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THROUGH THE WOODS: Beautiful fall flowers

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Fall asters. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

IT IS NOW FALL and beautiful wildflowers are a nice addition to the colorful leaves and part of the last flash of color before the snow comes. Roadsides are great places to look for flowers. One of the most spectacular and easy to identify is the New England aster. It is about 2-3 ft. high and a knockout, often hosting feeding butterflies like our orange and black monarchs. The flowers are bright purple with yellow centers and hard to miss.

There are many other asters too, and easier to identify with a good field guide to flowers, something like the Peterson guide. Unless you are an expert it is always a good idea to carry a good field guide, and it is worth hooking up with more experienced observers and to investigate different types of books in the library. Now there are also some great apps for our smart phones.

A few more asters are New York aster, Wood asters, and swamp asters. Then there are the brightly colored goldenrods. Many people see these flowers and just say goldenrod. There are many varieties in our area and if you look closely you will start to see the differences. There are tall ones that look like a fountain shape, some are flatter topped, there are branched specimens, and then some look like a single stem with the yellow flowers clumped along the stem. One of the latter types is the spice scented goldenrod, so it is worth smelling the ones that look like this.

The yellow color varies from an orange tinge to light, cream color. In wet areas there are occasionally turtlehead flowers. These look like stems of snapdragon with cream to white flowers on straight green stems, and the blooms look like little turtle heads. This year I am seeing lots of them, which is good, because the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly favors this plant to lay its eggs.

Joe-pye weed is purplish pink in color, and we have three varieties. Boneset is a cluster of flowers forming a dull white head and there are usually many tall stems together, like the joe-pye weed.

Vervain is blue and looks like a tall stem of a branched candelabrum with the “candles” formed by the blue flower at each tip. Tall spikes of purple loosestrife fill some ditches and wetlands. This has been a very invasive species that crowds out other vegetation, but it again greatly decorates an area in intense color. Some roadsides are lined with white Queen Anne’s lace mixed with blue chicory plants, one of my favorite combinations.

People like to make wildflower bouquets, and this is nice if you are aware of those plants protected by New York State. If you are very lucky you may find some of the blue to purple-colored gentians, which are all protected. There are the rare, fringed gentians and some bottle gentians around our county. These are usually found while walking and are often short and hidden among the grasses. Some back road banks are covered with white snakeroot plants, so named for their long snake-like roots.

Many plants used for making hay have pretty blossoms. These include yellow, purple, pink, and white clovers, blue alfalfa, deep yellow bird’s foot trefoil, yellow and white types of sweet clovers, and purple vetch. It is great fun to learn to recognize these many beautiful plants, but the most important thing is to get out and enjoy the time we have them, before winter is here again.

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