Sunday, September 8, 2013

Let These Plants Live

The roadsides are putting on their fall colors - not leaf colors, but flower colors. Damp roadsides are sporting the tall pink spires of Joe pye weed (Eutrochium spp.), the giant purple-topped ironweed (Vernonia spp.), the tiny blue blooms of downy blue lobelia (Lobelia puberula) and the dangly orange flowers of jewelweed (Impatiens capensis).

Eupatorium appears out of nowhere

Damp roadsides aren’t nearly as common as dry roadsides, however, so the bulk of the flowers fall into the group of plants that many people consider WEEDS. These flowers blanket unmowed areas with a profusion of white and yellow flowers, each plant sporting dozens and dozens of tiny little blooms.

Are they weeds? No, they are essential food for late season butterflies, beetles, bees, wasps and flower flies. Every year come September, their blooms transform non-descript looking plants into beautiful fountains of nectar.

Eupatorium altissimum serves many insects

You may have found one in your garden – an unexpected guest in between the plants that you put there. Instead of removing it, consider yourself lucky to be host to such a pollinator magnet. Take some time during the warmth of the day to see who comes to visit. 

E. hyssopifolium is favorite of mine for its smaller
size and finely textured leaves.

The white plants are most often a species of Eupatorium with common names that include boneset and thoroughwort. About 17 species are found in Georgia with many of the ones looking very similar until you examine the leaves. I reliably find the following in my area: Eupatorium album, E. altissimum, E. capillifolium, E. hyssopifolium, E. perfoliatum, E. rotundifolium and E. serotinum.  

Eupatorium capillifolium is an exception to the previous descriptions - it is known as "dogfennel" and most people would swear that it doesn't flower because the flowers are so nondescript. Like the others in this genus, it is an important plant for wildlife; in particular, the small seeds are relished by songbirds in the late fall.

The yellow plants are usually goldenrod (Solidago). The first to bloom in my area is anise-scented goldenrod, Solidago odora. Prolific in areas where it has been allowed to seed in, in my garden only a couple of plants exist. It is not a "runner" like the later blooming Canada goldenrod, Solidago canadensis.

Solidago odora mixed with little bluestem
The impact of goldenrod on the environment in Georgia cannot be overstated. Not only is it the top herbaceous perennial for supporting native Lepidoptera's larvae, but the late season blooms are important for certain butterflies ... like the migrating Monarch butterfly. Want to learn about other native goldenrods? Check out one of my earlier posts here.

So if one of these plants pops up in your garden, my plea to you is to let it live. Both of them offer so much to our wild fauna.


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