Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
May 13, 2021
“Weekly Wildflower Reports Featuring
Chicago’s Best Weekend Getaways & Nature Trips”
Plan the Best COVID-19 Walks & Getaways Around Chicago!
Don’t miss one beautiful moment.
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Each week, we offer you opportunities to find peace during this trying time!
PLEASE DONATE IF WE’VE HELPED YOU FIND SOLACE IN NATURE.
PLEASE READ THIS BEFORE VISITING OUR SHOWCASE PRESERVES DURING THIS TIME OF INCREASED INTEREST IN NATURE:
ChicagoNatureNOW! preserves are Sacred Cathedrals of Nature, NOT playgrounds or amusement parks. Please treat these sanctuaries with reverence, and behave as you would in any house of worship:
- Stay on the trails.
- Walk, don’t run.
- If your kids need to run around, there are THOUSANDS of more appropriate places to play.
- Speak quietly as to not interfere with the spiritual experiences of others.
- Don’t pick flowers or remove anything from a preserve.
- Share cherished moments through photography, drawing, painting, and writing.
- Many of these preserves do NOT allow pets, even if they’re leashed.
- If a rule isn’t listed here, then ask yourself, “Would I do this in church?”
IMPORTANT COVID-19 SITE ACCESS & SAFETY TIPS
(which I hope to remove as more people are vaccinated)
Most sites and trails that are owned by Chicago-area counties and Indiana Dunes National Park are open, except for visitor centers, buildings, and bathrooms. Fermilab Prairie woodland (Fermilab Natural Areas) in Batavia is closed. Period. And Shoe Factory Road Prairie will be closed for a little while longer because the public abused the site, last year. Check out these websites before you go:
- Forest Preserve District of Cook County
- Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
- Lake County Forest Preserves
- McHenry County Conservation District
- Forest Preserve District of Will County
- Indiana Dunes National Park
- Wear a mask. Period. This keeps your exhalations from taking to the air.
- Give each other ten feet of space.
- The wind carries the virus. When people are present, be conscious of the wind and its direction.
- When having a conversation, position yourselves so that the wind is blowing from the left or the right.
- Don’t block people’s progress by gathering along trails, trailheads, or intersections.
WILDFLOWER HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR OUTDOOR ADVENTURES INTO CHICAGO’S WOODLANDS:
In last week’s alert, I wrote of my emerald dream. And the next morning, I found it (and photographed it) at Black Partridge Woods. This week, I’m starting off with that picture, and to let you know that you can still experience it for yourself.
This is my favorite time to visit the woodlands, especially Black Partridge Woods and Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve. Cross the threshold into a world of geometric jade to receive an emerald embrace from a protective canopy of lace. Oh, and there are wildflowers, too!
The blue-and-white blossoms of wild lupine are beginning to bloom in Indiana Dunes National Park at Miller Woods, Tolleston Dunes, and West Beach. During the best years, the green dunes turn blue. And many other species add to the mix, including the golden hoary puccoon and hairy puccoon. These puccoons are also blooming at many other preserves including Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Somme Prairie Grove, Wolf Road Prairie, and Chiwaukee Prairie.
Remote Pembroke Savanna is screaming out for conscientious human visitors, as the blue birdfoot violet carpets large areas of the savanna where it is often joined by sand phlox that varies in color from white to lavender to blue. And stout blue-eye grass will make your heart sing. Another phlox to look for, this week, is the fragrant blue woodland phlox. You can find it in all of our featured woodlands, including Black Partridge Woods, Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve, and Heron Rookery Trail.
This is also a big week for wild geranium that seems to float above the forest floor. Lucky for us, this pink flower with star-shaped foliage is a popular plant at all of our woodlands, except for the sandy sites. And shooting star is making an appearance atop the bluffs of Black Partridge Woods. See picture under our Photo Section.
The dramatic shows of large-flowered trillium are ending as their alabaster blossoms elegantly age into a delicate pink. You can experience them at Heron Rookery Trail (at Indiana Dunes National Park), with an even better display at nearby J. Timothy Ritchie Preserve. In Illinois, check out Meacham Grove, Harms Woods, and Captain Daniel Wright Woods. The last four aforementioned preserves are not on our feature preserves list because we remain shorthanded. If you live near any of these preserves or you’re a regular visitor, this is your chance to become a scout. Learn about how to scout for us. Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve is home to the shy drooping trillium and the last of the elegant and understated prairie trillium are also flowering throughout the region.
