Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 16, 2021
(Fall Color Preview & Final Report for 2021)
Weekly Wildflower Report
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Now that autumn is only days away, the blooming season has effectively ended in terms of new dramatic wildflower shows. Therefore, this post will be our final wildflower alert for the 2021 growing season. Below, I suggest where to find any remaining blooms and kaleidoscopic fall color in the weeks to come.
HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR FALL COLOR WEEKEND GETAWAYS IN CHICAGO NATURE:
Even though the goldenrods and sunflowers are fading, the prairie is already displaying autumn colors in its foliage. And with the many asters and gentians that flower into October, the prairie becomes a beautiful mosaic of oranges, golds, reds, maroons, cyans, browns, and tans. In one small patch of prairie, it’s common to see more color than any autumn woodland. You’ll experience towering waves of red-stemmed grasses and the tawny, fluffy spikes of gayfeather glowing in the sunlight. Here’s a preview of what you can find in the scenic preserves and woodlands 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. I love this place, which is why it tops the list.
- 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.
- Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois: This preserve is really a savanna, but it features many prairie plants that offer rich autumn color and texture. The many flowers and grasses that have brought us joy throughout the growing season are now performing their final show of the year.
- Lake in the Hills Fen: Visit this vast preserve to experience the grand grassland expanse that runs to a distant horizon. Wow!
- Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois: This prairie offers hundreds of species with a wonderful combination of color and texture. Walk (or drive) to the prairie house at the north end and view the prairie expanse from the deck.
- 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.
- Theodore Stone Preserve: The seas of grasses are beautiful. 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. There is also a woodland trail that offers some canopy color.
- Kickapoo Prairie in Riverdale, Illinois: This is a beautiful prairie very close to Chicago’s city limits with a sea of grasses.
- Powderhorn Prairie: Experience the fall color of the prairie at the most biodiverse natural area within the city limits of Chicago.
- Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: Visit the prairie for tall expanses of grasses and colorful foliage from the forbs. And while you’re on your way in, stop under the trees to receive a hug from the gallant oaks.
- 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 visits may be quite short, but always quite memorable.
- 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:
- Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois: Asters bloom into the first week of October along with white snakeroot and elm-leaved goldenrod. And because there is a mix of tree species, the color range is spectacular. The wetlands are beautiful as they reflect the surrounding color. And you’ll find lots of great hiking over the rolling terrain.
- Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois: The black oak savanna takes up the majority of this preserve. You can spend all day exploring.
- Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois: Because this is an oak savanna, the tree color is not as colorful as woodlands with a variety of species. Combined with the understory in the prairie-like expanse, this is a wonderful preserve to visit.
- Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois: This is a magical place with steep bluffs, a beautiful stream, and maples that scream gold. Wow! This is another favorite preserve of mine.
- Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in Darien, Illinois: This vast preserve is a very popular spot for hikers, bikers, and fall-color chasers. The tree colors in the woodland and savanna is very nice and I love the views along Sawmill Creek. It’s beautiful, but there are crowds of people on the weekends, especially around the man-made waterfall.
- Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve in Monee, Illinois: Like Black Partridge Woods, this site features a beautiful creek and a wonderful woodland where maples turn to gold.
- Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin: The intimate oak savanna is a dream come true! Stand under the tawny tones of venerable oaks and feel their warm embrace. Then continue on the trail into the prairie and fen, where unexpected color and texture complete the autumn experience.
- Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park, Illinois: This is the finest example of a black oak savanna anywhere in the world. For fall color, the black oaks can be a bit understated, but there is a wealth of color in the understory. I love the feel of this preserve. And you’re likely to be alone because the preserve is not frequently visited.
- Messenger Woods in Lockport, Illinois: This large woodland offers a golden maple forest.
- Pilcher Park in Joliet, Illinois: This hardwood maple woodland offers great color. But keep in mind that it’s a popular preserve. Go early for the best experience.
- Miller Woods in Indiana Dunes National Park: This is a big, beautiful preserve that features a black oak savanna with a rich understory. And the ferns are fun!
- Cowles Bog Trail in Indiana Dunes National Park: Walk the trail through the colorful black oak savanna. At a point along the trail, choose the fork to the right. Soon, you’ll be taken over a steep dune and onto a spectacular panorama of waving golden grasses along the sandy shores of a blue Lake Michigan. Wow!
- Sagawau Canyon: Call them to register for a canyon tour, or just go for a walk through the colorful woodland and prairie.
The hummingbirds are here! You can find them buzzing about at many nature centers including: Sagawau Canyon, Pilcher Park (at the nature center and south of the greenhouse), and Little Red Schoolhouse.
Miller Woods, Tolleston Dunes, Cowles Bog Trail, and Hoosier Prairie (all in northwestern Indiana) are leaping with gymnastic ferns that are beginning to change into their autumn color
PLANT OF THE WEEK: THE ASTERS (marking the end of the blooming season)
Bottle Gentians (through late September, possibly into October)
Fringed Gentian (through late September, possibly into October)
The Tallgrass Prairie
Get Outdoors and Discover What Autumn Can Bring:
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.