Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
August 4, 2021
“Weekly Wildflower Reports Featuring
Chicago’s Best Outdoor Getaways & Nature Trips”
Chicago’s Best Weekend Walks & Outdoor Getaways!
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INSPIRING UPDATE: Since just last week, Vic & Ann Berardi have joined our scouting group and have already scouted Illinois Beach Nature Preserve! They love that preserve and visit it frequently. We’re so excited to have them aboard.
WILDFLOWER HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR OUTDOOR ADVENTURES INTO CHICAGO’S WOODLANDS:
This is another memorable week with flower shows happening in woodlands, wetlands, and prairies. It’s hard to go wrong when picking a preserve to visit because they all have some exciting to offer.
Spears Woods is again the frontrunner for floral beauty with blooming in the prairies, woodlands, and wetlands. This preserve also provides great trails far away from traffic, varied habitats, and dramatic vistas. And while you’re there, catch a glimpse of the aquatic American lotus in Hogwash Slough. The pale yellow blossoms resemble those of a water lily, but they’re much larger—up to eight inches wide atop stems that can reach six feet high. And that isn’t all. The circular leaf is gorgeous and enormous, up to two and a half feet in diameter! See the Photo Section below for images of American lotus (and where to find it) along with the many flowers featured in this report.
NOTE: It’s August. But I sometimes call it Foggust because August is the foggiest month of the year. So, if visit a preserve in the morning, wear gear because you could end up soaked to the skin from the dew.
Wolf Road Prairie has grown in beauty over the last week, as flowering has increased in both the savanna and prairie. The experience should blow you away. In the prairie, the purple spikes of prairie blazing star and marsh blazing star add beautifully to the stunning array of gold and white blooms, including the kooky rattlesnake master with its ivory Tinker Toy shaped molecular shaped flower heads.
Somme Prairie Grove is putting on shows in the woodland and the savanna! Belmont Prairie is a beautiful little dream. Nodding wild onion (our Plant of the Week) is blooming across the vast grassland of Lockport Prairie, and also at Shoe Factory Road Prairie and Bluff Spring Fen. And Shoe Factory Road Prairie is also blooming strong with many different species to experience.
Illinois Beach Nature Preserve (and probably Pembroke Savanna, which was not scouted) is overflowing with sparkling florets of flowering spurge according to our newest scouts, Vic and Ann Berardi. Bluff Spring Fen is offering two dozen species that are now aflower. And Theodore Stone Preserve is providing a great prairie show that stars yellow coneflower and many others plants that share the stage.
Here is my most profound recommendation for enjoying your time in nature. If the preserve allows, arrive before first light. A morning rendezvous with nature is a magical experience that vastly transcends what’s possible at other times of day. In the early bright, the world expands beyond the usual three dimensions, as the transformation from darkness into light excites more than just the visual sense. As night gives birth to dawn, and the landscape gently turns from azure to gold, the soft and changing light is a spectacle for the eyes. A moist fog or a splash of crisp dew against your skin affirms your existence. The still atmosphere concentrates the fragrances floating in the air and provides a tranquil stage for birds to project their crystal melodies. In the morning, you’ll find all of this, along with the promise of a new day.
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.
Spears Woods in Willow Springs (8/1=): Wow! This preserve is wonderful. The flashiest shows are taking place in the prairies where expanses of flowers flow across the landscape. Dense colonies of alabaster wild quinine and the ivory Tinker Toy shapes of rattlesnake master are beautifully breathtaking on their own. But you may need to catch your breath when they blend with purple prairie blazing star and ironweed, drooping heads of early goldenrod, lavender puffs of wild bergamot, and white spikes of Culver’s root. Again, “Wow!” Along your way, you’ll experience the golden blooms at all levels: black-eyed Susan near your feet, rosinweed and flowering spurge at your belly button, and the large sunflowers of compass plant above your head. Notice the pink filigree of showy tick trefoil that can look like a purple mist mingling amongst the other flowers. And turkey-footed heads of big bluestem grass are beginning to flower. If you stand at a high spot, scan the prairie below for the orange Silly String of parasitic field dodder draped over and around the plants that it’s feeding on. The woodland has now come alive with the fluffy mauve heads of sweet Joe-Pye weed and golden rays of woodland sunflower. And the magnificent aquatic American lotus flower is blooming at the north end of Hogwash Slough. The pale yellow blossoms resemble those of a water lily, but they’re much larger—up to eight inches wide atop stems that can reach six feet high. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Wolf Road Prairie is not too far away.
Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (8/4=): “GOrgeous!” puns our scout, Amanda, in her report about today’s scouting mission. The information can’t be fresher than that. The flowering is tremendous, again, in the southmost portion of preserve, which includes both prairie and oak savanna. The savanna is alive with dense blooms of woodland sunflower alongside pink plumes of sweet Joe-Pye weed and bristly sprays of bottlebrush grass. And the prairie is overflowing with all manner of flowers, including incredible forests of golden flowering prairie dock and compass plant. Rosinweed, early goldenrod, yellow coneflower, and black-eyed Susan also add a range of yellows to the palette. The shimmering and exploding whites of wild quinine, rattlesnake master, and Culver’s root are joined by purple torches of prairie blazing star , touches of lavender wild bergamot, early puffs of ironweed, balls of nodding wild onion, and a pink haze of showy tick trefoil. White flowering spurge and the occasional splashes of mountain mint add additional sparkle amidst the tall big bluestem grass. Note: Theodore Stone Preserve and Spears Woods are not too far away.
Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin (8/2+): Many species are now aflower across the preserve, which is why it’s near the top of this week’s “Go!” list. The best show is being performed by marsh blazing star in the center of the the main wetland known as a fen. Begin your hike at the main trailhead that winds you under the trees and along the kames of the oak savanna, around the sunny prairie, and through the fen. Enter the oak savanna from the kiosk to find beautiful patches of sweet Joe-Pye weed and American bellflower, along with pale Indian plantain, starry campion, wild bergamot, yellow coneflower, and whimsical bottlebrush grass. At the troll bridge, where friendly trolls have helped to restore the adjacent wetland habitat, look to your right for a grand expanse of spotted Joe-Pye weed. Continuing under the protection of oaks, take the narrow trail on your left to the top of the large kame. On your way up, look for a display of sprawling and whimsical bottlebrush grass. Once at the gravelly peak, you’ll experience a unique view of the preserve and newly blooming cylindrical blazing star, fading purple prairie clover, wild quinine, and hoary vervain. Go back down the same way you entered, turn left on the main trail, and then make a right as you reach the end of the kame. Once under the sun, you’ll find marsh blazing star, blue vervain, lots of wild bergamot, creamy tuberous Indian plantain, pearly flowering spurge, wild quinine, and rattlesnake master, plus flowering big bluestem, beautiful flourishes of Canada wild rye, and a “forest” of compass plant in the southwest corner. As the trail veers left to the east, you’ll again pass through stands of blooming big bluestem and into a gravelly area with hoary vervain, named for its soft hairy leaves, and some remaining blooms of purple prairie clover. Ahead to your right is what we call the “transplant kame.” We call it that because Healy Road Prairie, located six miles away, was being mined for its gravel, and a community of hundreds of volunteers dug it up and transplanted it here. Years before, the transplant kame was also mined to the ground, but it was reconstructed to become the new home of Healy Road Prairie. Blossoming on the kame, you’ll find many blooms of compass plant, wild quinine, and yellow coneflower. Make a left at the end of the kame to descend into the bowl of the fen. Move slowly and watch your step as you pass through dense willows (which desperately need trimming). Be careful not to trip on the narrow boardwalk that immediately awaits you after the willows! Cross the boardwalk to find mountain mint, lance-leaved loosestrife, a nice patch of purple marsh blazing star, black-eyed Susan, early goldenrod, Illinois tick trefoil, spotted Joe-Pye weed, and shrubby cinquefoil. After you cross the second boardwalk, stay straight (don’t veer left), as the trail ducks under a low tree so that you can scale up the side of the sitchback kame where cylindrical blazing star and a little purple prairie clover awaits you. As the trails steers left and down, you’ll see some of the same species as before, with especially nice stands of American bellflower. Continue left across the creek and to the left of the big kame that winds right and takes you back to the trailhead.
