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ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT09-26-2019Fall Color Preview

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
09-26-2019
Fall Color Preview

  • Author: Mike MacDonald
  • Date Posted: Sep 26, 2019
  • Category:

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
September 26, 2019
(Fall Color Preview & Final Report for 2019)

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ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT<br>09-26-2019<br>Fall Color Preview

This year, our volunteer scouts have devoted hundreds of hours and traveled thousands of miles to bring you these free weekly reports. As our scouting work comes to an end for the season, please let us know about what our service brings to your life. We’d love to hear about your adventures! You can write a comment by visiting the blog, our Facebook group, or send me an email. And please share this website with others, and ask them to subscribe.

REMINDER FOR OUR SUBSCRIBERS: Earlier this week, you were sent an invitation for a special ChicagoNatureNOW! savanna tour and seed-collecting event at Somme Prairie Grove on Saturday, October 12. Look for the email and sign up fast. There are only a few spots left!

Now that autumn has arrived and the blooming season has effective ended, this post will be our final wildflower alert for the year. 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:

The prairie is the first habitat to display autumn color in its foliage. And with the many asters and gentians that flower into October, the prairie becomes a beautiful mosaic. Experience towering waves of red-stemmed grasses and the tawny, fluffy spikes of gayfeather glowing in the sunlight. In one small patch of prairie, it’s common to see more color than any autumn woodland: oranges, golds, reds, maroons, cyans, browns, and tans. Here’s a preview of what you’ll 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 olorful foliage from the forbs. And while you’re on your way in, stop under the trees to receive the 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 visit could be quite short.
  • 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 where maples 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 compete 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.

 

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS:

Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds, Hummingbirds!
The hummingbirds will often remain while the weather is warm. You can find them buzzing about at many nature centers including: Sagawau CanyonPilcher Park (at the nature center and south of the greenhouse), and Little Red Schoolhouse.

Canyon Tours
To experience a beautiful fern-lined canyon, call Sagawau Canyon in Lemont to sign up for their next canyon tour. Hurry! They fill up fast.

PLANT OF THE WEEK: THE ASTERS (marking the end of the blooming season)

New England asters

Asters come in a variety of colors: white, pink, purple, and blue. The name comes from an Ancient Greek word for “star.” You can find them in most prairies and savannas, and in some wetlands around the region. This is an image of New England aster, which is just one of the many species of aster that bloom at this time of year. Click here for a complete (pdf) list of local asters and goldenrods.

PHOTO SECTION

 

Get Outdoors and Discover What Autumn Can Bring:

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, where the prairie meets the woodland, late-September grasses turn to gold.*

At Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, where the prairie meets the woodland, late-September grasses turn to gold.*

At Spears Woods, with the warm evening light falling on this October prairie, the tubular tops of blazing star burned with a golden glow; but not two months earlier, they blazed with purple passion. Autumn transformed the cylindrical inflorescence of hundreds of feathery purple flowers into a column of invisible seeds—invisible because what we see is not the seed but the achene, a dry fruit with a single seed hidden inside. On this plant, also known as gayfeather, each achene, by design, forms a downy tan plume that takes to the air to be scattered by the wind.

At Spears Woods, with the warm evening light falling on this October prairie, the tubular tops of blazing star burned with a golden glow; but not two months earlier, they blazed with purple passion. Autumn transformed the cylindrical inflorescence of hundreds of feathery purple flowers into a column of invisible seeds—invisible because what we see is not the seed but the achene, a dry fruit with a single seed hidden inside. On this plant, also known as gayfeather, each achene, by design, forms a downy tan plume that takes to the air to be scattered by the wind.*

At Spears Woods, this ephemeral pond becomes a portal into an afternoon of autumn splendor.

At Spears Woods, this ephemeral pond becomes a portal into an afternoon of autumn splendor.*

Rare marram grass dominates the foredune along the shore of Lake Michigan at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

Rare marram grass dominates the foredune along the shore of Lake Michigan at Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Illinois.*

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, this radiant bush reaching out into the sand prairie is shrubby cinquefoil. In the summer, the plant is undramatic. Like a long, drawnout fireworks display, it releases its arsenal of flowers over a two- to three-month period as one flower explodes over here and another over there. But, in the fall, with foliage burning bright, shrubby cinquefoil goes all out, putting on one of the finest finales of any plant. There’s a lesson here. This fall, spare yourself the stiff neck from staring up at the trees and visit the prairie where you’ll find more color than in any woodland.*

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, this radiant bush reaching out into the sand prairie is shrubby cinquefoil. In the summer, the plant is undramatic. Like a long, drawn-out fireworks display, it releases its arsenal of flowers over a two- to three-month period as one flower explodes over here and another over there. But, in the fall, with foliage burning bright, shrubby cinquefoil goes all out, putting on one of the finest finales of any plant. There’s a lesson here. This fall, spare yourself the stiff neck from staring up at the trees and visit the prairie where you’ll find more color than in any woodland.*

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, wise oaks in this savanna spread their branches wide to allow the sun’s rays to nourish the diverse community of plants below. These enlightened trees have learned that sharing the light with life at the bottom ensures not only their survival but also the prospect of reaching new heights.*

At Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, wise oaks in this savanna spread their branches wide to allow the sun’s rays to nourish the diverse community of plants below. These enlightened trees have learned that sharing the light with life at the bottom ensures not only their survival but also the prospect of reaching new heights.*

In the fall at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, don’t just stare up at the trees. Look down. There’s a bounty of color at your feet. Here, a black oak leaf landed amidst a bed of pasture rose with leaves more vibrant than any tree in this savanna.

In the fall at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, don’t just stare up at the trees. Look down. There’s a bounty of color at your feet. Here, a black oak leaf landed amidst a bed of pasture rose with leaves more vibrant than any tree in this savanna.*

In the September savanna at Hoosier Prairie, ferns begin to change color before the trees.*

In the September savanna at Hoosier Prairie, ferns begin to change color before the trees.*

At Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, acrobatic cinnamon ferns take hold in the soggy ground of Cowles Bog, which is not a bog at all but, rather, a wetland known as a fen.

At Indiana Dunes National Park acrobatic cinnamon ferns change to gold along the Cowles Bog Trail.*

As you hike the boardwalk and the narrow sections of the Cowles Bog Trail, you may find yourself glancing down to watch your step. But in the fall, remember to raise your eyes to view the scenery in the skies.

As you hike the boardwalk and the narrow sections of the Cowles Bog Trail, you may find yourself glancing down to watch your step. But in the fall, remember to raise your eyes to view the scenery in the skies.*

In the fall at Black Partridge Woods, I head to the high vantage point of these bluffs to immerse myself in the intoxicating colors and textures of the tiered foliage. Down below, the creek bed is dry. But when the flow returns, fallen leaves will ride the colorful currents that reflect the radiant dome.

In the fall at Black Partridge Woods, I head to the high vantage point of these bluffs to immerse myself in the intoxicating colors and textures of the tiered foliage. Down below, the creek bed is dry. But when the flow returns, fallen leaves will ride the colorful currents that reflect the radiant dome.*

Compared to the golden maples of autumn, oaks can be a bit understated. Here, at Bluff Spring Fen, this bur oak, when placed in the spotlight, certainly puts on a show.

Compared to the golden maples of autumn, oaks can be a bit understated. Here at Bluff Spring Fen, this bur oak, when placed in the spotlight, certainly puts on a show.*

Visit Raccoon Grove in the fall for its golden maples and picturesque stream.

Visit Raccoon Grove in the fall for its golden maples and picturesque stream.*

Every October, I am drawn to the banks of Sawmill Creek for the annual celebration of golden maples. On this particular day, the stream turned to a trickle, its rocky bed transformed into the staging area for a colorful, yet peculiar, parade—one that waits for rainfall in order to proceed.*

Every October, I am drawn to the banks of Sawmill Creek at Waterfall Glen for the annual celebration of golden maples. On this particular day, the stream turned to a trickle, its rocky bed transformed into the staging area for a colorful, yet peculiar, parade—one that waits for rainfall in order to proceed.*

Bottle Gentians (through late September, possibly into October)

Bottle gentian (or closed gentian) is fully dependent on bumblebees for its survival. The petals of this unusual flower are effectively closed to other insects, but the strong bumblebee is able to muscle its way in through the tip. Late in the season, when fewer plants are blooming, bottle gentian relies on the slim pickings for pollination, hoping bumblebees won’t mind the extra effort.*

Bottle gentian (or closed gentian) is fully dependent on bumblebees for its survival. The petals of this unusual flower are effectively closed to other insects, but the strong bumblebee is able to muscle its way in through the tip. Late in the season, when fewer plants are blooming, bottle gentian relies on the slim pickings for pollination, hoping bumblebees won’t mind the extra effort.* 

When I first set eyes upon these fading blooms of bottle gentian, I was taken aback, struck by an arrow through my heart. Instantly, I fell in love with the prettiest flowers I had ever seen. Maybe I was just having one of those days, but I was close to tears.*

These are not flowers that fill the landscape, but they are sublime. Look closely and you’ll find them at Lake in the Hills FenWolf Road PrairieSomme Prairie Grove, Powderhorn Prairie, and Belmont Prairie. When I first set eyes upon these fading blooms of bottle gentian, I was taken aback, struck by an arrow through my heart. Instantly, I fell in love with the prettiest flowers I had ever seen. Maybe I was just having one of those days, but I was close to tears.*

Fringed Gentian (through late September, possibly into October)

Gorgeous fringed gentians bloom in September. However, the flowers are diurnal, meaning that the the blooms only open up with the sun and are closed at night and, sometimes, on cloudy days.*

Gorgeous fringed gentians bloom in September. However, the flowers are diurnal, meaning that the the blooms only open up with the sun and are closed at night and, sometimes, on cloudy days. You can find them at preserves like Bluff Spring Fen, Chiwaukee Prairie, and Lake in the Hills Fen.*

The Tallgrass Prairie

Big bluestem grass gives the true meaning to the term "tallgrass prairie."*

Here at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, big bluestem grass gives true meaning to the term “tallgrass prairie.” Find big bluestem at Belmont PrairieSomme Prairie GroveShoe Factory Road PrairieWolf Road PrairieFermilab PrairieGensburg Markham PrairieKickapoo PrairieSpears WoodsTheodore Stone Preserve, and other local prairies over the next several weeks.*

 

Canyon Tours

Lush ferns line the walls of Sagawau Canyon in Lemont, Illinois.

Lush ferns line the walls of Sagawau Canyon in Lemont, Illinois. But you can only see it if you sign up for their upcoming canyon tours. Register soon. They fill up quickly.*

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


ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT<br>09-26-2019<br>Fall Color Preview

If you find this website of Chicago nature information useful, please consider donating or purchasing my nationally-acclaimed book that poetically celebrates all of the preserves featured on this website.

—Mike

© 2019, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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