It's mid-October. Not quite peak foliage season yet, but cooler weather has arrived and the leaves have begun to turn. There is not a lot of growing going on above the ground, but life marches on below it. Highlights this month along the stream valley include some new foliage discoveries, evergreens perking up, plants that age gracefully, and an abundance of mushrooms.
Late season discoveries
Devil's Beggar-Ticks (Biden frondosa) may have an unappealing name, but it's late season muted flowers add variety to the streamside flora and attract an abundance of pollinators. An annual from the Aster family (Asteraceae), I came across Devil's Beggar-Ticks along a sunny wet meadow awaiting habitat restoration. Devil's Beggar-Ticks is named for the barbed awns of the seed that call to mind a devil with horns, and the annoying ticks it sheds, presumably on beggars? It is one of those native plants that some consider weedy and even pesty. Not one for the front garden, but in the right natural location, it can be a star. And the pollinators don't care where it shows up. It also has many documented medicinal uses and the leaves are edible, just a few more plusses to offset the negatives.
Close by the Devil's Beggar-Ticks were clusters of what appears to be a close relative of the Bidens spp. family, with yellow flowers. These were a bit difficult to identify, but the wet meadow plant community also considers Nodding Bur-Marigold (Bidens cernua) a member, so that is a likely candidate.
The beloved White Wood Asters (Eurybia divaricata) are mostly gone now, but the lance-leaved Asters have come to life. Large clumps of either Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) or Panicled Aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum) are all along the floodplain floor. Both sport lance elliptic or lance linear leaves and clusters of small white flowers. But its most likely Calico Aster which is named for the various colors of its flower disks.
A similar story involves the Goldenrods. Last month they were abundant but most have now faded. However, deeper in the forest the Blue Stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) can be found if one cares to look a little lower on the floodplain floor in shadier locations. Notably distinct from the other more commonly observed Goldenrods, Blue Stemmed Goldenrod thrives in shady situations and sports loose flower clumps with arching stems and long, thin leaves. The blossoms appear along the leaf axils. The name comes from the color of the mature stems, which have a blue tone.
Evergreen natives ready to take front stage
They don't waste a minute -- its as if they know their days to shine are coming. Our evergreen natives are few in number but very special. The Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) on the left is looking glossy, green and vibrant. Partidgeberries are edible - both the leaves and berries. The Spotted Wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) on the right is also looking particularly perky. These evergreens seem to come to life when the days get shorter and cooler.
Call it what you will, but when the days get shorter the leaves tend to fade and diminish. But the colors of fall can be vibrant. We're not quite there yet, but several of the native favorites are displaying a sense of grace as they age. One of my favorites is the Mapleleaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) on the left. It's leaves gently and softly fade to a blend of mauves. The Witch Hazels, (Hamamelis virginiana), on the right, are abundant along the ecotone of the floodplain and the Oak Beech Heath Forest, is in the process of turning to its vibrant yellow, and flower buds are forming.
Seedheads with pizzazz
If you are truly into all of this, you might find pleasure in the way the flowers of our native forbs evolve into seed heads this time of year. They bring a special beauty to it of their own. From left to right below are the seedheads of Rough Hawkweed (Hieracium scabrum), White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima), and Wild Lettuce (Lactuna floridana).
I am not an expert on mushrooms, I know enough to not risk eating any, no matter what folks say. But I did find some interesting specimens in the fall mushroom foraging season My ids may be off but at least enjoy the pictures!
This was a very cool find considering the season -- close to Halloween. It appears to be the Jack O’Lantern Mushroom (Omphalotus illudensis), easy to spot due to its distinctive color. These mushrooms are toxic and should never be consumed.
I think this is a Russula, also called Brittlegill (Russula spp.). The signs are the red top (faded) and what look like gills on the underside. This one is turned sideways so its difficult to be sure. But one thing is certain -- its not edible.
Here we have what looks like the Common Bonnet Mushroom (Mycena inclinata), It's pretty common and often grows in tufts. It was abundant in the stream valley this fall. Common Bonnets are apparently not poisonous but they are also not very exciting to eat, so the edibility interest appears low.
And there you have it. October is a time of slowing, turning leaves, and rooting. While above ground growth is ending, the focus turns to what is happening below the ground. The path is being set for the next season.