envisioned ChicagoNatureNOW! as an inspirational, educational, therapeutic, and thought-provoking resource for students and teachers, hikers and healers, explorers and thinkers, authors and artists. After learning in school about the wonders of Chicago nature, I imagine hearing children pestering their parents to take them to see and sniff the flowers. I envision peace and healing arising from therapeutic hikes under ancient oaks. I can picture a plein air painter shading the rich colors and textures of the prairie onto an increasingly kaleidoscopic canvas. And I think of a day when people discover nature’s value and come to share in its revival. These things I’ve only imagined, because so few let us know.

So, please share the value that our work brings to your life. You can tell your story in the comment section below, send me an email, or join our Friends of ChicagoNatureNOW! Facebook group to stay in touch throughout the year.

Thanks! And have a happy spring!

—Mike

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
03-08-2019
Searching for Spring Annual Issue

Posted by on 2:35 pm in Blog, Featured | 4 comments

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT03-08-2019Searching for Spring Annual Issue

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
March 8, 2019
SEARCHING FOR SPRING
Annual Issue

“Chicago nature info and news to help you discover the region’s finest wildflower blooms.”

 

THOUGH IT MAY NOT LOOK OR FEEL LIKE IT, SPRING HAS SPRUNG IN CHICAGO!

In Chicago, spring officially arrives when sprouts of skunk cabbage push up from the muck. This year, I found them at Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet on February 28 (pictured below) and at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont on March 5. Jeanne Golec from Pilcher Park Nature Center reported that skunk cabbage began sprouting during the unseasonably warm January. But nobody is going to buy the “spring has sprung” headline in January, so I held off until March.

Here’s a photograph of skunk cabbage from my February 28th visit to Pilcher Park Nature Center in Joliet:

Thermogenetic skunk cabbage sprouts depite the ice and cold.

On Feb. 28, 2019, thermogenetic skunk cabbage was sprouting despite the ice and cold. Learn what “thermogenetic” means, below.

As is my tradition, each spring I post the entertaining, educational excerpt and poem about skunk cabbage from my book, “My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders.”

Searching for Spring

For me, 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. And when March arrives, snow or not, I meander my way around Black Partridge Woods in a hopeful search for spring:

Winter is waning;
I’ve made it to March.
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
The temperature rises.
The snow slowly melts.
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Are you under the white
in a warmth all your own?
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Are you hiding in leaves
or still waiting to rise?
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Leafing through litter
on the brown woodland floor,
With eyes to the ground, I search for Spring.
Finally up from the mud
sprouts a burgundy curl.
With eyes to the ground, it is Spring I have found.

 

 

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.

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.*

 

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.

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 delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.
shape and foul odor of the spadix reminds flesh flies, carrion flies, and several kinds of gnats of 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.*

 

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 (like those on page 60). a cabbage leaf is broken, it releases an odor reminiscent of skunk, hence the name.*

 

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.*

 

* 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

 

Help Us Spread the Good Word at Wild Things on Feb. 23. 2019

Posted by on 10:05 am in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Help Us Spread the Good Word at Wild Things on Feb. 23. 2019

Help ChicagoNatureNOW! Spread the Good Word
at 2019 Wild Things Conference on Feb. 23, 2019

 

Please give us a hand to spread the good word at our ChicagoNatureNOW! exhibit table on Feb. 23 at the 2019 Wild Things Conference! Just use the form below to select your preferred time slot. Here, Saige Cox, daughter of Benjamin Cox (President of one of my favorite local nature organizations, Friends of the Forest Preserves), gathers Indian grass seed as she helps restore Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale, Illinois.

Please give us a hand to spread the good word at our ChicagoNatureNOW! exhibit table on Feb. 23 at the 2019 Wild Things Conference! Just use the form below to select your preferred time slot. Here, Saige Cox, daughter of Benjamin Cox (President of one of my favorite local nature organizations, Friends of the Forest Preserves), gathers Indian grass seed as she helps restore Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale, Illinois.

ChicagoNatureNOW! will be at the 2019 Wild Things Conference on February 23, 2019. And we need your help at our classy exhibit table to spread the good word about Chicago’s natural wonders! If you’re attending the event, please consider spending an hour at our special table with its beautiful display that includes a laptop running a slideshow of Chicago’s most beautiful moments. We’ll be handing out postcards with information about our mission and encouraging people to participate, which includes signing up more Nature Scouts!

Choose your time slots by clicking here.

And don’t forget to attend my lively and inspirational ChicagoNatureNOW! presentation called “Chicago Nature: Spreading the Good Word.” (from 11:15 to noon, Session 2H). Expect a fun program with breathtaking images depicting the vast natural wonders of our region. And to further inspire people to volunteer with us, our Nature Scouts will speak about the difference ChicagoNatureNOW! has made in their lives.

