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ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT05-13-2021

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
05-13-2021

  • Author: Mike MacDonald
  • Date Posted: May 11, 2021
  • Category:

Chicago Nature NOW! Alert
May 13, 2021

“Weekly Wildflower Reports Featuring
Chicago’s Best Weekend Getaways & Nature Trips”

 

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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)

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. 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:

BE SAFE:

  • 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.

In early May, Black Partridge Woods becomes an emerald dream as the tree canopy adds its lushness to the woodland floor.

Last Saturday, Black Partridge Woods became an emerald dream as the filigree of the tree canopy added a lacey lushness to the woodland.


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!

Our Plant of the Week is wood betony, a beautiful plant that feeds off the sun while also feeding off of other plants and fungi. Right now, the best show is at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook.

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 sublime light blue plumes of wild hyacinth are just beginning to emerge at Wolf Road Prairie, Black Partridge Woods, and Oldfield Oaks in Darien. And I expect some very nice performances.

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 leekmayapple, 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

 
Wood betony blooms in the May savanna at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.

Wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis) is also known as lousewort because it was erroneously thought to bring lice to grazing sheep and photographers who get too close. For some of its nutritional needs, the plant uses its roots to feed off of grasses, mycorrhizal fungi, and possibly other plants. I said “some” nutritional needs. Therefore, that plant is a parasite, but only partially so. Hence, it’s a hemi-parasite, more of a nibbler, as opposed to a full-fledged sap-sucking parasite. Though the leaves at the base exude a beautiful reddish tone, the green color above is the giveaway. The verdant hue shows that it’s not totally lazy, and creates its own energy through sunlight and chlorophyll production. In fact, wood betony can grow just fine even when its host plants aren’t around. Due to its nibbling nature, wood betony is known to stunt the growth of surrounding grasses. This is why it’s sometimes used in habitat restoration to quell the aggressiveness of towering grasses. In May, wood betony blooms in the best open woodlands, prairies, and savannas, like Black Partridge Woods, Bluff Spring Fen, Shoe Factory Road Prairie, Chiwaukee Prairie, Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, and here at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois. *

On this May morning at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, wood betony blooms under a red sunrise.*

On this May morning at Shoe Factory Road Prairie, wood betony awakens to the light of a red sunrise.*

 

 

PHOTO SECTION

 

Birdfoot Violet & Sand Phlox are putting on a show:

In May, Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare birdfoot violet."

In May, Pembroke Savanna is home to blooms of white sand phlox and rare birdfoot violet.”

 

Wild Hyacinth is the newest dramatic bloom:

Wild hyacinth at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

Wild hyacinth at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.*

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 hyacinth blooms in woodlands and oak savannas across the Chicago region including, here, at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.

 
Wild hyacinths bloom in abundance at Oldfield Oaks in Darien.*

Wild hyacinth blooms in abundance at Oldfield Oaks in Darien.*

 

Wild Lupine is beginning to bloom in our sand savannas

Wild Lupine of species Lupinus perennis.

Wild lupine, of species Lupinus perennis, seems to love poor soil,. However, in ancient times, it was believed that the lupines were creating the bad soil by wolfing down the nutrients. Hence, the name comes from the Greek word “Lupus,” or “wolf.” In reality, lupine brings nutrients to the soil just like other legumes, such as leadplant, white wild indigo, scurfy pea, and purple prairie clover. Around Chicago, lupine can be found growing in sandy soil under the trees of black oak savannas, including Miller Woods, part of Indiana Dunes National Park and Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion.

 
Atop this spring dune thrives wild lupine at Miller Woods Nature Preserve, part of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in Gary, Indiana.*

Atop this spring dune thrives wild lupine at Miller Woods, part of Indiana Dunes National Park in Gary, Indiana. While you’re in the park, you also can find them at Tolleston Dunes, and West Beach.*

Painterly image of Wild lupine of species Lupinus perennis

An exploration into the inner world of wild lupine.

 

Beaver Activity at Miller Woods

Along the Paul H. Douglas Trails, part of Indiana Dunes National Park in Gary, Indiana, this path was made by beavers as they moved from their pond in one swale, over a dune, and into an adjacent swale.*

On the gravel road that rides a ridge at Miller Woods in Indiana Dunes National Park, beavers created this dark thoroughfare as they moved across the ridge from one swale to another.*

Stout Blue-Eyed Grass

Common blue-eyed grass

The sublime blooms of stout blue-eyed grass are now being revealed at Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park, Illinois. And you can find them at other preserves, including Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Chiwaukee Prairie, Miller Woods, and Somme Prairie Grove.*




Large-Flowered Trillium is still in bloom:

Large-flowered trillium of species Trillium grandiflorum covers the woodland floor in a spectacular annual display at J. Timothy Ritchie Nature Preserve in Chesterton, Indiana.*

This is a scene from J. Timothy Ritchie Nature Preserve, a preserve that supplements our featured preserve  Large-flowered trillium of species Trillium grandiflorum covers the woodland floor in a spectacular annual display at J. Timothy Ritchie Nature Preserve in Chesterton, Indiana.

