As I write this, the world is preparing for another Packers game. As I look outside around our headquarters, it seems that the football team chose very appropriate colors for their season.
Right now, goldenrods are in their glory or a little past. Their green foliage and yellow blooms are very attractive to a number of insects.
There are a dozen or so species of goldenrods, three of which we find commonly at Woodland Dunes (Canada, lance-leaved and giant) — plus, stiff goldenrod, which we plant specifically for the benefit of pollinating insects.
Canada goldenrod is a species well-known to gardeners because even though it’s a native plant that doesn’t cause hay fever (ragweeds cause that), it’s very aggressive and invades gardens.
As much as I appreciate native plants, I have pulled my share of Canada goldenrod lest it take over flower beds.
Interestingly, goldenrods seem to use chemical warfare to discourage competition, exuding plant-toxic substances from their roots.
Many insects feed on the flowers of goldenrods, particularly native bees and beetles. Stiff goldenrod seems to be attractive to monarch butterflies along the Lakeshore.
Not surprisingly, in other parts of the world, our native goldenrods have become invasive species. In addition to goldenrods, there are a number of coneflowers and sunflowers, all dressed in green and gold, in bloom now.
At the same time, there are a number of wildflowers that reflect the colors of that team from Minnesota and are beautiful despite that resemblance.
Fall is the only time you’ll find both bottle gentians and fringed gentians on the preserve, along with New England asters. These flowers range from pale to deep purple.
The gentians tend to grow in wet areas with rather poor soils — the fringed gentians looking like miniature purple tulips with ragged edges. The bottle gentians are rather unique — the flowers are closed tight, which excludes smaller insects but can be pried open by bumble bees.
Last week, a group of pre-school children visiting for a field trip here witnessed just such an event and were able to watch a bumblebee enter and leave a bottle gentian flower. They experienced something most adults never see.
While New England asters don’t reflect the team colors of the Patriots, their contrasting purple sepals and yellow center are particularly lovely and attractive to the surviving late-season bees and butterflies. There are many other species of asters, including those that are blue like the sky-blue and smooth asters, and white such as the panicled, calico and heath asters, and in forests, the large-leaved aster. They add to the variety of fall wildflowers. They help make fall our perhaps most colorful season, even before the leaves begin to change.
Jim Knickelbine is executive director for the Woodland Dunes Nature Center and Preserve in Two Rivers.
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