SIGN UP FOR YOUR TIME SLOT USING THIS FORM:

 

If you have any questions, please contact us.

Thanks!

—Mike

Wild Things Conference 2019

Posted by on 4:00 pm in Blog, Featured | Comments Off on Wild Things Conference 2019

Wild Things Conference 2019

To Learn and To Love
2019 Wild Things Conference
on February 23, 2019

 

Dedicated volunteer and restoration leader, Bob Kelliher, separates seeds of ironweed at Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale, Illinois.

Dedicated volunteer and restoration leader, Bob Kelliher, separates seeds of ironweed at Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale, Illinois.

Deepen your knowledge and your love of Chicago’s natural wonders at the 2019 Wild Things Conference on February 23, 2019. People and nature. That’s what this conference is all about. And ChicagoNatureNOW! will be there, too! Click here for information and registration. 

I’ll be giving a lively, inspirational presentation about ChicagoNatureNOW! entitled “Chicago Nature: Spreading the Good Word.” It’s Session 2H (from 11:15 to Noon). Expect a fun program with breathtaking images depicting the vast natural wonders of our region. And to inspire people to volunteer with us, our Nature Scouts will speak about the difference ChicagoNatureNOW! has made in their lives. Plus, to grow new collaborations and volunteers throughout the day, we’ll have an exhibit table. Would you like help man it (woman it or LGBTQIA it)? If so, please let me know.

Nowadays, all of Chicago’s natural sites need humanity’s stewardship and protection in order to exist, let alone thrive. Of course, that wasn’t always the case. But now, after hundreds of years of human interference, we need to stay diligent by restoring health and biodiversity to our rare local habits. That’s why I created this website and my book—to expand the number of local nature lovers so that a portion will volunteer to restore our preserves. Awareness and education are essential.

Every week during the long growing season, ChicagoNatureNOW! sends you off into the wilds of Chicago to discover glorious Edens that are ignored by most Chicagoans going about their daily lives. Our weekly posts also educate you. Then, every two years, the Wild Things Conference is held. It’s a wonderful opportunity to build on your nature knowledge through their many educational sessions and to interact (and even party) with like-minded nature lovers.

I always say, “To learn about nature is to fall in love with nature.” The Wild Things conference is your chance to learn more about nature and, hence, deepen your love for it.

Sign up fast because it’s a popular event, and there’s a limited number of spaces! And don’t forget to register to attend our rewarding presentation (Session 2H).

—Mike

Finding Winter’s Wonder and Whimsy in Chicago Nature

Posted by on 7:46 pm in Blog, Featured | 1 comment

Finding Winter’s Wonder and Whimsy in Chicago Nature

Finding Winter’s Wonder and Whimsy in Chicago Nature
(And listen to my Jan. 7 interview on WBEZ-91.5 FM)

 

On Monday, January 7 at 9:45 in the morning, I’m appearing on WBEZ radio’s “Morning Shift” program (listen now) to help Chicagoans learn where and how to find magic in the wilds of Chicago. I’ll be talking about my favorite wintertime preserves, plus the wonders found in snow, ice, animal tracks and the stories they tell, and in the hopeful, warming light of a winter sunrise or sunset.

Winter is fantastic, inventive, and bizarre, a whimsical time when my most fanciful dreams come to life. Here are some images that vividly illustrate the whimsy of Mother Nature using many of the captions excerpted from my book My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders:

 

A layer of winter white fell during previous night that turned rocks on this stream into marshmallows.

At Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, a layer of winter white fell during previous night that turned rocks on this stream into marshmallows.*

 

Here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois, a heavy March snowfall turned a gray winter scene into a river through fairyland.

Here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois, a heavy March snowfall turned a gray winter scene into a river through fairyland.*

 

Reminiscent of champagne glasses suspended topsy-turvy above a bar, this January ice sculpture, softly curving and all in a row, hangs its existence on a chaotic latticework of streamside grasses. Sawmill Creek at Waterfall Glen Darien, Illinois*

Reminiscent of champagne glasses suspended topsy-turvy above a bar, this January ice sculpture, softly curving and all in a row, hangs its existence on a chaotic latticework of streamside grasses.
Sawmill Creek at Waterfall Glen—Darien, Illinois*

 

At Black Patridge Woods, ice consumes the surface of this stream with no name, imperceptibly enveloping this last gleaming crevasse.*

At Black Partridge Woods, ice consumes the surface of this stream with no name, imperceptibly enveloping this last gleaming crevasse.*

 

On icy wetlands, look in the vegetation and bubbles trapped in the ice. The bubbles you see are composed of methane released by decaying underwater vegetation. Hogwash Slough in Spears Woods Willow Springs, Illinois*

On icy wetlands, look in the vegetation and bubbles trapped in the ice. The bubbles you see are composed of methane released by decaying underwater vegetation.
Hogwash Slough in Spears Woods
Willow Springs, Illinois*

 

At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, cold air can’t stop the flow of mineral-rich water exiting the seep of the fen. However, when calm air and frigid temperatures combine (in this case, −4°F), vapors are lifted from the surface and magically deposited as hoar frost onto neighboring foliage.*

At Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, cold air can’t stop the flow of mineral-rich water exiting the seep of the fen. However, when calm air and frigid temperatures combine (in this case, −4°F), vapors are lifted from the surface and magically deposited as hoar frost onto neighboring foliage.*

 

Late one afternoon, along the Lake Michigan shore, I discovered a mystical series of semicircles etched into the snowy beach. In light that was less than ideal, I vowed to return. The following morning, I hiked the half mile back to the spot where I’d stood just hours earlier. Behind me was my past, each footprint in the snow marking an increment of time and space. Before me was my future, where a pristine winter scene awaited my first steps. In the predawn light, I analyzed the fragile panorama from the periphery. As prepared as anyone could be, I slowly set foot on hallowed ground. Each step felt like minutes. Anxiety and calculation filled every footprint. Finally, I settled upon a position. Relieved, I waited for the sun to rise. Under a sunless, cerulean sky, the world glows blue. But the sun is on a mission to turn sapphire into gold. To convey the magic of this scene, I needed both. The sun is most vulnerable as it rises and sets. Angled low, its golden light cannot permeate every crack and crevice. Just before daybreak, the snow took on the blueness of the clear sky. Then, the winter star met the horizon. Low warm rays of lemon light filled all but a few remaining shadows, creating a set of unclasped sapphire necklaces upon a gown of white gold. The character of the light was the key to telling this enchanting winter story— a tale of wind-blown grasses doodling smiles in the snow as they dreamed of warmer tomorrows.*

Late one afternoon, along the Lake Michigan shore, I discovered a mystical series of semicircles etched into the snowy beach. In light that was less than ideal, I vowed to return.
The following morning, I hiked the half mile back to the spot where I’d stood just hours earlier. Behind me was my past, each footprint in the snow marking an increment of time and space. Before me was my future, where a pristine winter scene awaited my first steps. In the predawn light, I analyzed the fragile panorama from the periphery. As prepared as anyone could be, I slowly set foot on hallowed ground. Each step felt like minutes. Anxiety and calculation filled every footprint. Finally, I settled upon a position. Relieved, I waited for the sun to rise.
Under a sunless, cerulean sky, the world glows blue. But the sun is on a mission to turn sapphire into gold. To convey the magic of this scene, I needed both. The sun is most vulnerable as it rises and sets. Angled low, its golden light cannot permeate every crack and crevice.
Just before daybreak, the snow took on the blueness of the clear sky. Then, the winter star met the horizon. Low warm rays of lemon light filled all but a few remaining shadows, creating a set of unclasped sapphire necklaces upon a gown of white gold.
The character of the light was the key to telling this enchanting winter story— a tale of wind-blown grasses doodling smiles in the snow as they dreamed of warmer tomorrows.*

 

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, a crust of snow covered the sandy beach along the Lake Michigan shore. The choppy ice in the background is called an ice floe or drift ice, but I didn’t know it was a drifter. That evening, it appeared as a great white landmass, grafted to the shore. So you can imagine my surprise when I returned at sunrise and it was gone. How could it revert to its liquid state over the bitter cold night? Then, peering over the lake out toward the horizon, there it was, a thin white thread that was the ice floe, a drifter after all. You may think that the swerving tracks on this desolate beach also give the impression of a drifter. But the coy and clever coyote that left these prints is energy-efficient by necessity, a “perfect stepper.” Intentionally placing its hind foot directly where the front foot lands, the songdog’s trek across deep snow is less of a drudge. Domestic dogs are supposed to be perfect steppers, too, but I often see just the opposite when I examine their trails. It makes sense: I mean, how perfect do you need to be when your next meal (and everything else) is guaranteed? But, unlike Fido, who winds and switches along the way, the coyote (and the fox) take a more direct, economical route. To some people, the animal track they discover is only a footnote along the way, a moment in time engraved in snow by an unwitting author. To others, it’s only the beginning, the first sentence of a drama, an invitation to follow, to read on, to be seduced by the mystery. May you be one of the latter.*

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, a crust of snow covered the sandy beach along the Lake Michigan shore. The choppy ice in the background is called an ice floe or drift ice, but I didn’t know it was a drifter. That evening, it appeared as a great white landmass, grafted to the shore. So you can imagine my surprise when I returned at sunrise and it was gone. How could it revert to its liquid state over the bitter cold night? Then, peering over the lake out toward the horizon, there it was, a thin white thread that was the ice floe, a drifter after all.
You may think that the swerving tracks on this desolate beach also give the impression of a drifter. But the coy and clever coyote that left these prints is energy-efficient by necessity, a “perfect stepper.” Intentionally placing its hind foot directly where the front foot lands, the songdog’s trek across deep snow is less of a drudge.
Domestic dogs are supposed to be perfect steppers, too, but I often see just the opposite when I examine their trails. It makes sense: I mean, how perfect do you need to be when your next meal (and everything else) is guaranteed? But, unlike Fido, who winds and switches along the way, the coyote (and the fox) take a more direct, economical route.
To some people, the animal track they discover is only a footnote along the way, a moment in time engraved in snow by an unwitting author. To others, it’s only the beginning, the first sentence of a drama, an invitation to follow, to read on, to be seduced by the mystery. May you be one of the latter.*

