Wildflowers’ Golden Encore

Do you think that once Labour Day passes and the summer holidays are over that wildflower season is over?

You’d be wrong because in natural areas all over Ontario the golden encore of wildflowers is just ramping up. Early to mid-fall is a great time to venture along the trails of Altona Forest and explore wildflowers. Some will last well into October for hikers to enjoy.

We use the term ‘wildflower’ so easily – but it doesn’t have a clear meaning. It can be used for any blooming plant that grows without being planted or sown. But that means that many wildflowers are not native – not original to these woods and open areas. Favourites such as queen anne’s lace (aka wild carrot) or chicory are common, naturalized, but not native. Some are aggressive and invasive but colourful – like knapweed or purple loosestrife.

Watch for these three native wildflowers as you wander fall trails:

GOLDENROD: The term ‘golden encore’ can almost be solely credited to the profuse occurrence of goldenrod. In some areas, the profuse blooms can cover an entire hillside. It begins blooming in late August and continues through September. Long before the trees blush into yellows and reds, the forest edges are already painted with big swaths of gold.

Goldenrod is a pollinator favourite for pollen and nectar but it’s not allergy inducing (it just blooms at the same time as the culprit ragweed). It’s pollen is heavy and falls to the ground. It’s pollinated by insects – not wind, and spreads by seeds as well as underground rhizomes.

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ASTERS: Asters are not just one plant but a wide group of sun to part-shade, tiny to tall, white to deep purple blooming plants. There are many varieties in the woods and parklands in our area including calico, arrow-leafed and New England asters. Pollinators depend on asters for late season food and you can often find both bees and butterflies sharing the bounty. Asters support pollinators with food, but are also used by some as larvae feeding plants.

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SUNFLOWERS:  Another group or category of flower, the sunflowers we picture are the giant varieties. But sunflowers come in a variety of heights. Most sunflower varieties are North American natives. Sunflowers are typically tall – reaching for the sun and need long sunlight hours each day to survive. Sunflower turn to face and grow towards the sun every day until they bloom. Some of our local varieties include the woodland sunflower, Jerusalem artichoke, and giant sunflower. Sunflowers will end their bloom in early September, but their seed-heads will draw wildlife for the full fall season to come.

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You’ll notice that wildflowers exist only in a few places in the forest – around the edges. This is because wildflowers need sun – many need 8 hours a day – to thrive. The forest canopy of mixed deciduous and cedar forests provide more shade than most varieties can manage. So, look for wildflowers in the open area near the Altona entrance and parking (around the picnic table and near the clearing beside Petticoat Creek), around the north pond, in the adjacent hydro corridor, and around the rainwater pond in the Altona Forest South section.

With the humidity and bugs of summer behind us and the fresh air of fall just beginning, it’s a perfect time to grab your camera and walk Altona Forest’s trails. Please take only photos and leave the blossoms behind for the pollinators and birds of the forest.

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A riot of late-season colour at the north pond

Wildflowers Golden Encore ~ © 2017 Natasha G

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