Reflections in Nature:Wildflowers are beautiful, too

Almost every day another wild flower appears along the road sides. August is the month when the Master’s garden of yarrow, tansy, goldenrod, evening primrose, mullein, Joe-Pye weed, Queen Ann’s lace, touch-me nots, etc., make up a garden that, to me, is more beautiful than a planned garden.

At the same time these fall flowers are appearing, the spring flowers have set their seeds and the plants are beginning to die back. The spring flowers were mostly small and delicate plants, while fall flowers are usually large with heavy stalks. The reason is that spring flowers have only a short time to grow, and fall flowers have been growing all summer long.

None of our wild flower plants follow the same rules; for example, chicory flowers open early in the morning and by afternoon, their flowers are closed.

In comparison, the evening primrose flowers are closed for most of the day, and then as the name suggests, the flowers open later in the day.

Most wild flowers are cross pollinated, either by insects or wind; however, some plants such as touch-me-nots have a fail-safe system in which they pollinate themselves. Certain wild flowers, such as mullein, take two years to grow, while others bloom during their first year.

Almost everyone recognizes the cattail plants that grow in clusters in marshy areas all over North America. They have male and female flowers on the same plant.

During August, the male yellow flowers (the spike on top) turn into a powder that drifts golden pollen down onto the female flowers (the familiar green cylinder). The male flowers die after releasing their pollen, leaving a bare spike at the top of the plant.

After this occurs, the densely packed female flowers turn brown. The brown cylinder then will burst open and release the seeds that, in some large cattail heads, could contain as many as two million seeds packed tightly inside. The small seeds are carried by the wind, with each seed suspended from fine silky hairs. Seeds that land in favorable areas will become next year’s cattail plants.

Another plant that blooms in August is Joe-Pye weed, which can grow up to 6 feet in height. If the plant’s stems are bruised, a vanilla-scented odor is emitted. The upper leaves are tinged with purple even before the flowers begin to bloom.

The flowers, which also are slightly fragrant, grow in a terminal cluster that is made up of many small mauve-colored flowers.

The plant was named after an elderly Native American who lived in rural New England.

Butterflies are the most frequent visitors to the tubular flowers of the Joe-Pye weed. Some bees and flies also are able to get nectar from the deep flowers. What is interesting about the weed is that if the plant is not cross pollinated by insects, it is able to cross pollinate itself.

The Joe-Pye weed will stay in bloom until the first frost occurs and then disappears.

Mullein flowers, which appear in August, are one of the easiest plants to identify. It is a plant that takes two years to mature.

The name mullein comes from the Latin word mollis, which means soft, referring to the first year’s growth of a basal rosette made of soft flannel-like leaves. During the second year, the plant can grow to a height of 6 feet or more, with the flowers growing down the sides of the stem. The stem is stout and can be either branched or not.

Mullein is a stingy plant, only blooming several flowers at a time.

Yarrow is another one of our fall flowers. The scientific name of yarrow is Achillea millefolium. According to legend, the genus name Achillea is from the Greek hero Achilles, who always had the plant with him to treat wounded soldiers.

The species name of millefolium is also Greek and means a thousand leaves, describing the feathery foliage.

Our evening primrose has spread east from the Midwest prairies. The scientific name is Oenthera biennis. This genus can be divided into two distinct groups; those that open in the evening and those that open when the sun is shining.

The evening primrose, which belongs to the first group, opens at dusk when the scent becomes much stronger because they are pollinated by night-flying insects.

Only a few blossoms open each evening, and after opening, the petals drop off.

If not pollinated during the evening, the flowers will stay open for a while during the morning for a visit from a daytime insect. When the end of the season is near and many seeds have been set, the flowers tend to stay open all day long.

The Master’s gardens are not only beautiful but very interesting as well.

Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.