Northland Nature: Hardy New England asters still bloomingThe early morning is clear and chilly. During my walk, I see the full moon, now in the west, reflected off lake water and on the newly formed ice of the swamp.
The early morning is clear and chilly. During my walk, I see the full moon, now in the west, reflected off lake water and on the newly formed ice of the swamp.
In the pre-dawn calm, I hear sounds from some nearby wildlife.
Coyotes are yipping — as they have been nearly every night lately.
And earlier I heard a migrant saw-whet owl repeat its notes in the cool air. Along the way, I hear a ruffed grouse drumming. Even though it is late October, this veteran male is telling the younger ones that his territory is claimed.
Despite the sub-freezing temperatures in the early morning, clear skies and plenty of sunlight prevail, by midday temperatures have climbed to about 50 degrees (reaching the low 60s in the afternoon). October’s bright-blue weather brings out quite a response, and, in these warmer hours, I see many critters that we would have expected to have been zapped by the cold. As I do some wandering on this idyllic autumn day, I find others out too.
A couple of butterflies — one yellow and one white — flutter by. The yellow (sulphur) and the white (cabbage) are not the types that hibernate for the winter; what I see here now are those of the last brood and they will not last much longer. (A few days ago, I did see a mourning cloak that was seeking a cold-weather sleeping site.)
These butterflies are not the only insects active now. Basking in the sun, I see small, red meadowhawk dragonflies. Until recently, they were joined by their large cousins the darners.
Crickets are chirping in the grasses, and grasshoppers and moths jump and fly as I come by. All of these insects will soon be succumbing to the cold, but, on the side of a building, I find several ladybugs that sit in the warmth before moving indoors for winter.
Later, as I bike on a nearby trail, I see that some trees are still holding leaves. Most tamaracks have shed their needles after providing a golden glow to the swamps, but I see that a few are still lighting up the wetlands.
In addition, there are three large deciduous trees that wear yellow in yards and on roadsides: silver maples, cottonwoods and weeping willows. Their autumn amber will soon drop, but, for now, they are welcome sights.
Continuing my ride, I note a surprising number of fall wildflowers that are holding blossoms in late October: Daisy, black-eyed susan, fleabane, knapweed, tansy, yarrow, clover, sweetclover, butter and eggs and evening primrose are all with colorful petals and rays that so far have resisted the frosts.
Some of these plants are non-native and not always appreciated, but, among them, I find a pair that is native and more wanted: goldenrods and asters. Both plants have been with us since August and, in their diversity, they grow in numerous sites.
One patch of asters stands tall, lush and appearing to be in full bloom — a testament to the hardiness of this plant.
When I observe all of these purple rays, I see why one of the aster’s nicknames is “Christmas daisy.”
Not likely to last that long, these tough asters will bloom well into the coming month.
This aster species, the New England aster (pictured), is not very common in the Northland.
However, I know of several locations where they give rich autumn colors to the scene. Named by early naturalists where they were found, they do well in open country.
For me, they were another delightful discovery on this splendid autumn day that began so chilly.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books that are available now, including “Butterflies of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.