Western golden top or goldenrod,, Euthamia occidentalis, is a showy perennial that grows in the riparian corridors and wet meadow grasslands. It is used by many pollinators.
Narrow leaf milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis, is still blooming at this late date, providing food for pollinators and hopefully, Monarch butterfly caterpillars!
The lovely small pink flowered Centaury, Zeltnera muehlenbergii, is always a delight to find in the valley.
Chicory, Cichorium intybus, is a nonnative plant originally from Africa. It blooms for a long period of time, from July to November, with its sky blue flowers attracting many different pollinators.
The Willits Little Lake Valley has begun to show signs of fall arriving but there are still some flowers blooming. One of the most numerous late bloomers, attracting many pollinators to its golden flowers is the Western goldentop, Euthamia occidentalis. A plant in the Asteraceae family, it stands about 4’ high and is a perennial that grows in areas near water, such as marshes, wet meadows, and ditches. The air surrounding the attractive bright yellow flowers is full of the buzzing of native bees, flies, and butterflies. Goldenrods are relatively easy to grow in a garden setting and are sold in native plant nurseries. The large stands of goldentop are welcome sights of vivid color in a very dry landscape this time of year.
The small and delicate, pink annual wildflower, Muehlenberg’s centaury, Zetnera muehlenbergii, catches my eye growing in the brown summer grasses. This flower is in the Gentianaceae family. Plants found in moist places can grow as high as 2’ tall. In the Willits Valley, in the drier places of the grasslands, I have seen it 8” tall with multiple branches of flowers. It grows all over western North America and can be found in many places in Mendocino County. The pollination of this lovely plant is still not well known. Some resources state that more documentation and study are needed to further understand this mystery. This has me watching each plant closely and I have yet to see any pollinators on it!
The interesting light pink to white flower clusters of the Narrow leaf milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis, attract many different kinds of pollinators, native bees, honey bees, and small wasps. Not to mention this plant is of course the important host plant for Monarch butterflies. According to an article from ‘Mother Nature’s Backyard’ newsletter,
“Their unusual shape is due to fusion and modification of the usual flower parts. The five waxy pink petals (seen at the base of the flowers,) are reflexed down when the flower is fully open. The corona (crown-shaped structure above the petals) is composed of five ‘hoods’ and ‘horns’ which are modifications of the male sex organs. In the very center is a complex structure (the gynostegium) composed of fused parts of both male and female organs. The hoods and horns are appropriately named; as seen above, they indeed look like hoods and horns. They point towards the anthers (the pollen producing structures), which are fused to the female stigma (the pollen-receiving structure) to form the gynostegium. For excellent labeled drawings of these structures see: https://milkweedmatters.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/milkwd6.gif and https://milkweedmatters.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/milkwd7.gif The pollen is stored as pollen masses (pollinium) rather than separate pollen grains. When a pollinator insect visits the flower, its legs slip into the slits between anthers on the gynostegium. When the leg is removed, it takes with it a pollinium, which is deposited into the stigmatic slit of the next flower. From then on, it is fertilization as usual.”
What a wonderful description of the milkweed flower’s super cool design!
All three of the flowers described above are native plants to California. The last plant I would like to discuss is an introduced plant from Africa – Chicory, Cichorium intybus. This is a biennial to perennial plant that grows between 1’ to 5’ tall. The bright blue squared-off petals are outstanding this time of year and stand out in roadside ditches and in the fields. We have many blooming in our grazing pastures on the mitigation lands and it is well used by all kinds of animals.
The cows, elk, and deer browse on it, especially a little earlier when the plant is greener. Gold finches, sparrows, and other passerine birds are found on the plants regularly enjoying a feast of seeds. The flowers attract many pollinators, from honey bees and native bees to butterflies like skippers. Even though this is considered a noxious weed in some states, we do not have it on our list of invasive plants to remove from the mitigation lands.
As I observe the benefits Chicory presents to the wildlife, I suspend my judgement about its not being a native to our area. Chicory has long been used by humans for food. It is cultivated, particularly in India, to be used as a coffee additive or even as a substitute for coffee. It is also grown for its medicinal value. There is an abundance of information written about the uses of chicory. Here is something I found very interesting from a paper written in 1983 by James A Duke in the Handbook of Energy Crops:
“Chicory-root is free of harmful ingredients and is essentially a concentrated combination of three sugars (pentose, levulose and dextrose) and taraxarcine (the bitter principle of dandelion). It is especially important as source of levulose. Roots are used in seasoning soups, sauces, and gravies, and to impart a rich deep color. Dried chicory roots, as crumbs, are used as horse feed, being a good oat substitute (4.85% protein, 0.85% fat, 4.35% sugar).”
These delightful late summer flowers are just some of the ones that are blooming around us. Look for them where you live and pay attention to who is visiting them!