Thursday, September 29, 2011

Autumn Colors

In our neck of the woods, a number of the maples and a few other species are showing some yellow, red, and orange colors, though most of the trees are still pretty green. The height of our color season usually comes the second week of October.

In terms of roadside wildflowers, the goldenrod is most abundant, so one sees a great deal of yellow, though the goldenrod flowers were fresher about two weeks ago. The goldenrod’s genus name is “solidago,” which means “strength.” Walk up to a stalk of goldenrod, and you’ll see assorted bees, wasps, and other insects clinging to it, because it’s getting to be the last flower around. You can make tea out of the goldenrod flowers, (it has a vegetable taste, but mild). However, that is hard to do when it gets this late in the season, because the blooms are starting to look spent, and one is reluctant to knock all the insects off, knowing that their days are numbered. I used to have a fear and dislike of wasps, but now I feel sorry for them, having read Loren Eiseley’s essay on “The Brown Wasps,” and how they cling to their memories of home as they drop off and freeze to death. When you see them clinging to that goldenrod, it’s a similar hopeless refuge.

The next most abundant roadside flower is the tickseed sunflower, which is not a true sunflower. You can also occasionally see the cultivated sunflowers—both the giant and regular varieties, in peoples’ garden patches, as well as lining their walkways. Though the area I live in is deemed “agribusiness,” I don’t see any sunflower farming being done. Sometimes sunflowers get loose, though, and you may see lone sunflowers growing in fields or ditches. Sunflowers are actually a Native American plant, despite the fact that sunflower seeds are the national snack of Russia. Some botanists believe that the sunflower may have first been cultivated in the northern (i.e., U.S.) part of North America, unlike corn and other crops that originated in Mesoamerica and were brought north. Native Americans liked to plant sunflowers around the edges of their crops, and the sunflowers were the first crops they planted in the spring, and the last to be harvested in the fall.

I’ve also been seeing some patches of small purple asters along the roadside, and a scattering of blue chicory and yellow sow thistle, though now more sparse that previously. Back in August, the chicory, sow thistle, and Queen Anne’s lace grew abundantly side by side, so their combined blue, yellow, and creamy white colors made for the dominant floral color scheme—which is actually a striking combination that could be used in some decorative schemes.

The other major colors right now are the dull maroon of the woodbine, (a vine which is Michigan’s most common groundcover), and the foliage of the sumacs, which ranges from brick to cherry red, (though many of them are still green).