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The Last Big Harvest

Fall is the time of year when goldenrods brighten the fields and roadsides with showy yellow blossoms. It is the time for the last major harvesting of nectar and pollen by bees, wasps, migrating butterflies  and many other insects. Nectar gathered by bumblebees and honeybees will help these insects survive the winter. Pollen is also eaten by several species of beetles.

One species of goldenrod is the downy goldenrod. It has bottlebrush-like spikes of yellow flowers and with a magnifier you will see fine hairs on its stems and leaves. Its stems are  dark purple-brow.. The downy goldenrod grows in the eastern U. S.

People often have allergies in the fall from a different plant called ragweed. Unlike goldenrods that depend on insects for cross pollination, ragweed depends on the wind to blow pollen from plant to plant. Its pollen is so light that it is carried into the atmosphere where it is breathed in by people, some have severe allergies to it. Often ragweed grows alongside goldenrods, but because goldenrods are showy and ragweed is not, goldenrods get the blame for people’s allergies.

Goldenrods are not the only fall wildflower to provide pollen and nectar for insect. The aster is another another prolific plant in fall landscapes that many insects depend on for their fall harvest.

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The Desirable Wildflower

Black-eyed Susan is a native North American wildflower that thrives in sun lit prairies, fields and roadsides. It was originally thought to have spread from the Great Plains eastward, but recent research indicates it was native to colonial towns in Maryland. It was the colonists who named the plant black-eyed Susan featured in an English poem by John Gray:

l in the downs, the fleet was moored,

Banners waving in the wind,

When Black-Eyed Susan came aboard

And eyed the burly men.

“Tell me ye sailors, tell me true

Does my Sweet William, sail with you?”


Black-eyed Susans are one of the first plants to grow in an area damaged by fire. These pretty wildflowers are desirable by gardeners who plant them in their home landscapes.

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The Odiferous Plant

Musk mallow is a strong scented wildflower native to Europe that was brought to America as an ornamental plant of America’s gardens. It escaped cultivation and is now a weedy plant of the northeast U.S.  It gets its name from its strong musky odor when tis leaves are crushed. You can find this plant growing along roadsides, in fields and waste places.

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The Plant That Collects Frost

In the summer woods in the pine barrens on Long Island, New York you might spot this yellow flower growing single on a single stem in fields and along the edges of fore lines. Frostweed gets its name from the formation of ice crystals at the bottom of its stem. It is a pretty flower that only blooms for one day. It prefers open sunny areas along the edges of oak woodlands. It is secure in most areas in the eastern U.S. Since there are other plants that are also called frostweed, I give you its scientific name: Helianthemum canadensis.

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Endangered in New York, Extirpated from Pennsylvania

Walking through a pine barren habitat where pitch pine, oak trees and heaths dominate the landscape, I came upon a disturbed area where the sandy soils were saturated with water and sedges, rushes and grasses dominated the opening. There were dozens of orange flowers on short stems along with sundews where the vegetation was less dense. Upon closer examination, it was orange milkwort, an endangered plant in New York where it has reached its northernmost range.

This is a wildflower of the coastal plain from the Mid-Atlantic states south to Florida. It needs full sunlight to flourish so it is often found in disturbed open areas growing in wet acidic sandy soils and bogs. It is called milkwort not because it has milky sap, but folklore says that when animals eat the plant, they are able to produce more milk.

Orange milkwort is an indicator species for identifying wetlands and that is where the threat to this species exists. Although wetlands are often protected, there is still development of wetlands in some areas and that has the potential to imperil this plant. Although the plant is extremely rare in New York, will climate change change that? As it becomes warmer in the north will this plant begin to thrive? Time will tell.

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The Plant with Many Names

It is called silverweed because when you dip its leaves into water the leaves show a silvery glow. It is called ladies ear drops because its flowers dangle like earrings from a girl’s ears. It is called jewelweed because the rain and early morning dew resemble jewels on its stems. It is called touch-me-not because if you touch its ripened seed pod, it explodes catapulting seeds. And it has also been called horns of plenty due to the shape of the blossom and the bountiful nectar within it.

No matter what you want to call it, it is a pretty plant of freshwater wetlands that attracts an assortment of butterflies and hummingbirds that are attracted to the sweet nectar inside its flower.

It is said to have been used by native Americans to sooth poison ivy rashes. I tried it once on a patch of poison ivy on my wrist. I broke open a watery stem on a plant and rubbed it on my rash. Surprisingly there was a hydrogen peroxide like fizzing of the juices when it came into contact with my poison ivy rash and it was soothing, but it is not a cure for it.

Though this plant has many common names, it has only one scientific name known to botanists – Impatiens capensis.

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Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus

When I lived and worked in New York and visited beaches along the north shore of Long Island in the summer, the sheltered areas of the beachfront were dotted with the yellow blossoms of the prickly pear cactus.

You normally associate cacti with deserts, but the sandy dry soils beyond the reach of high tides is the perfect place for this cactus to thrive. Its stems act like leaves. It is able to store water that it absorbs during rains. It has an anti-freeze like chemicals that prevents it from the freezing winter temperatures.

I once learned how this species protects itself when I knelt down to take a picture of the plant and accidentally brushed against a cactus I did not see. Its pads are covered in small barb-like thorns. It was painful and irritating and I learned to look all around before taking another photograph.

This is a cactus that grows in the eastern half of the U.S. It has many other species in the same genus that grow in the deserts of the western U.S. Its fruit is edible and although I have never tried it, I understand that it tastes a bit like watermelon.

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