And let’s not forget the glorious green leaves of spring: the sprawling elephant ears of skunk cabbage, the umbrellas of mayapple, and the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger. Right now, take a close look underneath the leaves of wild ginger to find their fuzzy burgundy flowers. And the large waxy white blossoms of mayapple are beginning to show. To find them, look beneath the umbrellas of the two-leafed plants. And then there are the spears of wild leek—the plant that gives Chicago its name. In the late 1600s, Potawatomi Indians who paddled the area rivers were commonly heard yelling “Chicagoua!” after catching a strong whiff of chicagoua, or wild leek, growing prolifically along the wooded banks. Wild leek is part of the onion family, hence the Chicago nickname, “The Big Onion.”
NOTE: It is illegal to remove this plant, or any other plant, from any preserve in the Chicago region.
WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A SPRING WILDFLOWER GETAWAY AROUND CHICAGO:
We’ve ranked the preserves on this week’s list based on the quality of the wildflower experience, starting out with the best or “Go!” The “Go, if You’re in the Neighborhood” section is for sites that are worth visiting if you can’t get out to our top-rated preserves. And our “Preserves for You to Scout” section for those preserves that we couldn’t get to this week, but that you can help us explore! The date within the parentheses tells you when we last scouted the preserve. After the date, you may see one of these three mathematical symbols: +, –, = (plus, minus, equal). They represent our prediction about how the flowers will look on the coming weekend: “+” is Probably Better; “-” is Probably Less Dramatic; “=” is Probably the Same. Notice the word “probably.”
THIS WEEK’S BEST (“GO!”):
The order of the preserves below is based on the quality of the wildflower experience, starting out with the best.
Black Partridge Woods in Lemont (5/13=): Again, it’s a “Wow!” for the dreamy lushness and the varied cast of flowers. I mean, this place is green—from the new leaves of the tiered tree canopy to the dense carpet of foliage on the woodland floor. Thanks to wild ginger that has fully leafed out, you can hardly see the earth beneath. Check deep underneath the leaves of wild ginger to find a fuzzy burgundy blossom. Currently, my favorite show at this preserve, comes from the miniature forests of mayapple with their parasol-shaped leaves where you can now find a lonesome waxy white blossom hiding under the plants with two umbrellas. Exciting patches of acrobatic skunk cabbage leaves add to the whimsy. Wild leek‘s emerald swords put up a defense, and the star-like leaves of wild geranium give a glimpse into the heavenly pink flower that is now blooming strong. And look for the floating filigreed foliage of early meadow rue. A very nice display of wild hyacinth is starting to take off atop the bluffs toward the back. A smattering of white and pink shooting star can also be found above. The fragrant woodland phlox is blooming in large numbers. If you find a good patch of phlox, you may not even have to put nose to petal to detect its fabulous scent. The combination of woodland phlox, wild geranium, and shooting star is wonderful sight. The shimmering highlights of white false rue anemone, rue anemone, and the pinkish spring beauty add to the springtime experience. You can still find a smattering of prairie trillium and common blue violet. And although the spiraling buttery blooms of wood betony are now fading, the shy yellow blooms of large-flowered bellwort are still hanging on as they cling to the sides of the bluffs.
Miller Woods in Indiana Dunes National Park (We got a tip on 5/14+): The show of wild lupine has begun with peak bloom coming soon. Adding the to the blue hues are the sublime blue-eyed grass and the remaining birdfoot violet. The vibrant yellow blooms of hoary puccoon add a golden sparkle to the savanna as the buttery blooms of wood betony end their run. The red-and-yellow blossoms of wild columbine float above the understory of the savanna. And flashes of white come from wild strawberry and bastard toadflax. While you’re here, take the trail to the lakeshore that starts at the nature center. Along the way, the trail crosses a wide gravel path that goes straight east-west. Head west, and you’ll find beaver lodges and beaver activity. If you arrive early or remain late in the day, chances are you’ll be greeted by a beaver slapping its flat tail against the water to alert others of its kind about that human lurking about. This abandoned railroad right-of-way isn’t as intimate as the official narrow trail, but I like the views better. After your hike, consider checking out the lupines at Tolleston Dunes and West Beach. NOTE: The trail can be covered in water at some places. We recommend high boots. Or just slosh on through!
Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park (Updated on 5/8=): The preserve is putting on a beautiful show of blue and white as carpets of sapphire birdfoot violet and sparkling sand phlox flow across the savanna. Both are in peak condition. Don’t leave without bending down to enjoy the fragrance of these two jewels. You’ll also find the white of sand cress and starry false Solomon’s seal, and the golds of two-flowered Cynthia and newly flowering hoary puccoon. On your visit, you’ll notice mysterious sand mounds throughout the preserves. They are the handiwork of the plains pocket gopher. This rarely seen underground gopher excavates tunnels, and the extra sand has to go somewhere.
Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (5/10+): The preserve has a lush, green look and feel thanks to a burn that cleared away the old gray foliage. The nicest show comes from the beautiful hemi-parasitic wood betony with colonies scattered in patches across the preserve. You’ll also find white and pink shooting star, golden Alexander in early bloom, pink violet wood sorrel (with its clover-like leaves), and prairie violet. Under the trees, look for prairie trillium and miniature forests of mayapple. Park at the main parking lot for this preserve, located at Somme Woods, and then follow the narrow trail to Somme Prairie Grove. To avoid any confusion, visit our web page for complete details or forever hold your peace.
Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee (5/8+): I love this place, right now, for its springtime lushness amidst a smattering of wild geranium and woodland phlox. The foliage on the woodland floor has fully matured as the trees are pushing out fresh delicate leaves in the canopy overhead. Spread across the woodland floor are the jade hues and lush patterns of wild leek, mayapple, and the omnipresent wild ginger. And the latter two are now blooming! A rich variety of flowers can be found at this preserve. Upon entering, you’re immediately greeted by a nice display of woodland phlox, which is currently the most prominent flower in bloom as the Virginia bluebells have faded away. Like the bluebell, phlox has a wonderful fragrance that you can probably smell as you stroll by. The pink blossoms of wild geranium are now at peak bloom, rivaling phlox as the star of the show. Still adding some sparkle to the forest floor are rue anemone, false rue anemone, common blue violet, common yellow violet, and swamp buttercup. I found a couple of Jack-in-the-pulpit and a handful of the shy drooping trillium. The strange and wonderful prairie trillium is blooming in very large numbers, and you may find some that look yellow. And finally, If you take it slow and remain very quiet as you approach the bridge, you may see frogs resting along the muddy banks.
Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Park (5/2=): On the days of our visits, the large-flowered trillium was at peak bloom here. But it’s now five days later, and I’d estimate that the trillium is on the other-side-of-peak. However, they are no less beautiful, as the alabaster blossoms turn pink as they take their final bows. The display of trillium is even better at the nearby J. Timothy Ritchie Preserve owned by Shirley Hines Land Trust. The gently rolling landscape and river appeal to me at Heron Rookery Trail. But Timothy Ritchie, our new supplemental preserve to Heron Rookery Trail, is the big winner this week for trillium displays. At Heron Rookery Trail, you’ll also find blooms of sparkling spring beauty, rue anemone, and false rue anemone. The otherworldly prairie trillium is flowering, but fading. Woodland phlox is scattered about. And large numbers of bright-yellow swamp buttercup wade in wet and muddy areas. The lush, green springtime experience is further enhanced by the spreading foliage of wild leek, mayapple, and wild ginger.
GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:
Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (5/13+): The preserve is lush with carpets of green that include colonies floppy-eared skunk cabbage and mayapple umbrellas. Check under the parasols for mayapple’s poisonous waxy white flower. The most prolific blooms are happening under the sun with shining displays of wood betony and golden Alexander. Then add to that the brilliant yellow blossoms of hairy puccoon and the last of marsh marigold. You’ll also find ivory tones from bastard toadflax in the prairie and fluffy plumes of common cottongrass in the soggy areas. Under the protection of savanna’s canopy, look for woodland phlox, wild geranium, shooting star, and the sublime stout blue-eyed grass.
Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (5/14+): The wild hyacinth is nearing peak bloom. The pink flowers of wild geranium add well-needed color under the trees and you can experience flashes of buttery wood betony in the prairie. But there are several other plants that are also about to blossom, including hoary puccoon, golden Alexander, and lots of wonderful starry false Solomon’s seal.
PLANT OF THE WEEK: WOOD BETONY
Birdfoot Violet & Sand Phlox are putting on a show:
Wild Hyacinth is the newest dramatic bloom:
Wild Lupine is beginning to bloom in our sand savannas
Beaver Activity at Miller Woods
Stout Blue-Eyed Grass
Large-Flowered Trillium is still in bloom:
Woodland Phlox is adding some newfound color to our woodlands:
Wild Geranium is now flowering in all of our woodlands:
False Rue Anemone:
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© 2021, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.