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ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT07-01-20204th of July Edition

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
07-01-2020
4th of July Edition

  • Author: Mike MacDonald
  • Date Posted: Jul 1, 2020
  • Category:

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
July 1, 2020
(4th of July Edition)

“Weekly Wildflower Report for the 4th of July Week
Featuring Chicago’s Best Nature Outings & Outdoor Getaways”

Best Fourth of July Wildflower Walks & Outdoor Getaways!

Don’t miss one beautiful moment.
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Even during the COVD-19 pandemic,
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THANK YOU TO THOSE WHO HAVE GIVEN THEIR FINANCIAL SUPPORT, THIS YEAR!

WE NEED MORE SCOUTS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU LIVE SOUTH.
CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT VOLUNTEERING!

PLEASE READ THIS BEFORE VISITING OUR SHOWCASE PRESERVES DURING THIS TIME OF INCREASED OUTDOOR ACTIVITY:

ChicagoNatureNOW! preserves are Sacred Cathedrals of Nature, NOT playgrounds or amusement parks. Please treat these sanctuaries with reverence. Behave as you would in any house of worship:

  • No foraging. And don’t pick flowers or plants or remove anything from a preserve.
    • Our preserves are small and rare. That’s why Chicago has grocery stores and flower shops.
    • Share cherished moments through photography, drawing, painting, and writing.
  • 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.
  • Many of these preserves do NOT allow pets, even if they’re leashed.
  • When in doubt, ask yourself, “Would I do this in a house of worship?”

IMPORTANT COVID-19 SITE ACCESS & SAFETY TIPS

SITE ACCESS:

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. Check out these websites before you go:

BE SAFE:

  • WEAR A MASK to protect others. Act as if you are infected because you very well could be and don’t know it.
  • WATCH YOUR DISTANCE by giving each other at least TEN feet of space because a breeze can carry the virus.
    • Don’t obstruct people’s progress by blocking trails or gathering around trailheads or intersections.
    • 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.

WE NEED SCOUTS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU LIVE SOUTH.
CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT VOLUNTEERING!

 

WILDFLOWER HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR OUTDOOR ADVENTURES INTO CHICAGO’S WOODLANDS:

The show of the week is happening at Somme Prairie Grove, where you’ll experience a fanfare of color from myriad flowering species, including orange butterfly milkweed (our Plant of the Week). The yellow prairie coreopsis, white wild quinine, and purple leadplant are beginning to bloom across the region. And so is eastern prickly pear cactus! What?! Chicago has a cactus? Yes we do! And you can find also find it at Miller WoodsPowderhorn Marsh & Prairie, Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve, and Illinois Beach Nature Preserve .

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve is also offering a diverse wildflower display in the oak savanna with the star being butterfly weed. And throughout the preserve, you’ll find the remarkable porcupine grass with seeds that drill themselves into the soil. Watch my real-time video of the drilling seed below.

Wildflowers abound at Bluff Spring Fen, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, Belmont Prairie, and Wolf Road Prairie, including the fragrant pink blossom of pasture rose. Over several weeks in late spring, it blooms barely inches from the ground. During that time, whenever we’re together, I partake in a sacred ritual. I drop to my knees and bow in reverence, nose to petal. However, last year, I didn’t notice the poison ivy growing right next to the flower. I immediately felt a tingling on my upper lip, but it was too late. It was a small price to pay for the many years of delight that this flower has brought me.

Now is also a wonderful time to experience green glow in the prairie. Green glow is a term that I invented last week. It describes leaves that glow bright-green from sunlight shining through them. The green glow of compass plant and prairie dock is spectacular. Prairie dock is especially delightful when its large heart-shaped leaf is transformed into a projection screen, as plants that fall between the sun and the screen cast their silhouettes in a kind of prairie shadow play.

TIP: I recommend visiting grasslands at the beginning or the end of the day when it’s much cooler and the sunlight is beautiful. Prairies are treeless expanses with no escape from the sun. It’s a challenge to appreciate the prairie in the blinding light of ninety-degree afternoon.

 

WHERE TO GO THIS WEEKEND FOR A SPRING WILDFLOWER GETAWAY AROUND CHICAGO:

Before visiting a preserve, visit the website for the landholder first. Click here for some resources.

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 like on the coming weekend: “+” is Probably Better; “-” is Probably Less Dramatic; “=” is Probably the Same. Notice the word “probably.”

