Coneflower Explosion

This is literally a hidden gem. Bluff Spring Fen in South Elgin is tucked between a cemetery, the Metra train tracks, a gravel pit/industrial park and a well-traveled road. Even as I tell you about it, driving up on it, it seems unreal – dump trucks, trains, glacial kames and a fen??? There is no signage to lead you here. The entrance is at the back of the cemetery. The meandering, circuitous lane winds past crypts and old gravesites eventually leading to a wooden, split-rail fence and six parking spots. This is it.

I’d heard that the purple coneflower here is spectacular this year. Even though its overcast and cool, today is my only chance to see it before the blooms fade. Walking among the ancient bur oaks at the entrance, I’m looking out over the green fen. Green on green. Skunk cabbage, fading foxglove, wispy strands of sedges bowing in the breeze.

It’s early morning, and birdsong fills the air with life. There are cavities in these thick, tall, rough trunks that I’m sure are home to raccoons and others. I glass for tufts of fur poking out at the edges of the hollows to no avail.

As I round the back of this small kame (a hill made of sediment deposited by long-since-gone glaciers), I see the purple hillside ahead. The sight invigorates me.

Coneflower Explosion

I decide to walk the long way around and explore more of the area before looping back to today’s main attraction. The trail is single-track, worn to the bare ground and predominated by boot prints and deer prints. Along the path to the marsh are occasional coneflowers, the tall puffy spikes of Baptista, budding butterfly weed, milkweed and foxglove blooms.

A pair of mallards is hanging out in the marsh, undisturbed by my approach. Even the red-winged blackbirds aren’t alarmed. They’re always alarmed! Back on the main loop, lead plant is budding and cup plant is reaching for the sky, it’s fuzzy stems begging to be touched.

A pair of cedar waxwings is plucking cattails for their nest. They are intolerant of my approach, no matter how slow, so I leave them to their preparations.

Cedar Waxwing gathering nesting material.

At a gravelly spot in the marl flats, milkweed and sedges predominate. I looked for caterpillars or eggs. I couldn’t even find a chewed leaf. There are busy bees and butterflies, though.

Back around the fen to the coneflower kame is a stunning profusion of pinks and purples, new unfurling petals, older, curled petals, stamens loaded with pollen, others already harvested clean. Among this glory, the blazing star are thick, preparing for their own show in another week or so adding their purples to the then-fading coneflowers.

I’m distracted by a wild oyster flower seed head. It’s like a giant dandelion with its lacy parachutes ready to carry away it’s seed on the wind.

I spent more time immersed in the individual coneflower blooms watching bees and butterflies enjoying the bounty.

There’s so much more to explore at this small preserve, but I’ve been here a couple of hours and its time to go. I have to come back to see the next act in this spectacular wildflower season. I will explore further then. Special bonus: I didn’t see any ticks today!

2 Replies to “Coneflower Explosion”

  1. No surprise only the cedar waxwings were not tolerating your approach. Most of the creatures in the natural settings you frequent have learned you belong, you are part of them when you are there.

    A beautiful, peaceful find! And I wonder why we work so hard to attain beauty in our gardens at home when Mother Nature does it all so easily.

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