Our 20 miles of trail in Lawrence and Hopewell Townships offer an abundance of eye-catching flora, and we want to help our friends identify them. Welcome to What’s Blooming on the LHT, an ongoing series of “field guides” to Mercer County plants. This installment covers high summer on the LHT and a wide array of flowers that add color and buzz with pollinators.
High summer on the LHT offers a wide array of flowers that add color and buzz with pollinators. How many of these showy blooms can you spot out in the wild?
Eastern Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron annuus) is a North American native and most common in grasslands, along roadsides, and at the edges of woodland along the east coast. Though its feathery blossoms – white and sometimes soft lavender petals around yellow centers – appear delicate, the biennial plant is actually quite hardy; able to outcompete many non-native weed species for space and nutrients. The flowers, clumping on fuzzy stems above large, toothed greenery, are a frequent pitstop for bees, moths, butterflies, and other insects who pollinate the plant and feed off its nectar. Lucky for the bugs, fleabane is pretty easy to find: The plants can grow up to five feet tall and are able to withstand drought and various soil types.
Also prolific, Sensitive Fern or Bead Fern (Onoclea sensibilis), commonly colonizes damp, shaded areas along creeks or in woodland thickets. A perennial fern, American settlers observed how easily-damaged fronds were by early frosts – hence the plant being so “sensitive.” Broad, bright green-yellow leaves sprout along creeping rhizomes, along with smaller, upright, reproductive fronds that feature beadlike clusters of spores. Young, unfurled fronds – or fiddleheads – are reddish. Native to much of North America west to the Rocky Mountains, as well as Asia, the fern has become common in Western Europe and is frequently cultivated as an ornamental plant thanks to its striking foliage and adaptability.
Wild Bergamot or Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) might be one of the hardest working flowers you’ll see along the trail. Not only are the many variants of this perennial widely sold as ornamentals at your favorite garden centers; but they are honey plants – among those bees rely on to produce honey. Additionally, this member of the mint family is widely recognized among Native Americans to be medicinal. A sampling of uses include teas to treat colds and flus; antiseptic poultices for skin infections and wounds; and rinse treatments for cavities and mouth and throat infections (it is, in fact, a primary ingredient in some commercial mouthwashes). Up to three feet tall, the plants produces splashy, fragrant lavender to pink blossoms on stalk-like stems with lance-shaped leaves. Look for them clumped in sunny meadows and clearings.
One of our most recognizable wildflowers, Queen Anne’s Lace or Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) features lace-like clusters of tiny white flowers on stiff, reedy stems. Up to two feet tall, the herbaceous biennial features segmented, triangular leaves and thrives along sunny roadsides and in grassy areas. Roots are edible when young, before they become too woody; as are flowers and leaves. That said, the flower closely resembles poison hemlock, so it is best to avoid any consumption. Queen Anne’s Lace, named for both Anne, Queen of Britain, and her great grandmother, Anne of Denmark, is not native to North America but to Europe and parts of Asia. However, the plant is only considered invasive in a few Midwestern and Western states, as it does attract pollinators, and – when cultivated – can be beneficial to neighboring plants, boosting tomato plant production and shading delicate lettuces from direct sun.