NOTE: If you visit early in the morning, wear rain gear or you’ll end up soaked to the skin from dew. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (7/31=): This is one of the finest preserves in the region, yet we don’t have enough people to scout it for you. Please help us scout or donate. The woodland surrounding the savanna is making a strong statement with a glorious display of woodland sunflower and many more flowers and grasses that include the pink-plumed sweet Joe-Pye weed, blue American bellflower, alabaster starry campion and towering pale Indian plantain, yellow sweet coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and large flowered false foxglove, the purple buttons of ironweed, and the perfectly named bottlebrush grass. Under the open sky, golden rays of prairie dock and compass plant stretch for the clouds. Closer to the ground, you’ll find scores of other flowers that will take your breath away with sparkling textures and colors that include the following species: yellow coneflower, swamp milkweed, spiked Culver’s root, rattlesnake master, white filigrees of flowering spurge and mountain mint. early goldenrod, nodding wild onion, and possibly some obedient plant since we last scouted it four days ago. If you run into the yellow-flowered rosinweed, run your fingers over the foliage and you’ll instantly understand the name. The floppy stringy hairdos of prairie dropseed is growing everywhere under the sun, but watch your step. No kidding. It’s easy to trip over. NOTE: If you visit in the morning, wear waterproof pants and shoes, otherwise you’ll probably get soaked from the dew.
Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (8/3+): Thanks to our newest scouts, Vic and Ann Berardi for making their maiden scouting mission to this preserve. The floating white blooms of flowering spurge are aflower across the preserve, in both the savanna and sand prairie. It’s a beautiful sparkling scene. There are other flowers blooming here and there, but not many. However, there is a beautiful one that always makes me happy: the round trumpeted yellow blossom of large flowered false foxglove. Along your way, you’ll find a few remaining blooms of butterfly weed, plus purple prairie clover, early goldenrod, and shrubby cinquefoil. The tall golden rays of western sunflower are just starting to flower, but will soon be blooming throughout the site.
Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates (8/2+): This Illinois Nature Preserve is located inside the fence, where the color is dominated by yellow and white with patches of pink. Rosinweed is the main contributor to the yellows along with its cousins prairie dock and compass plant, plus yellow coneflower and early goldenrod. The whites come mainly from rattlesnake master and flowering spurge. And nice patches of obedient plant provide most of the pink and a smattering of nodding wild onion, cylindrical blazing star, and the final blooms of purple prairie clover. Outside the fence, you’ll experience a wider array of flowers, including a vast display of Tinker-Toy shaped rattlesnake master. Notice how they smell. I can’t put my nose on it, but it’s odd, bordering on unpleasantly sweet. Let me know how you’d describe it by writing a comment below. You’ll also find nodding wild onion and lots of yellow coneflower, flowering spurge, and wild bergamot. Just along the perimeter of the fence, you should see both white prairie clover and purple prairie clover. The latter has the best smell—a refreshing mix of lemons and carrots. But the white species has a traditional floral scent. Ordinary. Nothing special. Vanilla. Just as the color suggests. A fabulous show of prairie blazing star is purpling up the southern base of the hill. You’ll also see early goldenrod, wild quinine, rosinweed, compass plant, and round-headed bush clover. NOTE: Consider visiting Bluff Spring Fen while you’re here. It’s roughly in the neighborhood.
