As we watch trees transition from their chlorophyll-filled green leaves, xanthophyll, carotenoids, and anthocyanins emerge. These are the chemicals responsible for the colors of fall. Photosynthesis decreases as a result of waning sunlight and a tapestry of yellows, oranges, purples, browns, and reds dance across the landscape. Although our “fall color” is not as spectacular as our northern neighbors, the signs of fall fill our landscapes. Including some of the most overlooked portions of our community – the roadside.
The changing leaves are usually the first thing someone may think about when Fall arrives, but it is not the only sign of the season. As you drive through Nassau County, you may notice bright, colorful flowers filling the roadside and its ditches. Many of these plants are beautiful additions to our landscapes and provide valuable habitat and other resources for our native wildlife. Today’s gardening article will highlight those plants hidden in plain sight. These plants include Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), Swamp Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), Lovegrass (Eragrostis spectabilis), Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris), and Liatris (Liatris spp.).
Goldenrod is emerging throughout our landscapes, especially our roadsides and other disturbed areas. As a highly showy, native wildflower, it sometimes gets blamed for allergies – although this is the fault of the less showy ragweed, which is flowering at the same time. Rather, Goldenrod’s genus “Solidago” means “to make whole,” because it was traditionally used for medicines among Native Americans and European immigrants. Their bright yellow flowers blanket the edge of the roadway. Usually, it starts to flower in late September to early October and provides valuable nectar and pollen to wildlife. There are many species of goldenrod available for the landscape, but I recommend Chapman’s Goldenrod (Solidago odora var. chapmanii) for its tight growth and tall flowers. Plant the Chapman’s Goldenrod in full sun and well-drained soils.
Swamp Sunflower is one of the native sunflower species in Florida. This Helianthus species is low maintenance, blooms throughout the fall, and provides nectar and pollen for dozens of pollinators. Additionally, as a result of its thicker leaves, it provides a critical habitat for wildlife. In North Florida, Swamp Sunflower will die back in the winter, but will quickly reemerge in the Spring. The flowers are small, but in their abundance create a dense wall of yellow. Introduce swamp sunflowers to your landscape but use them as a backdrop to any landscape bed or along a fence line.
Florida is home to many native grasses. This time of year, you may see some of our native grasses in full bloom, including Lovegrass and Muhlygrass. Both grasses produce beautiful straw-colored or purple flowers throughout October and November. Many people have noticed their grasses beginning to bloom in their landscapes and many of these plants are seen growing throughout our natural areas. Purple Lovegrass and Elliot’s Lovegrass are two small, clumping native grasses that work well in boarder grasses or edging. Similarly, Muhlygrass, slightly larger than lovegrass is ideal for large massing plants within landscapes. Both lovegrass and muhly grass adapt well to various landscape conditions but prefer full sun. Keep in the landscape throughout dormancy and cut them back as soon as Spring growth emerges. For contrast, select White Cloud Muhlygrass – which produces a vibrant white flower.
Liatris grows throughout Florida, including scrubs, flatwoods, and upland pines. Its presence persists within the toughest conditions, but once flowering puts on a dazzling display. May times these inconspicuous plants go unseen by many – looking like small tufts of grass hidden among the landscape. As temperatures begin to drop, liatris’ leaves turn reddish/brown and then they put on their fall display. Popping up along our roadways, erupting from the ground emerges tall purple flowers. These flowers provide valuable habitat and food sources for lots of wildlife. Liatris love full sun and well-drained soils but are highly adaptable to other conditions.