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ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT08-16-2019

ChicagoNatureNow! ALERT
08-16-2019

  • Author: Zhiyong Wei
  • Date Posted: Aug 15, 2019
  • Category:

Chicago Nature Now! Alert
August 16, 2019

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

Plan the Best Outdoor Getaways Around Chicago!

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SHARE YOUR LOVE OF NATURE BY BECOMING A NATURE SCOUT! Each week, we help your neighbors find peace. Lean about becoming a nature scout.

The summer blooms have been so frequent and dramatic that I’m worried that you’re taking the beauty for granted and not actually getting out there. Let us know what you’ve been up to by using the comment section (below) or by posting your messages and pictures on our Friends of ChicagoNatureNOW! Facebook group.

WILDFLOWER HIGHLIGHTS TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR OUTDOOR WEEKEND GETAWAY IN CHICAGO NATURE:

 

Prairie

by Stan Slaughter

Prarie_eee_eee where the grass grows tall and the wind blows free
Prarie_eee_eee you know it’s the way the land is supposed to be

You’re never gonna see just plain old dirt
Nature’s makin’ life for all she’s worth
Bison and coyote and prairie chicken
If you go once you’ll go back again

Most of the prairie has now been plowed
All of the bison have changed to cows
If we plant a prairie, we can just relax
Nature takes over and grows great grass

Get lost in the ocean of wild sweet flowers
Where the wind’s old song s you can hear right now
Where the roots grow deep into the ground
Where the fires sweep over, but you can’t burn down

Where the earth sends the sky a great big smile
Where the grass rolls on for mile after mile
When the prairie grows wild we”ll have no lack

Won’t you help us to bring ’em back.

 

Did you follow our past few weeks’ posts to visit the best prairies in Chicagoland?  If you did,  I bet you “got lost in the ocean of wild sweet flowers.” From April to September, there are non-stop wild flower and plant shows at the featured woodlands or prairies in Chicagoland.  There is no national park that has such a long blooming season.  Every week there is something new happening.  This week, the tall grass that defines our prairie are in good shape.  In a week or two, another wave of blazing star – rough blazing star will carpet some of the featured prairies here.

Our Plant of the Week is still flowering spurge, which you can find at many prairies and savannas across the region.  It has reached peak condition.  Big bluestem and Indian grass are quickly filling the prairies.  These tall grasses look great in the early morning when the first sunlight hits the heads of the grasses with morning dew.  Prairie blazing star and marsh blazing star have done their duty in the prairie.  The grand show of woodland sunflower might have just passed the peak, but still looking good along with sweet Joe-Pye weed.   

According to our last year’s record, Prairie dock and compass plant should be displaying their golden sunflowers upon tall stalks that can easily reach ten feet high. When growing in a group, they look like forests. See if you can find these dreamy prairie forests at Wolf Road Prairie, Fermilab Prairie, Kickapoo Prairie,and Somme Prairie Grove.  We did not scout all of these preserves as we are short handed right now, but let us know what you find out if you do visit.

 

NOTE: Prairies are wet in the morning, so wear rain gear to avoid being drenched in dew.

PRESERVES TO VISIT THIS WEEKEND FOR A WILDFLOWER WALK 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 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!”):

Spears Woods in Willow Spring (8/13=): If you were impressed by woodland sunflower, early goldenrod, and prairie blazing star in this preserve last week, you will be impressed again by the new bloom of flowering spurge.  There are good coverage of this flower in both prairie and savanna.  The delicate pearly blooms of flowering spurge create newfound sparkle, reminiscent of baby’s breath in a floral bouquet. Many of the flowers that were blooming in the past few weeks started to show age, but still look good.  The turkey-foot tassels of big bluestem are filling the prairie quickly.  In the woodland, you can still find peak blooms of the towering pinkish sweet Joe-Pye weed and woodland sunflower.

Middlefork Savanna in Lake Forest (8/13=): Many dramatic plants are still blooming in large quantities. The most conspicuous and widespread are wild bergamot, cup plant, yellow coneflower, rattlesnake master, and rosinweed. Dramatic purples of prairie blazing star and ironweed add visual excitement. Skyward sawtooth sunflower and pale Indian plantain make an impression. And there’s much more to see: mountain mint, blue vervain, obedient plant, Culver’s root, prairie sundrop, nodding wild onion, and the gloriously red cardinal flower. In the wetter areas, you’ll find the gorgeous pink blooms of swamp milkweed, the bright pink blooms of spotted Joe-Pye weed, the spectacular purple spikes of pickerel weed, and the large pink blossoms of swamp rose mallow.

Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook (Last 8/7+): We did not scout this preserve this week.  Here is the report from the same week of last year: “The woodland surrounding the preserve is gorgeous, featuring a grand display of woodland sunflower, brown-eyed Susan, ironweed, and sweet Joe-Pye weed. Under the sun. peruse the panoply of prairie plants, including early goldenrodprairie dock, flowering spurge, and prairie dropseed. The long hairlike leaves of dropseed are turning yellow, making a beautiful combination of color and texture against the sprays of brown seed heads of prairie clover. The plumes of prairie dropseed smell like slightly burnt buttered popcorn. Flowers are beginning to appear on obedient plant, rough blazing star, and the lovely, understated round-headed bush clover.”
IMPORTANT NOTE: There is construction on Dundee Road east of Waukegan Road, but you can still drive around the “Detour” barricade because it’s open to local traffic. The preserve entrance is located on the left side about 500 feet beyond the barricade. Due to the construction, Google Maps instructs you to park on Ferndale. Ignore it! Park in the main lot, or use the alternate parking location found on our web page for this preserve.

Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove (8/10=): This intimate remnant prairie is rich in blooms. Walk slowly to absorb the special moments. The main players are flowering spurge, early goldenrod, rattlesnake master, and, to a lesser extent, prairie blazing star. The flowering and towering big bluestem grass runs throughout the preserve, especially along one trail where it feels like you’re walking through a tunnel. Notice the wondrous foliage of prairie dock and compass plant that glow a bright green in the low sun. See Photo Section for a picture of the leaves.

Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester (Last 8/5=): We did not scout this preserve this week.  Please let us know what you find if you visit.  Here is the report from the same week of last year: “Wow! I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much prairie dock in one place. As you enter the oak savanna from the 31st Street trail head you’ll pass through a beautiful expanse of woodland sunflower and sweet Joe-Pye weed. In the prairie, you’ll find towering stalks of prairie dock. Look around for the tallest prairie dock plant. I found at nine-footer! Many other flowers are part of the prairie mix, as well, including flowering spurgerosinweed, compass plant, and early goldenrod.”

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion (8/10=): The site offers a varied terrain and a mix of habitats that bring interest and an added dimension to your visit, and there are good blooms of many flowers: flowering spurge, nodding wild onion, mountain mint, blue vervain, early goldenrod, and still some butterfly weed.  In a week or two, the sand prairie will be exploded with rough blazing star.

Pembroke Savanna in Hopkins Park (Last 8/5-): We did not scout this preserve this week.  According to last year’s record, this preserve may still be covered with flowering spurge and partridge pea. And rough blazing star may just start to bloom and will only get better in the coming weeks.

Fermilab Prairie in Batavia (8/13=) is looking its best in the prairie.  There are large quantity of showy tick-trefoil in the prairie.  You can find many other flowers such as early goldenrodprairie dock, flowering spurge, nodding wild onionbrown-eyed Susan, queen-anne’s lace, bull thistle, showy patridge pea, etc.

 

GO, IF YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:

Shoe Factory Road Prairie in Hoffman Estates (Last 8/4=): We did not scout this preserve this week.  The show of cylindrical blazing star was early this year, so should be done by now.  According to last year’s report, you may find western sunflower, flowering spurge, nodding wild onion, and the emerging blooms of obedient plant and rough blazing star. Note: Bluff Spring Fen is located nearby.

 

PRESERVES FOR YOU TO SCOUT:

This is a category for those who’d like do a little exploring for us. The preserves listed below were not scouted, this week, but may be worth the trip. Please send us your findings and images by email or, better still, join our Friends of ChicagoNatureNOW! Facebook page. While visiting a preserve, take mostly scenic pictures, tell us which flowers are blooming, and then give us your bottom-line opinion of your experience. Tell us if it’s a “GO,” a “Go, if you’re in the neighborhood,” or a “NO.” If you’d like to scout more regularly, then learn about becoming an official Nature Scout.

Powderhorn Marsh & Prairie in Chicago: This high-quality preserve is located inside the city of Chicago.

Miller Woods at Indiana Dunes National Park: We’re looking for a scout to regularly visit this big, beautiful preserve. Let us know if you’re interested.

Chiwaukee Prairie in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin: This prairie-by-the-lake offers cooler temperatures during the hot summer months. Let us know what you find!

COMING SOON: OBEDIENT PLANT, ROUGH BLAZING STAR

PLANT OF THE WEEK: FLOWERING SPURGE

In August, the white blooms of flowering spurge erupts across the sand savanna at Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve in Hopkins Park, Illinois.*

In August, the white blooms of flowering spurge erupts across the sand savanna at Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve and many other of our showcase preserves, including Illinois Beach Nature Preserve, Somme Prairie Grove, Spears Woods, Belmont Prairie, Wolf Road Prairie, and Bluff Spring Fen. The plant is very common, growing in every Illinois county. It thrives in almost any kind of soil and in most living conditions, from disturbed to high-quality areas. It particularly likes poor soil where there is less competition from other plants. I think of this plant as the prairie equivalent to baby’s breath in a floral bouquet.*

PHOTO SECTION

Prairie & Marsh Blazing Star

Prairie blazing star and rosinweed in July at Belmont Prairie in Downers Grove, Illinois.*

In late July and early August, the spectacular purple blooms of marsh and prairie blazing star turns prairie ablaze. They are the first of the blazing stars to flower in the summer, followed by cylindrical, savanna, and then rough blazing star. Both marsh and prairie blazing star can easily reach five feet tall The only way to differentiate them is to decipher this coded message from the Illinois Wildflowers website:, “Prairie Blazingstar has floral bracts (phyllaries) that are strongly recurved, while the floral bracts of Marsh Blazingstar are appressed together and relatively smooth.” Huh? Even my magic decoder ring can’t decipher the message.

The flowers on these plants bloom from the top downward, which is helpful for photographers (and our scouts) to know if the flowers are coming or going. 

You can experience one or both of these magnificent plants at Belmont Prairie, Spears Woods, Gensburg-Markham Prairie, Bluff Spring Fen, Wolf Road Prairie, Somme Prairie grove, Middlefork Savanna, and many other prairies on our list of showcase preserves.

Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake master

Rattlesnake master is a wonderful Chicago prairie flower that looks resembles Tinker Toys or molecular structures, or something you might find in Arizona or Texas. The plant gets its name because some Native Americans brewed a tea from the root as an antidote for rattlesnake venom. To prevent bites, some chewed on the root, then spat on their hands before handling a rattlesnake. Of course, I’m interested to know if this really works. What’s more, the research may not even require a flight to the desert. That’s because, believe it or not, the rare and endangered eastern massasauga rattlesnake lives right here in the Chicago area. So, if you perform the experiment, please get back to me with the results, either you or next of kin. To experience rattlesnake master, visit Belmont Prairie, Somme Prairie Grove, Shoe Factory Road PrairieWolf Road PrairieFermilab PrairieGensburg Markham PrairieKickapoo Woods and PrairieSpears WoodsTheodore Stone Preserve, and other local prairies over the next few weeks.*

Big Bluestem Grass

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

The towering height of big bluestem grass gives true meaning to the term “tallgrass prairie.”*

Miniature flowers delicately hang from the tassel of big bluestem grass.*

Miniature flowers delicately hang from the tassel of big bluestem grass.*

 

Canada Wild Rye

The plume of Canada wild rye covered drenched in morning dew at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

This plume of Canada wild rye is drenched in dew at Bluff Spring Fen, which is very common for the foggy, dewy mornings of August.

Mountain Mint 

Mountain mint and prairie blazing star flower in the July prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs.*

Inhale the invigorating white flowers of mountain mint that grow here at Spears Woods and at many other preserves on our list.*

Compass Plant

Compass plant towers into the sky.*

The golden flowers of compass plant is now blooming atop a stalk that reaches for the sky.*

Landscape of compass plants at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Illinois.*

Landscape of compass plants at Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Illinois.*

The Wonderful Large Leaves of Compass Plant & Prairie Dock

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 from a cousin called compass plant.*

Swamp Rose Mallow

The beautiful blooms of swamp rose mallow is a plant that can be found in August around some of Chicago's wetlands.*