Large-flowered trillium bloom in profusion at Harms Woods in Cook County, Illinois. The flowers turn pink as they fade.*

Trillium is Latin for “triple,” and the plant lives up to the word.  The showy plant is comprised of three leaves, three sepals, and three petals. The gorgeous white blooms of large-flowered trillium can now be found at our featured preserves of O’Hara Woods Preserve, Pilcher Park, and Messenger Woods and at other preserves like Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Metawa Meacham Grove in Bloomingdale, and, here, at Harms Woods in Glenview. Notice how the flowers turn pink as they fade.*

In May, large-flowered white trillium cover the woodland floor at Heron Rookery Trail at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.*

At Heron Rookery Trail in Indiana Dunes National Park, large-flowered trillium have reached peak bloom. It’s a magnificent sight.*

Large-flowered trillium carpet the floor of Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa, Illinois.

Large-flowered trillium carpet the floor of Captain Daniel Wright Woods in Mettawa, Illinois.*

Large-flowered trillium carpet the woodland floor at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen, Illinois.*

Messenger Woods in Homer Glen offers a decent display of large-flowered trillium. But don’t get too excited.. It doesn’t look like the above picture, anymore. Most of the plants have been eaten by deer due to decades of willful neglect by the county.*

 

Woodland Phlox is adding some newfound color to our woodlands:

Woodland phlox at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.*

Many of our featured woodlands are home to the blue and purple woodland phlox. Here at Black Partridge Woods, they flow in a serpentine wave up the bluff..*

 

Wild Geranium is now flowering in all of our woodlands:

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 in all of our featured “sandless” woodlands and at many other preserves across the Chicago region. Here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, the pink flower hovers above their celestial star-shaped foliage.*

At Raccoon Grove, as evening nears in this beautiful spring woodland, the final streaks of sunlight penetrate the emerald canopy. The shining rays highlight the broad leaves of false Solomon’s seal and animate the soft, pink blooms of wild geranium, making all that is illuminated stand apart from the surrounding foliage.*

At Raccoon Grove, as evening nears in this beautiful spring woodland, the final streaks of sunlight penetrate the emerald canopy. The shining rays highlight the broad leaves of false Solomon’s seal and animate the soft, pink blooms of wild geranium, making all that is illuminated stand apart from the surrounding foliage.*

May brings glorious displays of wild geranium to Oldfield Oaks in Darien, Illinois, part of Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.*

May brings glorious displays of wild geranium to Oldfield Oaks in Darien, Illinois, part of Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.*

 

Shooting Star:

The beautiful blooms of shooting star

The beautiful blooms of shooting star can be found in prairies and woodlands, alike.

Shooting stars and woodland phlox at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois

This is a scene of shooting star and woodland phlox from atop a bluff at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois.”

 

 

False Rue Anemone:

False rue anemone

False rue anemone is a beautiful flower that often blooms in clusters. They’re closed up into little white balls at the beginning and end of each day.

 

Prairie Trillium:

Red trillium and setting sun.*

This wonderful flower can be found at most of our featured woodlands. But Raccoon Grove Nature Preserve is my favorite place to see them because they grow in such large numbers. Here at O’Hara Woods in Romeoville, prairie trillium rises as the sun sets.*

 

Mayapple:

In woodlands across northeastern Illinois, like here at Black Partridge Woods in Lemont, Illinois, April showers bring out the umbrellas in the form of mayapples. And the white flowers of false rue anemone sparkle like raindrops.*

In woodlands across northeastern Illinois, like here at Black Partridge Woods, in Lemont, springtime showers bring out the umbrellas in the form of mayapples. And the white flowers of false rue anemone sparkle like raindrops. Soon, a waxy, white flower will appear, like a pedestrian under a parasol. (See the mayapple flower in the photo below.)*

 

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, the green foliage is the star of the springtime show. Here you see the heart-shaped leaves of wild ginger alongside a single blooming mayapple. The flowers of both plants can be found hiding beneath the leaves. All of our featured woodlands feature both of these plants.*

 

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. 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. You’ll find many at Pilcher Park Nature Center, Black Partridge Woods, Bluff Spring Fen, Trout Park, and O’Hara Woods.*

 
 

 

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

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—Mike

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