By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director
Fall is finally in the air and on the thermometer. There will be a few warm days in October, but hopefully the 90 plus degree days in 2016 are about gone.
Further north fall color is developing in the vast hardwood forests of maples, hickory, and other showy tree species. Their brilliant hues are the basis for leaf watching tourist who immerse themselves in the colors and gorge on the seasonal splendor.
All too soon the bright autumn tones give way to frost, frigid temperatures and the winds of winter. While Wakulla County does not have the temporary color excesses of temperate zone trees, the need for snow shovels is exceptional and rare at this latitude.
Still, the area does put on a cloak of autumn with a rainbow of colors and textures. Nature’s paint is more muted on the trees, but the wildflowers and insects more than make up the difference.
Bidens alba is native annual with prolific white and yellow blooms currently in full flower. Beggarticks or Spanish needles, the common name in north Florida for this species, are an important source of pollen for sustaining Monarch butterflies and European honeybees.
In addition to the blooms, the plant is producing two barbed pronged seed casings which attach to unsuspecting passersby. After a period of travel the seed are brushed or scratched off and colonize a new plot. Bidens alba literally means two teeth in Latin.
Dogfennel (Eupatorium capillifolium) is another native species currently blooming. The tiny white blooms give the plant the appearance of a frost or light dusting of snow.
This time of year dogfennel is commonly between two to seven feet in height with several stems which fork from a sturdy and securely rooted base. The stems and base are covered in fine leaves which resemble branching green threads projecting outward in a delicate drooping mass.
Dog fennel is not in the plant family with the herb fennel, nor is it of particular interest to dogs. This herbaceous plant, having green stems and no bark, is in the family with sunflowers and prefers the full sun in fallow fields, road shoulders, and other disturbed sites.
Beautyberries are another native perennial with vivid color, candy apple purple berries. These shrubs are now producing bunches of BB sized berries as its leaves are beginning to fall away.
Callicarpa americana, the American beauty berries’ scientific name, will nourish birds and wildlife even after its fruit has shriveled and dried to an earth toned brown.
The aptly named Golden rods are commonly seen in clumps and individual plants. The tall, straight shoots are now tipped with golden yellow blooms and populated with a variety of insect pollinators.
This native plant has the unjust reputation for causing hay fever. Research has shown its pollen is too heavy to be windblown. The culprit causing the red eyes and sneezing is ragweed, which blooms nondescriptly at the same time.
Pink false foxglove, blue blazing stars and many other native plants are enhancing the local landscape’s visual aspects. Each is the potential residence or feasting site for pollinators with psychedelic designs and tie-dyed patterns, or insects and spiders which dine on the bright arthropods.
The result is a colorful autumn without the need for a snow blower.