The large blooms of swamp rose mallow is a plant that can be found in August around some of Chicago’s wetlands.*

Spears Woods

Early rays of summer sun filter through the trees and into the vibrant prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois.*

Early rays of summer sun filter through the trees and into the vibrant prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois.*

Here in late July at Spears Woods, wildflowers float above the prairie like musical notes in a symphony of color and texture.*

At Spears Woods, wildflowers float above the prairie like musical notes in a symphony of color and texture.*

Prairie blazing star and wild quinine light up the prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois.*

Prairie blazing star and wild quinine light up the prairie at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois.*

In the open woodland at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, summer brings tall blooms of sweet Joe-Pye weed.*

In the open woodland at Spears Woods in Willow Springs, Illinois, summer brings tall blooms of sweet Joe-Pye weed. As of this post, they are just starting bloom.*

Illinois Beach Nature Preserve

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

Butterfly milkweed (or butterfly weed) is now blooming in the black oak savanna at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, Illinois. And you can find it at many other preserves in the region, including Belmont Prairie, Powderhorn Prairie, and Somme Prairie Grove.*

The Dead River, at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, is the only remaining river in Illinois that flows into Lake Michigan. The name comes either from deep pools of quicksand hidden along the banks that devour unsuspecting hikers or from water that remains still and barely flows. On this sapphire morning, the latter was true.*

The Dead River, at Illinois Beach Nature Preserve in Zion, is the only remaining river in Illinois that flows into Lake Michigan. The name comes either from deep pools of quicksand hidden along the banks that devour unsuspecting hikers or from water that remains still and barely flows. On this sapphire morning, the latter was true.*

Somme Prairie Grove

At Somme Prairie Grove, woodland sunflowers surround this majestic bur oak in the savanna.*

At Somme Prairie Grove, woodland sunflowers surround this majestic bur oak in the savanna.*

Here, at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois , we see the large, deeply lobed leaf of compass plant among a sea of purple prairie clover.*

Here, at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois, we see the large, deeply lobed leaf of compass plant among a sea of purple prairie clover.*

Purple prairie clover and mountain mint steal the show in this area of Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.

Purple prairie clover and mountain mint steal the show in this area of Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Illinois.*

Bluff Spring Fen

Soon after entering Bluff Spring Fen, you’ll find yourself in an intimate oak savanna, where majestic bur oaks with outstretched limbs protect you in their nurturing embrace.*

Soon after entering Bluff Spring Fen, you’ll find yourself in an intimate oak savanna, where majestic bur oaks with outstretched limbs protect you in their nurturing embrace.*

Bottlebrush grass and wild bergamot glow in the morning light in the oak savanna at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Bottlebrush grass and wild bergamot glow in the morning light in the oak savanna at Bluff Spring Fen.

Blazing star blooms at the seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.

Marsh blazing star blooms at the main seep of the fen at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

In August, cylindircal blazingstar covers the northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Cylindrical blazing star covers the northeast kame at Bluff Spring Fen in Elgin, Illinois.*

Wolf Road Prairie

The July prairie explodes with diversity here at Wolf Road Prairie in Westchester, Illinois.

This image is fairly representative of what you’d see at Wolf Road Prairie, but every plant shown is currently blooming except for the tall purple spikes of prairie blazing star.*

In July, Wolf Road Prairie gives a lesson in biodiversity. Pictured are prairie blazing star, wild quinine, rattlesnake master, flowering spurge, rosinweed, and yellow coneflower.*

Wolf Road Prairie puts on a lesson in biodiversity. Pictured are prairie blazing star, wild quinine, rattlesnake master, flowering spurge, Culver’s root, rosinweed, and yellow coneflower.*

Gensburg-Markham Prairie

Gensburg-Markham Prairie is famous for its late July fanfare, when the fields ignite with white sparks of flowering spurge and purple torches of marsh blazing star.*

Gensburg-Markham Prairie is famous for its late July fanfare, when the fields ignite with white sparks of flowering spurge and purple torches of marsh blazing star.*

Prairie Root System

The root system of some common prairie plants.

The root system of some common prairie plants. Note that cylindrical blazing star has the deepest root that reaches over fifteen feet! Click the image for a bigger view.

* 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 poetically celebrates all of the preserves featured on this website.

—Zeke & Mike

© 2019, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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