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Northland Nature: Bergamots add to roadside flora

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

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A bergamot blooms along a road in late July. (Photo by Larry Weber)

As we exit July, we can look back on a time of heat, haze and dryness. July is our warmest month, so the heat may be considered normal. However, lack of precipitation here as well as west of us gave way to wildfires — more than usual and accounted for haze that we have been dealing with.

Days continue to get shorter and the nearly 16 hours of daylight at the solstice in June has become nearly 15 hours now. But July gave us much to see among the plant life.

July is a month of berries and the amount of rain that varied greatly in the region affected what we saw in this regard. I happen to live at a site that had a couple of good rains early in the month and many developing berry plants responded.

Strawberry season was not long, but did produce. Blueberries, juneberries and pin cherries were limited; red elderberries and raspberries did better. Many of my July morning walks were embellished with handfuls of ripe raspberries, and late in the month, I added blackberries. (On another walk, nearby, I noticed how these berries did not handle the dryness and failed to mature.)

In the woods, I have found plenty of red, white and blue on baneberries and blue-bead lilies — results of these spring flora. Some of the berries later to develop may find it difficult as we move further into summer.

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Walking in the morning, avoiding the impending heat, I saw much more than berries. I have observed a wonderful progression of roadside flora. There has been a colorful change of flowers growing at this edge site throughout the month. Cow parsnips, black-eyed Susans, vetches and clovers early gave way to thistles, fireweeds, milkweeds, evening primroses and St. John’s wort at mid-month. It has been interesting to watch the flowers of fireweeds as they move up the spike at the top of the plants.
Flowers forming early gave way to plants now holding many thin seed pods. These will soon open allowing fluffy seeds to scatter. In the wetlands; jewelweeds, water hemlocks, joe pye weeds and arrowheads gave more color, sizes and shapes to the scene.

Now, walking here, I find news every day of the flora that will persist through late summer. Sunflowers, asters and goldenrods are making their entry. Only a few sunflowers and asters presently are in bloom. Goldenrods of which we have about a dozen in the region, now have about half in bloom. Unlike many of the other flowers from earlier in the season, these three late summer ones will hold blossoms for weeks.

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Bergamots grow along a road in late July. (Photo by Larry Weber)

Another flower that started in about mid-month and continues as July wanes is the bergamot. Also known as monarda and bee-balm, this member of the mint family grows from 2-4 feet tall in sunny sites. From the square stem, leaves grow out opposite each other.

A rounded cluster of flowers is at the top of the stem. These aromatic clusters of strange-shaped tubular flowers stick out from the circular terminal growth. The flowers are a pink and pale lilac in color and are often discovered by wandering bees and hummingbirds.

The plants may be alone in the roadsides or in groups of dozens.

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Usually, I see bergamots in clumps of 10-20. There’s plenty of roadside color now and since bergamots may be the same color as milkweed or thistle, they can be easy to overlook. But they are here and add their flowers to the bouquet of July despite the heat, haze and arid conditions.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber

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