In addition to longer days and warmer weather, one of the most exciting (and most colorful) things about spring is the variety of wildflowers that carpet parts of the forest floor.
Chicagoland is home to numerous different species of native wildflowers, and these plants serve a crucial role in the ecosystem. Spring wildflowers provide unique and important habitat for native pollinators and other insects. These insects then become important sources of nourishment for migratory birds.
“Spring wildflowers used to be everywhere before development occurred, which reduced the habitat for many species. Some spring ephemerals take up to 8 years, from seed, to develop before they put forth their first flower for reproduction,” says Diana Krug with the Forest Preserves Resource Management Department. Now, many species of spring wildflowers can only be seen in protected open spaces like forest preserves.
According to Irene Flebbe, assistant director of Trailside Museum of Natural History, bloom time of many wildflowers has a lot to do both soil temperature and air temperature. “A warm spring may cause wildflowers to do all their blooming very early and be done, while a cooler spring may extend bloom time,” explains Flebbe.
The best places for FPCC visitors to see spring wildflowers are at the Nature Centers and at wooded forest preserves that have had a high level of ongoing restoration. Below is a list of common wildflowers to watch for at Nature Centers:
- Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica)
- Cutleaf toothwort (Dentaria laciniata)
- White trout lily (Erythronium albidum)
- Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)
- Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
- White trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)
- Prairie trillium (Trillium recurvatum)
Did You Know?
The Forest Preserves of Cook County, in partnership with University of Illinois Extension, now offers the Conservation@Home program, which encourages residents of Cook County to adopt “Forest Preserves Friendly” practices while providing wildlife and native plant habitats in residential, school and workplace gardens.
Landowners can participate in and earn a Conservation@Home certification and sign for their yard by filling out an application, meeting easy-to-follow criteria, and inviting a Conservation@Home evaluator to their yard for an evaluation. The criteria includes:
- Property must have native plants
- Owner is actively working on the removal of invasive species
- Plantings and management encourage wildlife into the yard
- Water conservation should be practiced with rain barrels or rain gardens
- Use of chemicals is minimal to none, and/or use of organic fertilizers