When Lisa Sons spots skunk cabbage at the west entrance of Starved Rock State Park in late February or early March, she knows spring is near.
Skunk cabbage is one of more than 40 species of wildflowers that can be found at the park and in the Starved Rock Country region – and as a natural resource coordinator and park naturalist at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Sons knows all the good spots to see them.
“In the spring, here at the park, there are little nooks and crannies, so usually one of the first places I go to are Ottawa and Kaskaskia canyons,” said Sons, who works with Starved Rock and Matthiessen state parks. “Illinois Canyon is usually known for its Virginia bluebells, and then usually some of the bluffs above French Canyon and out at St. Louis Canyon get shooting stars, wood betony, coral roots and some trilliums as well.”
In addition to exploring Starved Rock and Matthiessen for wildflowers, Sons recommends checking out the IDNR website, www2.illinois.gov/dnr, for nature preserves.
“Nature preserves are known for those native plants and those native species, so that’s usually some of the first places I go, especially for tall grass prairie plants in the summer,” Sons said.
Dayton Bluffs Preserve in Ottawa can be wet in the spring, Sons said, but the site does have bloodroots and yellow trout lilies, among other plants. The north leg of the trail along the Fox River annually sprouts a large bluebell carpet in late April or early May.
When seeking wildflowers, Sons says it’s best to hike trails with less foot traffic. She noted the best time to view them is when spring temperatures have steadied in the upper 50s, usually at the end of April into May.
Joe Jakupcak, a retired teacher who taught in Ottawa and Chicago, used to take his students to Starved Rock on a yearly field trip, and those visits grew his interest in wildflowers.
Jakupcak has been a guided hike leader at Starved Rock Lodge for 12 years. During wildflower season, he said you’ll see a different wildflower – most of them white – every couple days.
“They come up and bloom and seed within a week of each other because they don’t have much time,” Jakupcak said.
Due to the 80- to 90-foot height difference, Jakupcak noted hikers will see different flowers on the river and bluff trails.
The Starved Rock Visitor Center has flower identification cards for the common species found at both parks and is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.