 

During the winter, sunsets of blue that fade to pink are common in the eastern skies over Lake Michigan. At the end of this blustery day, fluffy plumes of marram grass bounce in the stiff wind. Illinois Beach Nature Preserve—Zion, Illinois*

During the winter, sunsets of blue that fade to pink are common in the eastern skies over Lake Michigan. At the end of this blustery day, fluffy plumes of marram grass bounce in the stiff wind.
Illinois Beach Nature Preserve—Zion, Illinois*

 

Driven by wind and wave, Lake Michigan ice floes crash and jostle against the sandy shoreline, and then mysteriously disappear, leaving behind grand and lustrous gems of “ball ice.” Like large pearls, they are grown through a process of accretion. The whipping and turning of the surge traps deposits of slush against the shoreline, which gradually form into rounded crystal masses that are then cast ashore. Illinois Beach Nature Preserve—Zion, Illinois*

Driven by wind and wave, Lake Michigan ice floes crash and jostle against the sandy shoreline, and then mysteriously disappear, leaving behind grand and lustrous gems of “ball ice.” Like large pearls, they are grown through a process of accretion. The whipping and turning of the surge traps deposits of slush against the shoreline, which gradually form into rounded crystal masses that are then cast ashore.
Illinois Beach Nature Preserve—Zion, Illinois*

 

Driven by wind and wave, Lake Michigan ice floes crash and jostle against the sandy shoreline, and then mysteriously disappear, leaving behind grand and lustrous gems of “ball ice.” Like large pearls, they are grown through a process of accretion. The whipping and turning of the surge traps deposits of slush against the shoreline, which gradually form into rounded crystal masses that are then cast ashore. Illinois Beach Nature Preserve—Zion, Illinois*

When I reached this point along the trail, I was stopped in my tracks—not by the scene itself but by the late afternoon light falling on the snow-covered limb in the foreground.
Illinois Beach Nature Preserve—Zion, Illinois*

 

“Never wear white after Labor Day.” That’s what fashionistas say. But if that’s true, then why did Mother Nature make layering with white the fashion of the winter season? From sheer to fluffy, flat to flowing, sleek to shimmering, the magical coat of snow she creates can reflect any mood. Shooting for sensational, she’ll dress it up with sunlight and, suddenly, it scintillates with sequins. On this afternoon of winter thaw, Mother Nature dressed it down. Searching for that deep, introspective look, she accessorized with fog and cloudy skies to give the savanna an air of mystery.*

“Never wear white after Labor Day.” That’s what fashionistas say. But if that’s true, then why did Mother Nature make layering with white the fashion of the winter season?
From sheer to fluffy, flat to flowing, sleek to shimmering, the magical coat of snow she creates can reflect any mood. Shooting for sensational, she’ll dress it up with sunlight and, suddenly, it scintillates with sequins.
On this afternoon of winter thaw, Mother Nature dressed it down. Searching for that deep, introspective look, she accessorized with fog and cloudy skies to give the savanna an air of mystery.*

 

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, a solitary black oak stands atop a dune with a view. To the east is the beach and Lake Michigan beyond. To the west is a rich sand prairie and, in the distance, an oak savanna where this black oak’s family grows tall in the company of thousands. Having the good fortune of being planted in the sand by a forgetful squirrel, but the misfortune of being relocated so far from home, this little oak is a survivor, left exposed and alone to battle the harsh elements and howling winds.*

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, a solitary black oak stands atop a dune with a view. To the east is the beach and Lake Michigan beyond. To the west is a rich sand prairie and, in the distance, an oak savanna where this black oak’s family grows tall in the company of thousands.
Having the good fortune of being planted in the sand by a forgetful squirrel, but the misfortune of being relocated so far from home, this little oak is a survivor, left exposed and alone to battle the harsh elements and howling winds.*

 

The dream of winter can, at least for a moment, take you to another place, away from the worries of the world. Maybe it’s a journey to an enchanted kingdom, or a fairy tale of old oak matriarchs who, throughout the night, donned the falling snow, so that in the glow of the morning sun they would, at least for a time, be restored to their golden youth, transformed into young and shining maidens in lace.*

