Fall Wildflowers Know It’s Autumn

By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director

It is hard to believe, and the weather is no indication of the change, but today is the first official day of fall. The autumnal equinox is an indication, at least on the calendar, of cooler weather to come, hopefully soon.

Many of the native wildflowers are a reflection of this celestial based change, no matter what the thermometer reads. They are providing late summer/early fall color.

One of the most common locally is Bidens alba.  It is known by an assortment of common names including Spanish needles, Beggar’s-tick and Hairy Beggar’s-tick and is a member of the daisy family.

The genus name Bidens means two-toothed and refers to the two projections found at the top of the seed. The species name alba means white which refers to the flowers with white pedals and a yellow center.

This Wakulla County native annual uses the two hooked prongs at the end of the seed to attach itself to anything coming into contact.  Each plant produces approximately 1,20o seeds which germinate in the spring.

This profusely blooming weed is common in disturbed areas such as roadside ditches and fence rows with full sun exposure.  It is capable of growing to six feet in height, but will take mowing and continue blooming.

The relatively recent interest in wildflowers has encouraged the propagation of this plant for landscaping purposes.  Additionally, it is a popular late-season source of nourishment for honeybees and other pollinators.

Goldenrod, another common late summer/early autumn wildflower, is frequently blamed for the onset of hay-fever symptoms.  Sneezing, itchy and watery eyes and the necessity to purchase tissue and anti-histamines are all blamed on this wildflower.

The real culprit is ragweed, also a Wakulla County native plant, but with muted blooms which pale when compared to the goldenrod.  Unfortunately, at least for the goldenrod, they both bloom at the same time and goldenrods’ blooms are much easier to identify and blame.

For the record, Goldenrod pollen is too heavy and sticky to be blown far from the flowers, unlike ragweed which is typically wind pollinated.

Goldenrods are prolific late season producers of nectar and pollen which supports a variety of insects, including European honeybees.  There are over 100 members to this plant genus, which is in the aster family, in the northern hemisphere and South America.

This wildflower took on strategic value during World War I as a possible source for natural rubber.  The conflict restricted access to the rubber plantations in Southeast Asia which placed a burden on the burgeoning auto and truck industry.

Thomas Edison was one of the key scientists who developed a process to extract usable latex from readily available materials in the west hemisphere.  Edison used the common goldenrod to produce rubber and examples may still be seen at his winter home in Fort Myers, Florida.

Edison’s horticultural skills helped develop a 12 foot tall variety with the potential to produce 12 percent rubber by volume of plant material.  Only the goldenrod leaves contained the rubber producing compound.

Goldenrod currently serves as a host for a variety of caterpillars which later become butterflies and moths.  2016’s generous supply of rain has insured an ample growth of goldenrod plants in the pastures, fence-rows and other untended sites county wide.

Maybe the thermometer will soon recognize the obvious indication of autumn, and everyone will be happier.

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