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Summer takes on color in the woods, roadsides

FireweedAsters_081610.mp311.16 MB

Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. She lives in Cook County and joins us periodically to talk about phenology or what’s going on in the woods right now. Welcome, Chel.

Anderson: Hi, Jay.

So, Chel, what’s flowering and fruiting in the world of late-summer flora?

Anderson: Many things, as one might expect in a beautiful summer like this. Dry as it has been, we’ve just had enough blips of rain here and there to kind of keep things on a roll. We’ll start with some pinks and purples in the flower department. One of the real obvious ones along roadsides or in sunny openings in the woods, sometimes as large patches, sometimes just as individuals or smaller groups, is fireweed. It’s a tall plant, with bright deep pink to purple sometimes plume of flowers at the top of the plant, very showy. It’s a native plant that’s important to the recovery of burned areas or any kind of natural openings that get created. Another plant with purplish, sometimes pale to darker purple, in abundant small flowers is the Joe-Pye Weed, which is part of our wetlands, open, sunny wetlands, or stream, lakeshores, very common but very showy, very beautiful, I think, plant. The flowers are borne in kind of a flat to slightly rounded topped big head at the top of tall plants that have very lush, sometimes even little bit purplish-green leaves. So, it’s quite a handsome plant, very robust and looks really vigorous right now. In the mix also right now are two other groups of plants that are kind of challenging for most people if they’re trying to really learn, and the groups of plants that are really setting off the countryside right now in terms of color are the goldenrods and the asters. And we’ll start with the goldenrods, which the name pretty much says it for most of them, anyway, that they are gold or yellow, very bright, almost a glowing kind of gold. Although they can be, as I said, difficult to learn to recognize individually, there are a few easier ones that are common in the county, and I’ll start with a couple of shorter species, so they wouldn’t be up to your knee, they’d be less than the height of your knee, and grown in open, generally drier places, including Lake Superior shore. One of those is the stiff or hairy goldenrod, and the hairy comes from the fact that the stem is very, very dense with coarse hairs. The other one, called Gray’s goldenrod, also has hairs but they’re very fine, kind of downy hairs, and give the stem kind of a gray appearance, but also short, nice little group of smaller, yellow flowers at the upper half or so of the stem. Then we get into some taller ones, and in the wetlands right now, so, old beaver meadows or fens along the shores of lakes and ponds, would be the swamp goldenrod. That’s the one that’s blooming out there right now. So, if you’re out in one of those kind of places or along the edge of one and you see a goldenrod out there, that would be the swamp goldenrod, beautiful in bloom right now, and gets quite tall; it can be even up to waist-high on a person. The last one I’ll mention of the goldenrods is the Canada goldenrod. The bloom on that is like a plume, shaped like a plume, so wider at the bottom and kind of tapering to a graceful tip, narrow tip at the top of the plant. It gets quite tall. I’ve seen some up to shoulder-high on myself. So, these get very tall. On to the crowd of blue and white flowers that are really common right now, and that’s the group that I was going to talk about which is the asters. Another sometimes difficult to identify for folks, but we have a couple of white asters that are in bloom right now, and one has a number of common names, calico aster or side-blooming aster. This aster has small, white flowers, so no more than a half-inch in diameter. They emerge from the side branches, all along the side branches of the plant, so it’s a tall plant with lots of branches, and has all these small aster-like white flowers. The other white one is the flat-topped aster, and that aster is again tall, maybe up to waist-high, and instead of flowers out along the branches, it pretty much has one cluster of flowers at the top that has a flat top. In the blue aster, easier to identify right now, would be the large-leaf aster, which if you’ve spent anytime in the woods, anywhere in Cook County, you have seen this, whether you knew what it was or not. It is most recognizable by its large, basal leaf, which can grow over large areas where it’s shaded, and it creates these big, heart-shaped leaves, basal leaves, and when it gets into a patch of sun, then it will flower and put up a fairly tall stem of slightly heart-shaped leaves along the stem and then a cluster of blue flowers along the top.

Are these the asters where the leaves are slightly sweet-smelling and sticky?

Anderson: Yes, they can be. In fact, if you walk through them through the course of the day, or if you have a pet dog, whatever, that runs through them, and you come back inside and you, you know, change your clothes or sniff your pant legs or check the dog, snuggle with your dog, you’re going to smell this. I think it’s a wonderful smell of the large-leaf aster.

Chel Anderson, DNR botanist and plant ecologist. Thanks for helping us understand what’s going on around us this summer.

Anderson: You’re very welcome.

Airdate: August 17, 2010