The dream of winter can, at least for a moment, take you to another place, away from the worries of the world. Maybe it’s a journey to an enchanted kingdom, or a fairy tale of old oak matriarchs who, throughout the night, donned the falling snow, so that in the glow of the morning sun they would, at least for a time, be restored to their golden youth, transformed into young and shining maidens in lace.*

 

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.*

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.*

 

From underneath the reassuring warmth of my comforter, I could have dreamt this winter morning away. But all day I’d have been plagued by glorious visions of what might have been. Instead, I took the night’s snowfall as an invitation from Mother Nature. Rolling out from beneath my blanket, I stepped into the pillowy cold and toward the shore of Hogwash Slough. As I stood along the snow-draped shoreline, the wetland’s radiant beauty warmed my heart and kindled my imagination. Like a magical scene from a storybook—I was dreaming once again. On this morning, I made a choice: to trade a world of forgotten dreams for a dream world that I will always remember.*

From underneath the reassuring warmth of my comforter, I could have dreamt this winter morning away. But all day I’d have been plagued by glorious visions of what might have been. Instead, I took the night’s snowfall as an invitation from Mother Nature. Rolling out from beneath my blanket, I stepped into the pillowy cold and toward the shore of Hogwash Slough. As I stood along the snow-draped shoreline, the wetland’s radiant beauty warmed my heart and kindled my imagination. Like a magical scene from a storybook—I was dreaming once again. On this morning, I made a choice: to trade a world of forgotten dreams for a dream world that I will always remember.*

 

Shallow streams, like Waterfall Glen’s Sawmill Creek, are the perfect winter venue for viewing Mother Nature’s ever-changing handiwork.*

Shallow streams, like Waterfall Glen’s Sawmill Creek, are the perfect winter venue for viewing Mother Nature’s ever-changing handiwork.*

 

Waterfall Glen is a winter wonderland, from the winding and enchanting Sawmill Creek to glorious wetlands like this.*

Waterfall Glen is a winter wonderland, from the winding and enchanting Sawmill Creek to glorious wetlands like this.*

* Photo is representational and was not recorded this year. Bloom times vary from year to year.

—Mike

The Monsters in Our Midst – In the Fall, Japanese Honeysuckle & Other Alien Invaders Reveal Their True Colors

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The Monsters in Our Midst – In the Fall, Japanese Honeysuckle & Other Alien Invaders Reveal Their True Colors

My Annual Halloween Publication of
THE MONSTERS IN OUR MIDST

(Reprinted from the chapter “The Monsters in Our Midst” from my coffee table book,
“My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders”)

 

Within this tranquil autumnal scene, at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois, a monster lurks. In the distance is the green ghoul, Japanese honeysuckle.

Within this tranquil autumnal scene, at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois, a monster lurks. In the distance is the green ghoul, Japanese honeysuckle.

At Black Partridge Woods, raindrops plummet from the gray onto an autumn canopy of golden sugar maples, dislodging turning leaves from their tentative grasps, sending them into a lighthearted aerial choreography destined for the moving stream—where the water ride begins. There, leaves are taken on a winding, whirling adventure, following the will and whim of the current, gliding with ease around branches and rocks—then twirling as the tip of a lobe glances the side of a mossy stone. Sometimes they’re snagged by twigs along the shore, as if nabbed by outstretched arms of rescue workers. Many come to rest with others of their kind, wedged against rocks in angular heaps, like jumbled piles of playing cards. And, to my delight, a friendly and flirtatious few flow over my boots and between my legs as I crouch in the middle of this rocky stream. Meditative music of cascading water floods the sweet autumn air. It is like a dream. But this being the season of Halloween, a nightmare lies in wait. A demon hides in plain sight.

“La, la la, la la!” we sing, as we frolic through a grove or a field of flowers, oblivious to the monsters that lurk all around us: the alien plant species. No, they are not pursuing you. (Or are they?) I mean, heck, they’re just plants. What harm can they do? A lot, as it turns out. They are as deadly as a murderous scene from a horror flick, except that the stranglehold takes place over years, decades. Ignored, incognito, and beautiful to the eye, the aliens creep. But their beauty is only chlorophyll deep. Slowly, diabolically, they take control and annihilate our native species, severing the fragile filaments that make up the web of life.

After years of photographing local nature, I’m still not privy to every Franken-plant. Yet, there in Black Partridge Woods, I suspected something sinister, knowing that autumn gives warning by revealing a horror in hiding: European buckthorn, with foliage that remains green deep into the fall. Along the roads, neighborhoods, and natural areas, it stands apart from the golds, burgundies, and browns. Buckthorn seems to be everywhere, providing a sobering realization of how badly our preserves have been infested and how much work remains.

In the pictured autumnal scene, the distant greenery is definitely not buckthorn. I checked before I shot it. But afterwards, haunted by the green monsters of the fall, I got an eerie feeling. If change is the message of the season, then it’s possible that other aliens did not receive the memo either. I called the steward of the site, and my fears were confirmed. The green shrub you see is another demon, as vicious as buckthorn, and one that, up until then, was unknown to me: Japanese honeysuckle. So now I know and so do you, but beware. Complacency is the most
dangerous monster of all.

