Abundant wildflowers along the bike trailFlora of September are diverse, but three groups stand out as most dominant: sunflowers, goldenrods and asters.
By: Larry Weber, for the Duluth Budgeteer News
As a regular biker on the Willard Munger trail for many years, I have found that the many hours spent here were definitely those of exercise, but also a time for excellent nature watching along the trailside. Starting shortly after the snow melt of early spring, and continuing until the cold white blanket of late fall halts my wheeled routine, this route has kept me updated on the changes through the warming and cooling seasons. The trailside spaces provide enough land for the spring wildflowers to show their vernal petals and fade into the larger ones of summer. Here too, I see the blossoms of cherry, juneberry and plum of spring, their fruits of summer and leaf color of fall. Bird flocks that come and go tell of their migration, nesting and dispersal in the region. Snake and frogs along with rabbits and ground squirrels cross the trail frequently. And unlike on the roads that carry motorized traffic, most do so successfully.
By September, the rides are kept more interesting with the appearance of autumn migrants in the trees and an abundance of insects in the grasses Cricket, katydids and cicadas provide the background sounds while grasshoppers, butterflies and dragonflies keep me looking. Always the opportunists, spiders make dozens of webs in these same sites to snare sixlegged meals. But it is the late-season wildflowers, still thriving in the sunlight, that demand most of my attention.
Flora of September is diverse, but three groups stand out as most dominant: sunflowers, goldenrods and asters. While the first two are glowing wit yellows, the last is white and purple. I usually find about ten kinds of each of these as I pedal by. Some are scattered and sporadic, but others are thick and numerous. Early September is marked by the peak blooming of our most common goldenrod, Canada goldenrod. Growing in clumps three- or four feet tall, they light up the scene. With their rich yellow-gold, they invite me to stop and take a closer look and I soon find that I’m not the only one lured here. The growth is full of myriads of insects, and bees, flies, wasps, ants, beetles, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers and crickets all are active here, so into their feeding that they seldom notice me.
During my years of observing nature from a bike seat, I have noticed plenty of changes as well. A few kinds of sunflowers, goldenrods and asters, now gracing the trail, were not present ten years ago. Maximilian’s sunflower, showy goldenrod and arrow-leaved aster, all more likely to be seen to the south or west of here, have now found the trailsides to their liking. At selected locations, some abound. Also recently, I have found a new purple flower: blazing stars.
Also called Liatris, its scientific name, this stately plant is well-known to gardeners, especially those trying to attract butterflies. Plants stand two- to three feet tall and hold clumps of delightful purple flowers close to a mostly nonbranching stem. The flowers are composites, and each of these colorful florets is actually composed of rays of numerous tiny flowers. Though often planted in local gardens, blazing star is not really so common as a wild plant in the Northland. Perhaps it is due to the gardening or maybe to trailside and roadside spaces that give available growth, but they have been appearing more in the region in recent years. Whatever the source or the cause of their present presence, these purple blazing stars add a shining and tasty addition to trailside botany that the butterflies flock around, and are a delight for the bikers on the trail now as fall begins.