As the calendar officially heralded the start of fall, the pre-game show was already underway.
Colourful late summer blooming wildflowers were and still are providing bright spots in the fields and forests.
With hues ranging from white to yellow and purple to orange, they brighten up the landscape.
I hope to try to point folks down the right path to help identify some of the wildflowers I have seen blooming over the past few weeks.
However, internet searching has sometimes lead to more questions than answers and plant identification is not that easy with literally thousands of options to choose from.
This post will deal with goldenrod, wild asters and a couple more orchids. A second post will deal with the "weeds" and other whatnots.
For a bit of fun, I decided to have my goats "rate" some of these late summer and early fall flowers.
One of the most noticeable plants in late summer is goldenrod as it floods fields with its brilliant color.
There are several species of goldenrod.
The website www.westernpawildflowers.com listed at least 10 kinds of goldenrod that call Pennsylvania home.
They include blue-stemmed/wreath goldenrod or solidago caesia, early goldenrod or solidago juncea, lance-leaved goldenrod or solidago graminifolea, large-leaved goldenrod or solidago macrophylla, rough-stemmed goldenrod or solidago rugosa, showy goldenrod or solidago speciosa, sweet goldenrod or solidago odora, tall goldenrod or solidago altissima, zigzag goldenrod or solidago flexicaulis and silver rod or solidago bicolor.
An article titled “A paradoxical native weed with a colorful story” by Jill Jepson posted on www.motherearthliving.com said the genus solidago comprises between 60 and 130 species.
With all those plants falling under the same name, identifying the exact species may be next to impossible.
The site uswildflowers.com said “goldenrods are notoriously difficult to identify to a particular species … so make sure you don’t rely on a single source for your identification information.”
Author Jill Jepson went on to explain that goldenrod “has long been scorned (though mistakenly) as the bane of allergy sufferers, yet people on three continents treat disease with it.”
An article by Tom Oder titled “Dear allergy sufferers: Don’t blame goldenrod” posted on the Mother Nature Network’s website offered up a potential culprit behind people’s allergic reactions.
The less-showy ragweed, which blooms at the same time, is the real culprit ...,” he said.
Goldenrod pollen is too heavy to be carried any distance on the wind and is pollinated by insects, according to the article.
The article also said ragweed relies on airborne pollination.
Allergies aside, the goats love goldenrod and often trim the plants on the sides of the path as we walk along.
They give goldenrod a five-star rating for colorful presentation and accessibility.
Wild asters often open up and compliment the goldenrod with their various colors and varieties.
An aticle posted on www.wildseedproject.net titled "The beauty and pollinator benefits of asters and goldenrods" by Heather McCargo said, "asters and goldenrods attract loads of late season pollinating insects ... Research by entomologist Doug Tallamy of University of Delaware lists asters and goldenrods as the wildflowers that support the most species of butterflies and moths.
Deer usually avoid asters and goldenrods."
In my case the goats avoid the asters, but not the goldenrod.
McCargo went on to provide some descriptions for some asters including the white wood aster, the large-leaved wood-aster New England aster, tall white-aster and others.
While the white wood aster and tall white-aster sport white petals as their names say, the New England and large-leaved wood-aster break out in purple to light lavender blossoms.
Smaller, but not to be outdone is the calico aster.
"... This member of the aster family rewards growers with a profusion of blooms in late summer and into early fall.
Although individual calico aster flowers are no larger than half an inch, large white clusters of the flowers bloom up and down the length of each stem ...," stated an article on gardeningknowhow.com by Tonya Barnett.
Wildflower.org lists the calico aster as the host plant for the pearl crescent butterfly and that explains why there are so many pearl crescents in the electric company right-of-way that is littered with calico asters.
There are tons of other wild asters that call Pennsylvania home including the New York asters, smooth blue aster and others.
The goats' feelings on asters is "meh" or a one star out of five, but they could be convinced to bump it up to a two-star rating for variety and presentation.
he goats tend to avoid the asters like the deer. However, they will attempt to take a nibble if I am trying to photograph one.
That propensity for trying to eat my photo subjects is one reason I make sure the goats are somewhere else if I find a small patch of flowers that I haven't identified yet.
Two of those new-to-me plants just happened to both be members of the orchid family, ladies-tresses and downy rattlesnake plantain.
A post on wildflower.org about ladies-tresses said that the flowers are one of the few orchids that have a fragrance.
"They grow in two to four spiraling rows, forming a dense spike six inches long.
The individual flowers, about half an inch long, curve downward slightly, nodding.
The lip is about half an inch long, with a flaring, crimped margin," the post continued.
According to the post, a dozen or more species of ladies'-tresses are known in the eastern United States. The orchids tend to grow in fields, damp meadows, moist thickets and grassy swamps.
Like the ladies'-tresses, downy rattlesnake plantain are also members of the orchid family.
"The rattlesnake plantains get their name from their broad, rounded leaves similar in shape to those of plantain, a common lawn weed," wrote Collin Koers in a Plant of the Week article for the U.S Forest Service on its site www.fs.fed.us.
Koers also posted that the " ... downy rattlesnake plantain is evergreen. Its dark-green, oval leaves ... lay low to the ground in a circular arrangement around a central growing point ... and may persist for three to four years."
The orchid is easily recognized by the white veining on its leaves.
"Despite being listed as endangered in Florida and exploitably vulnerable in New York, downy rattlesnake plantain is one of the most common orchid species native to the eastern United States," Koers posted.
While it may be common in the eastern U.S., the patch I located was exploitably vulnerable to a couple of goats I know.
Thus both the ladies'-tresses and downy rattlesnake plantain will remain unrated by the goats for as long as I can keep them away.
That's just the nature of things 'round here.
"The Nature of Things" features the writings and photographs of Anna Applegate, who is a lifelong resident of Pinegrove Township, Venango County. She is a graduate of Cranberry High School and Clarion University. After a 15-year career in the local news industry, she made a change and now works at a steel finishing plant in Sandycreek Township. She is a avid lover of animals and nature, and a gifted photographer.