—Mike

 

 

Best Chicago Fall Color Report, Nature News & Info – 09/26/2018

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Best Chicago Fall Color Report, Nature News & Info – 09/26/2018

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 26, 2018
(Fall Color Edition & Final Report for 2018)

“Plan the best Chicago autumn nature walks with this fall color report
filled with news and info about the region’s finest natural wonders.”

 

Don’t miss one perfect moment.
Click here to subscribe to received FREE nature alerts!

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Now that autumn has arrived and the blooming season has effectively ended, this post will be our final wildflower alert for the year. Below, I suggest where to find any remaining blooms and provide recommendations about where to find kaleidoscopic fall foliage during the weeks to come.

Here are some highlights to help you plan your fall-color outings around Chicago:

The autumn prairie is a mosaic of colors and textures. It is the first habitat to display autumn color in the foliage. And with the many asters and the ethereal blue and purple gentians that bloom through the end of September, the prairie becomes a beautiful mosaic of colors and textures. Experience towering waves of red-stemmed grasses and the tawny, fluffy spikes of gayfeather that glow in the sunlight. In one small patch of prairie, it’s common to see more color than any autumn woodland: oranges, golds, reds, maroons, cyans, browns, and tans. Here’s a list of preserves that are worth visiting as they change into their autumn wardrobes:

Prairies to visit this fall:

  • Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois: Visit the golden sand prairie close to the lake using the trail to the east.
  • Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois: This preserve offers open expanses of woodland, wetland, and prairie that is my personal favorite preserve of the fall season. Click here for the location of the trailhead that goes west into the prairies.
  • Lake in the Hills Fen: Visit to experience the grand grassland expanse.
  • Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois: This prairie offers a hundreds of species with a wonderful combination of color and texture.
  • Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin: This large prairie offers an array of changing colors, including blooms of fringed and prairie gentians that last through the end of September.
  • Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois: This preserve is really a savanna, but it features many prairie plants.
  • Theodore Stone Preserve: There are two different prairies here, a mesic prairie on the west side of the preserve (near the main entrance) and a dolomite (limestone) prairie on the east side.
  • Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale, Illinois: This is a beautiful prairie very close to Chicago’s city limits.
  • Powderhorn Prairie: Experience the most biodiverse natural area within the city limits of Chicago.
  • Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Visit to see the tall grasses and the colorful foliage of the forbs. While you’re on your way, take time to pause under the embrace of gallant oaks in the intimate oak savanna.
  • Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest, Illinois: Contrary to the name, the preserve offers an expanse of prairie that looks great in the fall.
  • Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates, Illinois: Hike this hill prairie and the large grassland at its base.
  • Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois: This intimate remnant prairie is beautiful throughout the year. And because it’s quite small, your visit could be quite short.
  • Lockport Prairie in Lockport, Illinois: This prairie features a wonderful expanse of tall, waving grasses on a short out-and-back trail.

Woodlands to visit this fall:

  • Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois: The black oak savanna takes up the majority of this preserve. You can spend all day exploring.
  • Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois: Lots of great hiking and color through beautiful woodlands, prairies, and wetlands. Spears is one of my favorite autumn spots.
  • Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois: The many flowers and grasses that have brought us joy throughout the growing season are now performing their final show of the year.
  • Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois: This is a magic place with steep bluffs, a beautiful stream, and where maples scream gold.
  • Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Darien, Illinois: This vast preserve is a very popular spot for hikers, bikers, and fall-color chasers. It’s beautiful, but there are a lot of people.
  • Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee, Illinois: Like Black Partridge Woods, this is a wonderful woodland where maples turn to gold.
  • Hoosier Prairie State Nature Preserve in Schererville, Indiana: The name refers to the large expanse of mostly inaccessible prairie across the street from the parking lot.
  • Messenger Woods in Lockport, Illinois: A beautiful maple forest with nice color.
  • Pilcher Park in Joliet, Illinois: The color here can be great, but keep in mind that it’s a popular preserve.
  • Sagawau Canyon: You can sign up for a tour of the canyon, but you can go anytime to walk the trails in the surrounding preserve.
  • Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park, Illinois: This is the finest example of black oak savanna anywhere in the world. For fall color, black oaks can be a bit understated, but there is a wealth of color in the understory.
  • Miller Woods in Gary, Indiana: This is a big, beautiful preserve that features black oak savanna and a rich understory.
  • Cowles Bog Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore: Walk the trail through the colorful black oak savanna. When the time comes, choose the fork to the right. Soon you’ll be taken over a steep dune and onto a dramatic panorama of waving grasses along the sand shores of a blue Lake Michigan.
  • Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: The oak savanna at the entrance is a gem. It’s small, but very inviting and intimate. And, you also can also hike the trail through the prairie and fen.

 

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS:

Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds!
The hummingbirds will often remain while the weather is warm. You can find them buzzing about at many nature centers including: Sagawau CanyonPilcher Park (at the nature center and south of the greenhouse), and Little Red Schoolhouse.

Canyon Tours
To experience a beautiful fern-lined canyon, call Sagawau Canyon in Lemont to sign up for their next canyon tour. Hurry! They fill up fast.

 

PHOTO SECTION

Get out there and discover what autumn can bring:

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, where the prairie meets the woodland, late-September grasses turn to gold.*

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, where the prairie meets the woodland, late-September grasses turn to gold.*

 

At Spears Woods, with the warm evening light falling on this October prairie, the tubular tops of blazing star burned with a golden glow; but not two months earlier, they blazed with purple passion. Autumn transformed the cylindrical inflorescence of hundreds of feathery purple flowers into a column of invisible seeds—invisible because what we see is not the seed but the achene, a dry fruit with a single seed hidden inside. On this plant, also known as gayfeather, each achene, by design, forms a downy tan plume that takes to the air to be scattered by the wind.

At Spears Woods, with the warm evening light falling on this October prairie, the tubular tops of blazing star burned with a golden glow; but not two months earlier, they blazed with purple passion. Autumn transformed the cylindrical inflorescence of hundreds of feathery purple flowers into a column of invisible seeds—invisible because what we see is not the seed but the achene, a dry fruit with a single seed hidden inside. On this plant, also known as gayfeather, each achene, by design, forms a downy tan plume that takes to the air to be scattered by the wind.*

 

At Spears Woods, this ephemeral pond becomes a portal into an afternoon of autumn splendor.

At Spears Woods, this ephemeral pond becomes a portal into an afternoon of autumn splendor.*

 

Rare marram grass dominates the foredune along the shore of Lake Michigan at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

Rare marram grass dominates the foredune along the shore of Lake Michigan at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

 

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, this radiant bush reaching out into the sand prairie is shrubby cinquefoil. In the summer, the plant is undramatic. Like a long, drawnout fireworks display, it releases its arsenal of flowers over a two- to three-month period as one flower explodes over here and another over there. But, in the fall, with foliage burning bright, shrubby cinquefoil goes all out, putting on one of the finest finales of any plant. There’s a lesson here. This fall, spare yourself the stiff neck from staring up at the trees and visit the prairie where you’ll find more color than in any woodland.*

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, this radiant bush reaching out into the sand prairie is shrubby cinquefoil. In the summer, the plant is undramatic. Like a long, drawn-out fireworks display, it releases its arsenal of flowers over a two- to three-month period as one flower explodes over here and another over there. But, in the fall, with foliage burning bright, shrubby cinquefoil goes all out, putting on one of the finest finales of any plant. There’s a lesson here. This fall, spare yourself the stiff neck from staring up at the trees and visit the prairie where you’ll find more color than in any woodland.*

 

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, wise oaks in this savanna spread their branches wide to allow the sun’s rays to nourish the diverse community of plants below. These enlightened trees have learned that sharing the light with life at the bottom ensures not only their survival but also the prospect of reaching new heights.*

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, wise oaks in this savanna spread their branches wide to allow the sun’s rays to nourish the diverse community of plants below. These enlightened trees have learned that sharing the light with life at the bottom ensures not only their survival but also the prospect of reaching new heights.*

 

In the fall at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, don’t just stare up at the trees. Look down. There’s a bounty of color at your feet. Here, a black oak leaf landed amidst a bed of pasture rose with leaves more vibrant than any tree in this savanna.

In the fall at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, don’t just stare up at the trees. Look down. There’s a bounty of color at your feet. Here, a black oak leaf landed amidst a bed of pasture rose with leaves more vibrant than any tree in this savanna.*

 

In the September savanna at Hoosier Prairie, ferns begin to change color before the trees.*

In the September savanna at Hoosier Prairie, ferns begin to change color before the trees.*

 

At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, acrobatic cinnamon ferns take hold in the soggy ground of Cowles Bog, which is not a bog at all but, rather, a wetland known as a fen.

At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, acrobatic cinnamon ferns change to gold along the Cowles Bog Trail.*

 

As you hike the boardwalk and the narrow sections of the Cowles Bog Trail, you may find yourself glancing down to watch your step. But in the fall, remember to raise your eyes to view the scenery in the skies.

As you hike the boardwalk and the narrow sections of the Cowles Bog Trail, you may find yourself glancing down to watch your step. But in the fall, remember to raise your eyes to view the scenery in the skies.*

 

In the fall at Black Partridge Woods, I head to the high vantage point of these bluffs to immerse myself in the intoxicating colors and textures of the tiered foliage. Down below, the creek bed is dry. But when the flow returns, fallen leaves will ride the colorful currents that reflect the radiant dome.

