A few days of mild temperatures and the return of school buses to local roads sent a clear message this week that we are entering the final stretch of summer.
While we’re still some time away from the traditional fall colors sweeping the landscape, there’s been a noticeable shift in the color palette that blooms on our fields, fences, and stream borders. The kaleidoscope of wildflower colors we saw in the first half of the year has begun to fade, replaced by blooms dominated by two colors: purple and yellow.
As always, there will be a few exceptions, but most of the golden petals that will soon become regulars adorn the fall landscape, such as wing stems, rosin and sunflowers, mixed with violets such as aster, verbena and lobelia. But in this two-color show, the most conspicuous is undoubtedly the daylily and ironweed.
Solidago is one of those wildflower groups that seem to defy the average person’s ability to tell them apart. I conflate them because I never had the time or energy to pour out the intricate details that separate species.There are more than 20 species of goldenrod in Ohio, however, in the middle of the state, if you see a field filled with these tall yellow flowers, chances are you’re looking for our most aggressive type, the Canadian one yellow flower canadian goldenrod.
Ironweed is another common sight on fields, roadsides, and especially pastures in the fall. They are another tall plant, ranging in height from three to eight feet, topped by a cluster of bright, dark purple flowers. Like goldenrod, these plants are on the difficult side of identifying species, but there are far fewer options to choose from, with the current list showing only five species of ironweeds found in Ohio.
Another similarity between goldenrod and ironweed is that both have developed a bad reputation that is completely unworthy. If you’re allergic to fall, you might despise goldenrod because your eyes and nose start to leak around the time their blooms start appearing in the fields. Bright flowers full of pollen may appear to be the culprit for your flare-up, but in reality, their pollen is heavy and sticky, designed to be carried by bees and other insects, so it won’t blow in the wind or get into your Nostrils. I have been a chronic sufferer of seasonal hay fever and can attest to the fact that I routinely chase pollinators through dense yellow-flowered forests without the slightest reaction. The real source of the problem lies in several ragweed species, which also mature at this time of year and carry their fine pollen grains in the wind.
The ironweed problem is limited to a more select group of residents with some form of grazing livestock, be it cattle, sheep or horses. Ironweed is so common in pastures because few herbivorous mammals eat it, many blame it for being poisonous. However, all studies have shown that the plant is not poisonous in any way, it just tastes bad. While this can be a problem in hay fields as it replaces tastier forage, it also makes it an ideal landscape flower if foraging damage by deer, rabbits or marmots is an issue.
So, as summer draws to a close, it won’t be long before the fields begin to fill with gold and iron.
Tommy Springer is a wildlife and education specialist for the Fairfield Conservation District.He can be reached at 740-653-8154 or at Tommy.Springer@fairfieldswcd.org