 

THIS WEEK’S BEST (“GO!”):

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (6/29+): There are many different flowers in bloom, this week, representing an vibrant array of color: purple, blue, pink, orange, yellow, and white. Blooms include purple milkweed, the start of leadplant, Ohio spiderwort, marsh phlox, pasture rose, butterfly weed, prairie lily, black-eyed Susan, prairie sundrop, common St. John’s wort, compass plant, daisy fleabane, foxglove beardtongue, white wild indigo, New Jersey tea, the tall tuberous Indian plantain, and numerous wild quinine. The bald light-green flower heads of rattlesnake master are now showing, which means that they’ll soon be flowering. You’ll also notice the non-native ox-eye daisy in some places. The preserve was recently burned, which cleared away the brambly dead growth from last year, leaving behind verdant emerging sprouts that pop out against a backdrop of bare black soil. It’s quite garden-like and pleasing to the eye. I especially like the many bright-emerald tufts of prairie dropseed. Come early or late in the day to experience green glow from compass plant and prairie dock.

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (Last scouted on 6/25+): Most of color can be found in the black oak savanna, where you’ll be treated to many bright orange blooms of butterfly weed (our Plant of the Week), vibrantly pink marsh phlox, golden hoary puccoon, pearly blooms of flowering spurge and daisy fleabane, the blue morning blossoms of Ohio spiderwort, and fragrant pasture rose. Under the sun of the sand prairie and the dunes to the east, keep your eyes peeled for the spectacular yellow blossoms of eastern prickly pear cactus. Each flower only lasts a day. Along your prairie hike, you’ll also find three special grasses: marram grass, June grass, and porcupine grass. Marram grass grows in the most barren sandy soil closer to the beach. June grass is best experienced early and late in the day when it’s white plumes radiate like small torches. And porcupine grass has seeds that drill themselves into the soil. Watch my real-time video of the drilling seed below.
NOTE: Go early in the day to avoid the noisy beachgoers and COVID-19 spreaders without masks.

Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (6/29+): There is some good color, this week. Atop the big kame, you find the glorious pale purple coneflower, prairie coreopsis, and the start of leadplant and wild bergamot. To reach this spot, please use the out-and-back trail to the top. While you’re up there, you’ll have a great view of the oak savanna and the bowl of the fen to the east. As you continue your hike around the bowl, you’ll see more leadplant and prairie coreopsis. You’ll also find the startling orange blossoms of butterfly milkweed and the white blooms of white wild indigo, daisy fleabane, foxglove beardtongue, and wild quinine. Many golden blossoms of black-eyed Susan are prominent. The mauve and white blooms of common milkweed fill the air with a scent reminiscent of overly perfumed old ladies who’ve lost the sense of smell. Ohio spiderwort is still flowering in the mornings. And keep your eye out for fragrant pasture rose at the base of the southeast kame.
NOTE: Go in the morning. Later on, the parking lot fills up with people coming to swim illegally in the water-filled quarry. You probably won’t see any swimmers on your hike. Unfortunately, they trample across the sensitive habitat to reach the swimming at the back. As you’re leaving, feel free to report the activity to the forest preserve police at (708) 771-1000.

Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham (6/27+): First of all, the preserve is NOT LOCKED. It only looks that way. The chain is just draped over the top of the gate. Just move the chain and enter. Once inside, I suggest walking all of the trails because of how the prairie and flowers vary along the way. The most abundant bloomers are black-eyed Susan, common milkweed, and tuberous Indian plantain. The flowers of marsh phlox are just starting to bloom, adding delightful pink highlights to scenes of green. In particular, I love the pink flowers mixed with the big heart-shaped foliage of prairie dock. The flat-topped alabaster flower heads of wild quinine are just beginning to show—a plant that is known to grow in great numbers over large expanses, here. Along your route, you’ll also find pasture rose, white wild indigo, the wonderfully orange butterfly milkweed, and expanses of prairie cordgrass.
NOTE: Under the summer sun, this prairie can feel hot and bright. For a more enjoyable time, visit in the morning or late-afternoon.

We need scouts, especially Southsiders!
Click here to learn about how you can help us share the beauty.