In the fall at Black Partridge Woods, I head to the high vantage point of these bluffs to immerse myself in the intoxicating colors and textures of the tiered foliage. Down below, the creek bed is dry. But when the flow returns, fallen leaves will ride the colorful currents that reflect the radiant dome.*

 

Compared to the golden maples of autumn, oaks can be a bit understated. Here, at Bluff Spring Fen, this bur oak, when placed in the spotlight, certainly puts on a show.

Compared to the golden maples of autumn, oaks can be a bit understated. Here at Bluff Spring Fen, this bur oak, when placed in the spotlight, certainly puts on a show.*

 

Visit Raccoon Grove in the fall for its golden maples and picturesque stream.

Visit Raccoon Grove in the fall for its golden maples and picturesque stream.*

 

Every October, I am drawn to the banks of Sawmill Creek for the annual celebration of golden maples. On this particular day, the stream turned to a trickle, its rocky bed transformed into the staging area for a colorful, yet peculiar, parade—one that waits for rainfall in order to proceed.*

Every October, I am drawn to the banks of Sawmill Creek for the annual celebration of golden maples. On this particular day, the stream turned to a trickle, its rocky bed transformed into the staging area for a colorful, yet peculiar, parade—one that waits for rainfall in order to proceed.*

Bottle Gentians (through late September, possibly into October)

Bottle gentian (or closed gentian) is fully dependent on bumblebees for its survival. The petals of this unusual flower are effectively closed to other insects, but the strong bumblebee is able to muscle its way in through the tip. Late in the season, when fewer plants are blooming, bottle gentian relies on the slim pickings for pollination, hoping bumblebees won’t mind the extra effort.*

Bottle gentian (or closed gentian) is fully dependent on bumblebees for its survival. The petals of this unusual flower are effectively closed to other insects, but the strong bumblebee is able to muscle its way in through the tip. Late in the season, when fewer plants are blooming, bottle gentian relies on the slim pickings for pollination, hoping bumblebees won’t mind the extra effort.*

 

When I first set eyes upon these fading blooms of bottle gentian, I was taken aback, struck by an arrow through my heart. Instantly, I fell in love with the prettiest flowers I had ever seen. Maybe I was just having one of those days, but I was close to tears.*

These are not flowers that fill the landscape, but they are sublime. Look closely and you’ll find them at Lake in the Hills FenWolf Road PrairieSomme Prairie Grove, Powderhorn Prairie, and Belmont Prairie. When I first set eyes upon these fading blooms of bottle gentian, I was taken aback, struck by an arrow through my heart. Instantly, I fell in love with the prettiest flowers I had ever seen. Maybe I was just having one of those days, but I was close to tears.*

Fringed Gentian (through late September, possibly into October)

Gorgeous fringed gentians bloom in September. However, the flowers are diurnal, meaning that the the blooms only open up with the sun and are closed at night and, sometimes, on cloudy days.*

Gorgeous fringed gentians bloom in September. However, the flowers are diurnal, meaning that the the blooms only open up with the sun and are closed at night and, sometimes, on cloudy days. You can find them at preserves like Bluff Spring Fen, Chiwaukee Prairie, and Lake in the Hills Fen.*

 

Asters Mark the End of the Blooming Season (many can be seen into October)

New England asters

Asters come in a variety of colors: white, pink, purple, and blue. The name comes from an Ancient Greek word for “star.” You can find them in most prairies and savannas, and in some wetlands around the region. This is an image of New England aster, which is just one of the many species of aster that bloom at this time of year.*

 

Big Bluestem Grass and the Tallgrass Prairie

Big bluestem grass gives the true meaning to the term "tallgrass prairie."*

Here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, big bluestem grass gives true meaning to the term “tallgrass prairie.” Find big bluestem at Belmont PrairieSomme Prairie GroveShoe Factory Road PrairieWolf Road PrairieFermilab PrairieGensburg Markham PrairieKickapoo Woods and PrairieSpears WoodsTheodore Stone Preserve, and other local prairies over the next several weeks.*

 

Canyon Tours

Lush ferns line the walls of Sagawau Canyon in Lemont, Illinois.

Lush ferns line the walls of Sagawau Canyon in Lemont, Illinois. But you can only see it if you sign up for their upcoming canyon tours. Register soon. They fill up quickly.*

* Photo is representational and was not recorded this year. Bloom times vary from year to year.

 

If you’d like to help your neighbors discover national-park quality natural events around our homes, then become an official scout. Or, you can help by just sending us pictures and a text description from your visit. Another way is to post your pictures to Instagram using these essential hashtags: #ChicagoNatureNow and #NameOfPreserve.

Do you find this website useful? Do you benefit from our many hours of weekly scouting? Then please help keep it going by donating or purchasing my nationally-acclaimed book.

—Mike