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.
A last gasp of fall color on the LHT offers a fragrant haven for our many native bees and butterflies. How many of these showy blooms can you spot out in the wild?
A member of the sunflower family, Tall Goldenrod or Giant Goldenrod (Solidago gigantea) is a native wildflower that flourishes from Canada to Mexico. A perennial, the plant can reach four feet tall and spreads rapidly via underground rhizome. It features tall, leaved stalks topped with a triangular plume of hundreds of tiny golden yellow flowers appearing in late summer and blooming until frost. Tall goldenrod thrives along roadsides, in meadows, and in open woodland where water is seasonally abundant. Though commonly blamed for seasonal allergies, it’s ragweed that causes the most sinus trouble. Rather, celebrate tall goldenrod for attracting local and migrating birds and butterflies.
Late Purple Aster or Spreading Aster (Symphyotrichum patens) is an herbaceous perennial wildflower common in meadows and open woodlands along the east coast from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico. Growing up to three feet in height, the plants are capped with soft blue to electric violet flowers with vivid yellow centers that measure about an inch in diameter. Also notable are dark oblong leaves that can be almost black in color. The plants spread rapidly, are drought and part-shade tolerant, and are a favorite of honeybees and butterflies. The aster family is large, and late purple asters are easily confused with other species including New England aster and smooth aster.
Another native aster, the Frost Aster or Hairy White Oldfield Aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum) is also an herbaceous perennial native to North America east of the Mississippi River from Canada to the Gulf. The flower, a magnet for several varieties of bee, is common in grasslands, wooded areas, farmland borders, and along roadsides. Growing bushy and over three feet tall, the plant’s stems are woody and reddish brown at the base but top off with green and slightly fuzzy stems and oblong, needle-like leaves. Flowers are small and feathery, white with vivid yellow centers that turn rich red as they age. Flowering continues until frost, and the clumped blooms produce wispy white seeds that spread rapidly.
Japanese Knotweed or Asian Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica) is an invasive species native to East Asia. Bamboo-like and capable of growing up to 15 feet tall, the plant has hollow stems, broad oval leaves with red veining and reddish stems, and, in late summer and fall, sprays of small white flowers. Brought to New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania in the 1890s as an ornamental garden plant, the woody perennial has spread to most of North America. Tolerant to most soil types, extreme temperatures, and various moisture levels, Japanese Knotweed multiplies rapidly, creating a monoculture along creeks and the edges of woodland, choking out native vegetation. If you see Japanese Knotweed, pull it out – just be careful to keep from spreading its small, roughly triangular seeds.