Theodore Stone Preserve in Hodgkins (8/2=): The dramatic large expanse of yellow coneflower is the star of the show. But there are other flowers to be experienced, as well, including wild bergamot, early goldenrod, rosinweed, prairie blazing star, compass plant, and the new yellow flowers of partridge pea. The deep pinks of ironweed are great addition to the panorama. And you’ll also find lots of rattlesnake master and wild quinine along with some mountain mint. Look for the beautiful pink swamp milkweed in the low or wet areas. The fragrant blooms of whorled milkweed and purple prairie clover can still be experienced in the eastern dolomite prairie. Note: Spears Woods and Wolf Road Prairie are not too far away.
Lockport Prairie in Lockport (8/2=): The bloom of nodding wild onion is main reason that this prairie is on our list, and it’s putting on a big show right now amidst a jade haze of big bluestem grass. On your walk along the out-and-back trail that, for me, ends soon after the trees begin, you’ll find the wonderfully fragrant whorled milkweed and a sprinkling of blue vervain, hoary vervain, pale-spiked lobelia, and spotted Joe-Pye weed amidst the waves of grasses that dominate this dolomite prairie.
Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (8/2=): This remnant prairie is glorious and aglow with tones of mostly yellow and white. The most prominent shows are being staged by towering compass plant and the whimsical rattlesnake master. The golden blossoms of compass plant are joined in cameo appearances by yellow coneflower, black-eyed Susan, and rosinweed. The ivory balls of rattlesnake master are supported by sparkling sprays of flowering spurge, wild quinine, and the occasional mountain mint, which you really must smell. And long the way, you’ll also experience purple torches of prairie blazing star and beautiful orange highlights of butterfly weed.
GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:
Gensburg-Markham Prairie in Markham (Unscouted. Last scouted on 7/27.): 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. Last week, the most prominent flowers was wild quinine, rattlesnake master, and purple marsh blazing star. However, this week, I’m pretty sure that the yellow blossoms of partridge pea and the white-pink blooms of nodding wild onion have joined in. You should also find lavender wild bergamot, pink marsh phlox, and the deep pinks of swamp milkweed and spotted Joe-Pye weed. There are the whites of flowering spurge and Culver’s root alongside golden black-eyed Susan, yellow coneflower, rosinweed, and nice amounts of early goldenrod. And don’t forget to appreciate the oceans of grasses that wave in the warm summer winds.
NOTE: Under the summer sun, this prairie can feel hot and bright. For a more enjoyable time, visit in the morning or late-afternoon.
Lake in the Hills Fen in Lake in the Hills (Unscouted. Last scouted on 7/19+.): When last scouted, this preserve offered a beautiful expansive view that is best enjoyed at edges of daylight, when it’s not hot and sunny. Enjoy an array of flowers that flow along the vast rolling landscape of the prairie and fen, including the lavenders of wild bergamot, white and purple prairie clover, golden black-eyed Susan and yellow coneflower, pale purple coneflower, Culver’s root, blue vervain, spotted Joe-Pye weed, and mauve common milkweed that smells like a bunch of over-perfumed old ladies on Bingo night. And don’t forget to look for patches of the beautiful purple marsh blazing star.
PLANT OF THE WEEK: NODDING WILD ONION
Wolf Road Prairie: A State of Glorious Chaos
Spears Woods is Exploding
Bluff Spring Fen is Teeming with Blooms
Shoe Factory Road Prairie
Illinois Beach Nature Preserve
The Blazing Stars of Prairie, Marsh, and Cylindrical
Nodding Wild Onion
Sweet Joe-Pye Weed
Wild Quinine Can Be Found in Many Prairies
Culver’s Root Still Shines
Wild Bergamot & Yellow Coneflower
Butterfly Weed is Ending
American Lotus at Tomahawk Slough & Hogwash Slough
Canada Wild Rye
Big Bluestem Grass
Side-Oats Grama is Soon to Bloom
Prairie Root System
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© 2021, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.