Even with the Cold, Spring Is Indeed Here

Old man winter ignored the recent vernal equinox and dusted Nature Boardwalk with some snow last night. Regardless, some native plants have begun actively growing above ground, dotting the landscape with green.

Rattlesnake-master (Eryngium yuccifolium) has leathery leaves edged with spines (seen above in last year’s dried foliage). In July this plant will send up a stiff stalk with spiny, contracted umbels of dense, white flowers. Old-timers used the roots to cure rattlesnake bites, hence the common name. (We recommend calling 911 for your snakebite needs.)

Nodding wild onion (Allium cernuum) is one of three onion species native to Cook County. There is some confusion over which species the city of Chicago was named after (most likely the wild leek [Allium tricoccum]), but certainly Native Americans encountered nodding wild onion when traveling along the lakefront dunes pre-settlement, perhaps digging up a few for dinner. The bulb has a mild onion flavor. This species has pink flowers that appear in mid-summer.

Black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta) was one of the more vigorous bloomers in Nature Boardwalk’s first year. This species is easy to grow, very adaptable and is one of the keystone species in prairie restoration. Although fairly short-lived, it reproduces vegetatively (as seen above), and produces lots of seed. The flowers, with bright yellow rays and dark centers, are pollinated by bees and flies all summer long.

We spotted our first flower buds of the season on a small prairie smoke (Geum triflorum). One of the earliest bloomers of our local native flora, prairie smoke flowers nod toward the ground until they’re pollinated by bees that force their way into the nearly closed petals. After pollination, the stalks and flowers turn upward, eventually developing feathery plumes that resemble puffs of smoke. The matted foliage is attractive as well, particularly in autumn when the leaves turn red. Be sure to look for those determined bees in the coming weeks, as they’re surely a sign that spring is indeed here.

Mike Davenport

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