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Asters, goldenrods and sunflowers bloom in late summer

As we move through this awesome month of August, we continue to be delighted each day. There is always something new to see or hear. Bird songs are nearly gone from the scene now, but this is the time we hear the calls of adults and young birds a...

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An oxeye sunflower, often called just oxeye. Note the disk and ray flowers. (Photos by Larry Weber)

As we move through this awesome month of August, we continue to be delighted each day. There is always something new to see or hear. Bird songs are nearly gone from the scene now, but this is the time we hear the calls of adults and young birds as the family units gather, often blending with other species to make flocks. Later, many of these flocks, especially the warblers, will get restless and begin their long southbound trek.

Along the roads and trails I have been noticing clicks, chips and chirps of another type as insects are calling. Walking and biking now is often done as I listen to songs from crickets, katydids and grasshoppers in the grasses and cicadas overhead. Opportunistic insects, especially dragonflies and wasps along with spiders, abound in these sites and find plenty of insect meals.

Here, too, are berries still asking to be picked. Raspberries, blueberries, thimbleberries and chokecherries are discovered by the hungry birds and mammals. We may be able to get some, too. Other berries, not eaten by us, are seen in the woods: baneberries, bunchberries and blue-bead lilies.

The woods is also where we find mushrooms. August and September are the best times for these growths to appear among decaying leaves and logs. Most abundant following damp times, they can still be found when dry conditions prevail.

Along the roads and forest edges, I have seen leaves that have already started to turn colors. We are a long way from autumn, but dogbane leaves are turning yellow and bush-honeysuckles hold a tint of red.

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This change reflects the fewer hours of daylight now. The sun rises at 6 a.m. and disappears in the west at 8:30 p.m. This makes for 14.5 hours of light and 9.5 hours of darkness. And with a new moon this year about mid-month, conditions are great for viewing the Perseid meteor shower, another impressive natural happening for awesome August.

With all of this going on these mid- to late-summer days, I find the wildflowers of the roadsides, fields and other open spaces to be the most interesting and inviting.

Wildflowers began in the woods of spring and spread to roadsides and fields in June with daisies, hawkweeds and clovers. July saw the trend continuing and these sites showed growths of milkweeds, fireweeds, evening primroses, cow parsnips and thistles. These summer flowers did well in the proper weather, but now as the season is changing, they are waning. Their places are being taken by three amazing wildflowers of late summer: asters, goldenrods and sunflowers.

Growing since early in the season, these plants, most of which are native, are now in bloom. Unlike the flowers of earlier in the season, they tend to keep blossoms open for longer times. We'll see plenty of asters, goldenrods and sunflowers for the next several weeks until the coming frosts will slow them. They will mingle with the non-native tansies, sweet clovers and others along our roads.

Asters, goldenrods and sunflowers are all large groups of flowers that are highly diverse and grow throughout the country with dozens of kinds. In our area, a thorough search could reveal a dozen species of each, but most of us are likely to see about half that many. They may grow from 2 to about 6 feet tall.

Goldenrods and sunflowers, including those called coneflowers, are mostly yellow, while asters can be white, pink, blue and purple. Each of these dominant flowers belongs to a family of plants called composites. They are composed of many tiny flowers of two types. In the flower head, the center, we see a group of florets called disk flowers, surrounded by numerous long thin ray flowers, often called petals.

Among the asters are the white marsh and flat-top ones. Purples are seen on the Lindley's, swamp (maybe the largest) and largeleaf asters, common in opening in the woods. Nearly all goldenrods are yellow. Perhaps the most common is the Canada goldenrods that tends to grow in huge clumps. Giant goldenrod may be 6 or more feet tall, while gray and hairy goldenrods are only 2 feet high. Though they are most abundant in fields, one kind is in swamps and another in woods. Sunflowers and coneflowers hold the largest flowers and are the most robust plants, often up to 8 feet. Tall sunflowers, oxeyes and black-eyed susans are most common in this region. Diverse yellows will add much color to the scene.

Growths of these flowers are filled with many butterflies, moths, bees, flies, wasps and more, giving us even more to see and hear in this awesome month. I plan to spend many hours out here watching the animal activity in these late summer plants.

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Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com .

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