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It’s in our nature: Grabbing the last morsels before winter

It seemed like it was just April and I saw skunk cabbage blooming, the invasive Japanese barberry leafing out everywhere and trout lilies coloring the dull fallen leaves near Lizard Creek.

Along with dandelion, the three plants I mentioned, bloom in the spring. Their blooms don’t last very long. Eventually summer flowers brighten the fields and roadsides like oxeye daisies and orange day lilies. They too only bloom for a short time.

All of those are important though because some later develop into fruits or seeds eaten by other animals, but in particular, they offer critical nourishment for our variety of bees and the ruby-throated hummingbirds.

Autumn also offers up a variety of “bloomers.” It seems that nature has a way of providing for insects, birds, or mammals throughout all of our seasons.

I’m most impressed with the unbelievable array of flowers that brighten our fall season. I know that nature didn’t supply them for our satisfaction but I’ll just let nature think that it has fulfilled its responsibility.

With 20 species of goldenrod, it seems that from early September through the first killing frost almost any fields that haven’t been mowed, are carpeted with yellow. On one of my short forays (limited with my recuperating knee) I watched bumble bee after bumble bee move among the yellow blooms. I’m not the best entomologist, but myriad other insects were feeding among them as well. It almost seemed to me that the bumble bees and honeybees were trying to eke out every bit of nectar and pollen that they could before the first freeze.

These same fall wildflowers held praying mantises and assassin bugs looking for some of the nectar seekers. Nature, left to “do its thing,” is quite amazing. And again, we get the aesthetic benefits out of all of this.

Although not as vibrant, white snakeroot, with its small white flower heads, seems to blanket any roadside shoulder that hasn’t been mowed or sprayed. I know of a few old apple orchards where the snakeroots carpet the ground near and under the trees’ canopy. When the first frost occurs, they brown, and the small seeds drop for next year or are gobbled up by our winter northern juncos or white-throated sparrows. New England asters (blue) and sharp leaved asters (white) dot the damp field edges or forest edges.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen an array of fall blooming species. Of course, goldenrods lead the way. But chicory still shows off is vibrant blue petals brightening the roadsides. Growing alongside them are still blooming Queen Anne’s Lace, and much smaller but pretty butter and eggs that bloom from mid-summer till autumn.

Take a hike or bike ride and besides looking and listening for birds, take a gander at the great fall flowers giving us nice portraits now even before the fall foliage steals the show. So, get out there ...

“Tune in” to the following in the next week or two: Look for woolly bear caterpillars scurrying across your streets or bike trails, look skyward beginning this weekend for small, loose flocks of blue jays flying just above the tree tops on their way south, in the evening (if you’re in a suburban or wooded area) notice flocks of robins flying overhead about an hour before dark. Finally, stop for a moment and watch as the last of the monarch butterflies drift by on their amazing journey to Mexico.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: There are two basic groups of oak trees; the red oaks and the white oaks. Wildlife, particularly white-tailed deer, crave acorns. However, one of them produces bitter acorns and one produces sweeter acorns. Which oaks produce the “sweeter” fruits? White or red?

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: The mockingbird often flutters up from its perch “singing away,” and then slowly drifts back down again.

Email Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com

September and October are the months to see the native asters. Look for New England aster, up to 3 feet tall, with its violet blooms. They thrive in unmowed damp field areas. BARRY REED PHOTOS
Not to be outdone, mountain asters thrive in forest edge areas, are about 2 feet high, and have white petals.
White snakeroot and goldenrod brighten the fall. Not really appreciated, take a better look at the yellow tinted fields as goldenrod paints our fall scenes. Look for miles and miles of white snakeroot lining the roadsides until the first killing frosts.
Evening primrose has been blooming for about 2 or 3 weeks and its flowers with 4 yellow petals add color to the fall landscape.
Chicory has been blooming since late July, but its bright violet blooms still persist to add more color to the autumn pallet.
New healing garden at LVH-Muhlenberg