Bethlehem Press

Sunday, May 28, 2017
PRESS PHOTO BY BUD COLEGoldenrods belong to the sunflower family. PRESS PHOTO BY BUD COLEGoldenrods belong to the sunflower family.

Bud’s View: Goldenrod beauty

Friday, October 14, 2016 by BUD COLE Special to The Press in Focus

Late summer and fall wildflowers that add color to the roadsides, woodlots and fields of the Lehigh Valley are difficult to miss.

If you are stopped for a rural traffic light, stop sign or caught in a traffic delay, take a short break from the stress to observe nature’s colorful displays. It’s even better if you can find the time to stroll along a back road, nature trail or the edge of a field. Look for the perennial bright yellow tones of goldenrod and colors of the wild asters.

There are approximately 125 goldenrod species found growing throughout the United States. Goldenrods belong to the sunflower family (asteraceae). In ancient times, doctors believed the plant had healing powers. It has often been blamed for causing allergies commonly referred to as hay fever, but these irritating symptoms arise from the plentiful ragweed pollen filling the air at the same time goldenrod is in flower. I view the fallow fields of goldenrods as soothing gentle yellow ocean waves moving in the wind.

The colors of the different species are very similar. Close observation is needed to identify a specific plant or mixture of plants. Sweet goldenrod can be identified by the arrangement of its crowded yellow flower clusters. The one-sixth inch flower heads grow along one side of arching branches. One- to four-inch smooth leaves are specked with small translucent dots. The leaves give off a licorice scent when crushed. Leaves collected while the plant is in bloom can be dried and used like an Oriental tea. Sweet goldenrod grows to a height of two to three feet.

The showy goldenrod bears a dense pyramid shaped cluster of small flower heads at the ends of two- to seven-foot sturdy stems. Flowering from August through October, like its name, it is the showiest of the goldenrod plants in the Lehigh Valley.

The tall goldenrod, like the showy goldenrod, grows from two to seven feet in height, but has smaller flower heads growing from a grayish downy stem. The leaves are rough on top and hairy underneath. The lower leaves are up to six inches long while the upper ones are smaller in size.

It’s not really necessary to know which goldenrod plants you’re viewing as long as you enjoy the golden hues scattered along the roadsides and unplanted fields.

The New England, New York and white woodland asters are three varieties of wild asters growing throughout the Lehigh Valley. The asters, also members of the sunflower family, often grow within sight of the road’s edge. Blooming from July through October, they each display their own distinct colors.

The New England aster flowers may vary from white to pink and rose, but it’s the purple ones that continue to capture my attention at this time of year. Its one- to two-inch wide lavender to purplish-blue flowers with yellowish centers grow in clusters reaching heights of three to seven feet. They’re a definite stand-out in contrast to neighboring fall colors.

The New York variety is a smaller densely packed violet-blue flower with yellow centers. They vary from one and a half to five feet in height. White woodland asters, as their name indicates, are white in color and found in dry open wooded areas. The flowers are about one-inch-wide and grow from one to three feet in height.

When I decided to allow areas of our backyard to return to their natural setting, I snapped off dry wood aster heads which were growing at the northern end of our property and sowed the seeds along the edges of the paths. Now the wood asters are the dominant fall wildflower in our yard.

I’ve tried doing this with the New England and New York asters too, but I have had no luck. They need more sun than our yard can provide.

I believe the white woodland asters grow well because they were already native to our property.

I’ve also been scattering the dry flower heads of the various goldenrods. A few are beginning to take hold, but not as wide-ranging as I’d like.

It is easy to gather these seeds as well as many others. Collecting and sowing wildflower seeds is a great way to provide color to your property.

It is not advised nor is it legal in most areas to dig out wildflower plants for transplanting. If you do not have the time for gathering and sowing seeds, at least enjoy the colors while they last.

While you’re at it, why not help out the local monarch butterflies too, by collecting milkweed pods and scattering the fuzzy satiny white seeds?

Monarch populations are now very low in the Lehigh Valley. Milkweed is the host plant of the monarch, which means it is the preferred plant food for monarch caterpillars.

Female monarchs lay their eggs on the underside of the milkweed leaves. When the eggs hatch the caterpillars have a buffet readily available.

I have only seen two monarchs this year. What do you have to report? Let me know about your recent monarch sightings.

Also, I’m still looking for memories about your pets for an upcoming “Bud’s View.”

That’s the way I see it!

To schedule programs, hikes and birthday parties: 610-767-4043; comments: bbbcole@rcn.com

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