This week I asked my old friend the ‘sometimes painter’, Ben Llaneta, to report on the Week in Bloom from his home in Crystal Lake, Illinois, near Chicago (if you would like to report on ‘The Week in Bloom’ from your neck of the woods, please fill out the PARTICIPATE form and send a note):
Greetings from Crystal Lake, Illinois.
We’ve just come out of a particularly incessant winter, where it’s been consistently cold since mid-November, without the fluctuations between deep arctic chill and warm thaws that usually characterizes mid-continental winters. We’ve had significant snowfall until the end of March, and there was sleet as late as this past Tuesday. Given that, warm weather has returned, and suburban sights of spring—robins, daffodils, squills, and squirrel roadkill, have been common the past week.
The local geology is morainal, and topographical features are the result of various glacial processes. This pond in the main city park is a small kettle lake, formed when a depression—created by a partially-buried ice block—filled with water.
Wingate Prairie is a rare gravel hill prairie. The blue-painted boulder is an erratic—a rock transported great distances by a glacier, eventually left behind as the ice melted. Its composition differs from local stones. The boulder has become a sort of canvas for local artists and vandals.
A walk in the local oak woodland was dismaying. Almost all that was green were non-native and invasive species, mostly Japanese honeysuckle and garlic mustard, with some buckthorn. There were however two native plants blooming, on path margins which receive a little more sun than the main wooded areas.
The bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is named for its rhizome, which produces a caustic red sap that may be used as a dye, or as an emetic.
Hepatica nobilis, with characteristic hairy stems and triple-lobed foliage. Also called liverleaf.
Bloodroot and Liverleaf.
Rising above small pools of water in the fen that abuts the woods, the cricketlike mating call of the western chorus frog (Pseudacris triseriatata) was deafening. The frogs are small, less than two inches, and their call abruptly stops when they are disturbed.
One small consolation of the extended winter is that early-blooming plants like this star magnolia (M. stellata), which often find its flowers reduced to mush by a late frost, have budded later than usual and attained a copious display.
Turkey vulture on the wing.
Cathartes aura does not overwinter in the area, and until two years ago was a rare sight. Since then, they can be seen feeding on the ample carrion beside the local roads.