Late September is a very colorful time in the Northland. Roadsides and woods glow with plenty of shades to mix with the persistent green.

Red seems to stand out as the brightest and the most sought after. The trees do not disappoint us as we gaze at bright large scarlet red maples. Smaller trees of dogwoods, sumac, cherry and young red oaks combine with the vine Virginia creeper, often draped on trees, to give quite a scene.

It is interesting to note that one of our two hazels, American hazel, is red, and beaked hazel is yellow. Though reds are most dramatic, these dazzling colors are far outnumbered by yellows. While reds are usually seen in open areas or woods edge, yellows are anywhere.

In the woods now are yellows of a few large trees — birch, basswood and sugar maple — and in the wetlands, ash and willow also glow. The leaf color for our neighboring trees began early in the month.

Yellow pigments of xanthophyll were present all summer and now can be seen when the dominating green chlorophyll is breaking down in the shorter days. Red anthocyanin is produced in leaves of many trees late in the season. Colors will continue and though trees change, we can expect September and October to be colorful. But there is more than trees.

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I have noticed lately that the road and trail sides have also glowed with colors of late summer wildflowers. They are basically of three groups: asters, goldenrods and sunflowers. Asters persist with rays of white and purple and remain despite some frosts. Though about a dozen kinds can be found here, a large purple aster, New England aster, recently seen, appears to be the last of these flowers to open its rays.

With the goldenrods, also about a dozen kinds can be found in the region, some quite difficult to discern. They began about mid-July, and with various species continue to bloom until now. Some grow in bogs and woods, but more likely goldenrods are flowers of roadsides and fields.

I find three kinds that recently started to bloom: zig-zag (mostly in woods), stiff-leaved and showy. The latter two are most common to the west of here, more in the prairies, but getting established in the region. During recent biking, I have seen many.

A showy goldenrod plant holds numerous florets on a late September day. With so many clustered flowers, it is quite showy. (Photo by Larry Weber)
A showy goldenrod plant holds numerous florets on a late September day. With so many clustered flowers, it is quite showy. (Photo by Larry Weber)

Showy goldenrod lives up to its name with flowering clusters of numerous small yellow florets. They grow on branching stems and fill the 3-foot-tall plant with an abundance of yellows — hard to not notice along the roadsides.

Sunflowers have also been with us since midsummer. These yellow flowering plants can grow to be quite robust and persist well into the autumn. During my wanderings, I have found two that bloom later than the rest. Now adding golden glows to the scene are Maximilian’s sunflower and sneezeweed. The former may grow to be 8 feet tall with many flowers on an ascending stalk. The latter is usually 3-4 feet tall holding many smaller flowers.

Sneezeweeds have a rounded disk surrounded by lobed yellow rays. Both plants are more common in prairie country, but I see them regularly here late in the season. The unusual name of sneezeweed may have come from its use (flower and leaves) to induce sneezing.

Whether tree colors or flower colors — whites, purples, yellows and reds — will be with us for weeks and though we’ve seen this annual show before, it is worth seeing again.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber