The roadside flora goes through a change now in late August. The three dominant wildflowers of July have moved on to the next phase.

Canada thistle has its flowers replaced by thick growths of fluffy seeds that now blow about.

Fireweeds were a little slower to open their thin seed pods as blossoms progressed up the stem, but now their fluffy seeds also float in the breeze.

The third, milkweeds, are now growing pods in which seeds will develop, being released when the pods open in late September or October. We’ll see their drifting parachutes in fields and roadsides. Sweetclovers that grew tall with either yellow or white flowers in July now hold numerous seeds.

The berry season continues to progress through summer. Raspberry time has passed on and was replaced by lingering blueberries and blackberries. The tart-flavored chokecherry — a small but very common roadside tree in the region — has its ripe dark berries now. The berries of both highbush cranberry and mountain-ash are becoming orange-red and maturing.

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I’ve noticed a nut crop with American and beaked hazel at this time. Several red oaks are dropping their new acorns. But roadsides also have plenty of wildflowers, too.

I find that the late-season trio abounds during August: sunflowers, goldenrods and asters. Each of the three groups has about a dozen kinds in the Northland. Sunflowers range from very large plants to small. They include black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, cup plants and Jerusalem artichokes.

This group is quite varied, but nearly all of the sunflowers are yellow; purple coneflower is an exception.

Goldenrods are also nearly all yellow; the upland white goldenrod, growing along the lake shore, is the exception. At first, all the goldenrods may look the same. But when we take a closer look, we see variety in size, leaves and habitat. They may range from about 2 feet to 10 feet tall. They are most common in open fields, but there are goldenrods in bogs, swamps and forests as well.

When it comes to diverse flora of late summer, asters are the most varied.

Not only are asters of different sizes, they also vary in color. Many are white, others purple-blue to magenta. And they remain with us as we move from late summer to fall. Seeing flowering sunflowers, goldenrods and asters at this time, it might be easy to overlook what else is in bloom.

I find two flowers of note in the wetlands at the edges of swamps, lakes and rivers. One is the white arrowhead rising above the water with white blossoms and big arrow-shaped leaves, some nearly linear. The other is the purple flowers on a plant reaching 8 feet tall: the Joe Pye weed.

A flower cluster of one Joe Pye weed. Note the many small flowers that make up this composite.
Contributed / Larry Weber
A flower cluster of one Joe Pye weed. Note the many small flowers that make up this composite. Contributed / Larry Weber

They are often hard to not notice as we pass by. Similar to the sunflowers, goldenrods and asters, Joe Pye weed is also a composite. The lavender-purple cluster of flowers at the top of the stem is made up of many tiny flowers. Leaves are borne on the tall stem in whorled patterns of three, four, five or six. This large flowering plant is a great addition to the late summer wetlands.

There are several stories of Joe Pye, but a common one is that he was a Native American herbalist of the late 1700s. This robust plant was said to be his source of many herbal medicines, and so, the plant continues to bear his name. Using it as an herb or not, it is a beauty to behold in the wet areas of late summer.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber

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