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (6/29=): Right now, there is some nice color in this intimate remnant prairie. I suggest visiting early or late in the day. If you come in the morning, you’ll receive the added pleasure of experiencing the final ephemeral blooms of Ohio spiderwort. Their royal blue flowers open around sunrise, but only last a few hours until they dissolve into a purple liquid. Click here to learn about spiderwort’s miraculous melting flowers. Another reason to visit in the morning or late afternoon is to experience the glory of green glow—when leaves glow a bright green from the sunlight shining through them. On a recent late-day visit, the green glow of compass plant set my heart aloft. The main floral color comes from the startling orange bushes of butterfly weed and the many yellow blooms of black-eyed Susan that mix into a purple haze of blue scurfy pea. Also adding to the hues are the fading pink blooms of pale purple coneflower, golden false sunflower, and pearly wild quinine. And the occasional tufts of prairie brome provide a delicate texture to the rich prairie experience.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (6/29+): At the moment, the prairie is “between color.” But there’s still some nice flowers to experience with splashes of color that range from white to yellow, pink to purple. Park, as instructed on this website, along 31st Street, and hike the sidewalk trails to the north. The preserve extends north for one-half, terminating at the newly renovated prairie house. Unfortunately, it’s currently closed due to the pandemic. Along the many paths you’ll find daisy fleabane, black-eyed Susan, the gorgeous purple milkweed, pasture rose, white wild indigo, the sunny blooms of prairie coreopsis and prairie sundrop, and radiant orange balls of butterfly milkweedOhio spiderwort is fading, but you still may find plants blooming in the early morning hours. During the late and early hours of the day, the sun stages a dramatic green glow show with prairie dock and compass plant.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park (6/27+): This oak savanna currently features a large display of white daisy fleabane along with hoary puccoon, Ohio spiderwort, and blooms of goat’s rue. If you visit, let us know how the goat’s rue‘s blooming.

Miller Woods in Indiana Dunes National Park (UNSCOUTED): Click here to help us scout this preserve. Come on southsiders! You have a lot of great southern preserves, but most of our scouts are from the north and western suburbs. Help us turn turn your neighbors into nature lovers.

 

PLANT OF THE WEEK: BUTTERFLY MILKWEED (BUTTERFLY WEED)

Coral hairstreak butterfly on butterfly milkweed at Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham, Illinois.

This is a coral hairstreak butterfly feeding on butterfly milkweed at Gensburg-Markham Prairie. But it is one of dozens of flying insects, beetles, and even hummingbirds that find this plant tasty. The flowers have no noticeable scent, unlike its cousin, common milkweed, that smells like a bunch of old ladies on Bingo night.

Butterfly milkweed (or butterfly weed) blooms in the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois.*

Butterfly milkweed (or butterfly weed) blooms across the oak savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. You can also find it at many other preserves including, Somme Prairie Grove, Belmont Prairie, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

PHOTO SECTION

What?! Chicago Has a Cactus? Yes We Do!

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

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

Pale Purple Coneflower is in Full Flower

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

Pale purple coneflower is favorite of mine because I love how the petals droop downward. The plant has deep taproot, allowing it to survive drought and to thrive in gravel and dolomite limestone prairies. In the warm light of rising or setting sun, the flowers turn a stunning orange pink. Here at Belmont Prairie, I picked out this scene from a thousand coneflowers: a miniature, slow-motion rodeo that was taking place upon one prickly flower head. I watched as a tiny ant rode the back of a slinking inchworm.*

Scattered around Bluff Spring Fen are special hills known as kames, which were formed by gravel and sand left behind by a retreating glacier. Atop this kame, you can clearly see the gravelly soil and the life that somehow manages to make this make home. Here, pale purple coneflowers explode from the rocky bed."

Scattered around Bluff Spring Fen are special hills known as kames, which were formed by gravel and sand left behind by a retreating glacier. Atop this kame, you can clearly see the gravelly soil and the life that somehow manages to make this make home. Here, pale purple coneflowers explode from the rocky bed.”

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

Pale purple coneflower rises above the prairie at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin. You can also find this beautiful blossom at Belmont Prairie and Theodore Stone Preserve.*

Belmont prairie is special because it is home to an unusually high number of blooming wildflowers and fascinating plant species. During the month of June, this remnant prairie puts on a most impressive floral display: the celebration of the pale purple coneflower. Mixed amongst the coneflowers, the bright-colored grasses crisscrossing the center of the frame are porcupine grass. Its long spear-like seeds miraculously drill themselves into the earth in a counter-clockwise motion that you can actually watch.*

Belmont prairie is special because it is home to an unusually high number of blooming wildflowers and fascinating plant species. During the month of June, this remnant prairie puts on a most impressive floral display: the celebration of the pale purple coneflowersr. Growing amongst the coneflowers, the bright-colored grasses crisscrossing the center of the frame are porcupine grass. Its long spear-like seeds miraculously drill themselves into the earth in a counter-clockwise motion that you can actually watch.*

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

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

Pasture Rose is a Flower that Must be Smelled

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

Pasture rose grows here in the sand prairie at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve. But you can also find it at other preserves, including Bluff Spring Fen and Pembroke Savanna. The fragrance of pasture rose is transcendent—a spiritual experience.*

Prairie Coreopsis

In the golden light of morning, wild quinine, stiff coreopsis, and leadplant overlook the foggy fen from atop the reconstructed kame and the remnants of Healy Road Prairie transplanted here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

In the golden light of morning, prairie coreopsis, wild quinine, and leadplant overlook the foggy fen from atop the reconstructed kame and the remnants of Healy Road Prairie transplanted here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin.*

Leadplant is Beginning to Bloom

It was a very dry year in Chicago, yet you wouldn’t know it from looking at this scene. The purple plant in this panorama is leadplant, which can search for water fifteen feet below the arid surface. Other drought-tolerant species seen here include prairie dropseed and wild quinine, in the front; and farther out, prairie dock, compass plant, and rattlesnake master.*

It was a very dry year in Chicago, yet you wouldn’t know it from looking at this scene from Somme Prairie Grove. The purple plant in this panorama is leadplant, which can search for water fifteen feet below the arid surface. Other drought-tolerant species seen here include prairie dropseed and wild quinine, in the front; and farther out, prairie dock, compass plant, and rattlesnake master.*

Ohio Spiderwort and its Melting Flowers

The blossoms of Ohio spiderwort open to meet a new day at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

This was the scene of Wolf Road Prairie on Saturday, June 20, as blossoms of Ohio spiderwort opened to meet the new day.*

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

In late May or early June, Ohio spiderwort
begins a performance that will last a month or longer, starring a cluster of buds that releases only a couple of flowers each day. Each morning, a new bud opens into a delicate blue or purple flower. You can find spiderwort, right now, at Wolf Road Prairie, Belmont Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Pembroke Savanna, Powderhorn Prairie, Miller Woods, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and more.

In late May, spiderwort begins a performance that will last a month or longer, starring a cluster of buds that releases only a couple of flowers each day. At dawn, a new bud opens into a delicate blue or purple flower. But as the day wears on, it begins to wither—then miraculously melts into a gem of royal jelly. An enzyme in the flower causes it to slowly decompose, and hot weather speeds up the process. It’s noon, and this flower is already shriveling.

As the day wears on, each blossom begins to wither—then miraculously melts into a gem of royal jelly. An enzyme in the flower causes it to slowly decompose, and hot weather speeds up the process. It’s noon, and this flower is already shriveling.

By midafternoon, this spiderwort blossom melts blue between my fingertips, thanks to an enzyme in the flowers that causes it to slowly decompose.

By midafternoon, this spiderwort bloom was melting blue between my fingertips. Do you notice my purple fingers? I was arrested earlier that morning.

Now that you know a little something about spiderwort, click here to read my poem about this plant from my book, My Journey into the Wilds of Chicago: A Celebration of Chicagoland’s Startling Natural Wonders.

Porcupine Grass and its Miraculous Self-Drilling Seeds

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

The seeds of porcupine grass are located at the tip of long sharp needles that fall off the plant and then slowly drill themselves into the soil. You can find porcupine grass at Belmont Prairie, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Bluff Spring Fen, and Powderhorn Marsh & Prairie.*

The awn of this porcupine grass seed is tightly twisted, as you can see by the winding yellow and black stripes along its length. The pointy seed head of porcupine grass is bearded, with hairs pointing upward to keep it lodged in the soil. As a fun experiment, drop the entire fruit into a tall glass of water and remove it after it has mostly straightened out. Dab it dry with a towel, and then stick the seed head into a small pot of dirt or, if in a pinch, a dry sponge. Now watch. Soon, you’ll begin to see the awn wind like a very slow second hand of a backwards-running clock.

The awn of this porcupine grass seed is tightly twisted, as you can see by the winding yellow and black stripes along its length. The pointy seed head of porcupine grass is bearded, with hairs pointing upward to keep it lodged in the soil.
As a fun experiment, drop the entire fruit into a tall glass of water and remove it after it has mostly straightened out. Dab it dry with a towel, and then stick the seed head into a small pot of dirt or, if in a pinch, a dry sponge. Now watch. Soon, you’ll begin to see the awn wind like a very slow second hand of a backwards-running clock.

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

Here at Belmont Prairie, porcupine grass glows in the morning light behind a profusion of pale purple coneflowers.*

Watch my video of porcupine grass drilling itself into the soil right before your eyes!


 CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT PORCUPINE GRASS.

Compass Plant, Prairie Dock, and the Glorious Green Glow

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

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

Light shines through a translucent leaf of prairie dock, as golden Alexander casts their shadows.*

Green glow describes leaves that glow a bright green from sunlight shining through them. Here, we see a special kind of green glow that results in a shadow play, as sunlight shines through a translucent leaf of prairie dock, as golden Alexander casts its distinctive silhouette.*

* 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

© 2020, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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