August 2020: Summer Meadow Flowers

Bloodroot, toothwort, spring beauties and the other spring ephemerals brighten the forest floor after a long winter of brown and black. I love those flowers as much as anyone but I also love the brighter, showier, more colorful flowers in a summer meadow—especially when butterflies and bees are adding life to the landscape by flying from one flower to another.

So I decided to prepare an essay on the native meadow flowers of summer.  One of the first things that I discovered is that a lot of the summer flowers that I love are not native. I found a hillside covered with oxeye daisies; they came to America from Europe.  Everywhere I looked I saw beautiful orange daylilies; they are from Asia and aren’t even lilies.  For a reason that I cannot explain I imagine every chicory flower to be a smile.   They line the roads and provide a wonderful blue ribbon as I drive by; they are another European plant brought to this country by early colonists.  Japanese honeysuckle is obviously not a native but, while I dislike it because it strangles the trees that serve as its hosts, its flowers epitomize carefree enthusiasm and they have such a lovely smell. I found some teasel, with its spiky bracts, thorns everywhere, leaves that clasp the stem and form little cups that hold water after a rain, and rings of tiny purple flowers; it is totally exotic and wonderfully weird, and it is native to Asia.

I want to use only native wildflowers in this presentation because they so often are dismissed as mere weeds. One source of native plant identification includes about forty native flowers whose names include the word weed.  Think about milkweed, Joe Pye weed, jewelweed and pokeweed.  When European settlers came to America they sought a new land but they apparently did not want to live in a new landscape.  They viewed the forest as a dark place, full of dangerous savages, and so they cut trees with vengeance and decided that anything that they did not bring from Europe for their gardens was a weed.  That mindset is still an obstacle to fully appreciating the native American flora.

A hummingbird moth and wild bergamot, a favorite nectaring spot for bees and butterflies. Its leaves are used to make a minty tea but the old practice of using its oil for respiratory ailments has lapsed.

A hummingbird moth and wild bergamot, a favorite nectaring spot for bees and butterflies. Its leaves are used to make a minty tea but the old practice of using its oil for respiratory ailments has lapsed.

Bee balm adds a splash of red to June and July meadows. Bees are attracted to it, as are butterflies, but it got its name because its use as a balm for bee stings goes back to the Native Americans. Bee balm is in the same genus as wild bergamot.

Bee balm adds a splash of red to June and July meadows. Bees are attracted to it, as are butterflies, but it got its name because its use as a balm for bee stings goes back to the Native Americans. Bee balm is in the same genus as wild bergamot.

Common fleabane’s flowers are sometimes white or sometimes pink, while its close relative, daisy fleabane, only has white flowers. Contrary to its name it is not the bane of fleas; in fact, its aroma attracts insects.

Common fleabane’s flowers are sometimes white or sometimes pink, while its close relative, daisy fleabane, only has white flowers. Contrary to its name it is not the bane of fleas; in fact, its aroma attracts insects.

Water hemlock is the most violently toxic plant native to North America. All parts of it are dangerous but the roots are the most toxic. It was hemlock that Socrates drank after the Athenian Senate condemned him to death.

Water hemlock is the most violently toxic plant native to North America. All parts of it are dangerous but the roots are the most toxic. It was hemlock that Socrates drank after the Athenian Senate condemned him to death.

A northern blazing star and a cloudless sulphur butterfly. The northern blazing star is uncommon in the Sourlands and in much of the northeast. It is one of many meadow plants that are losing habitat as meadows are often allowed to succeed into forests, or when they become development sites.

A northern blazing star and a cloudless sulphur butterfly. The northern blazing star is uncommon in the Sourlands and in much of the northeast. It is one of many meadow plants that are losing habitat as meadows are often allowed to succeed into forests, or when they become development sites.

Bottlebrush grass is, to me, as pretty as any flower. No botanist talks about grasses in flower; instead, they use the word “inflorescence” which includes the complete flower head, including bracts, flowers and stems.

Bottlebrush grass is, to me, as pretty as any flower. No botanist talks about grasses in flower; instead, they use the word “inflorescence” which includes the complete flower head, including bracts, flowers and stems.

While I was in the middle of making the photographs for this essay I got a calendar in the mail from the Wilderness Society. One photograph, from southern California, is of a large landscape with several converging hills and no trees. Wildflowers are in bloom, painting the hills with solid splotches of purple, yellow, orange and shades of green. Seeing this photograph made me realize that all of my photos were portraits of individual flowers and I wanted to do a photo like that California scene. I couldn’t, of course, because the Sourlands does not have any landscape like that. But this photograph of a clump of black-eyed Susans with a little yarrow around the edges epitomizes a central New Jersey meadow.

While I was in the middle of making the photographs for this essay I got a calendar in the mail from the Wilderness Society. One photograph, from southern California, is of a large landscape with several converging hills and no trees. Wildflowers are in bloom, painting the hills with solid splotches of purple, yellow, orange and shades of green. Seeing this photograph made me realize that all of my photos were portraits of individual flowers and I wanted to do a photo like that California scene. I couldn’t, of course, because the Sourlands does not have any landscape like that. But this photograph of a clump of black-eyed Susans with a little yarrow around the edges epitomizes a central New Jersey meadow.

A spicebush swallowtail is taking nectar from the appropriately named butterfly weed. By late summer large butterflies often have parts of their wings missing. Sometimes it is from a bird trying to catch it; sometimes its delicate wings just suffer accidents.

A spicebush swallowtail is taking nectar from the appropriately named butterfly weed. By late summer large butterflies often have parts of their wings missing. Sometimes it is from a bird trying to catch it; sometimes its delicate wings just suffer accidents.

Yarrow is native to North America, Europe and Asia. It was historically called woundwort because it was used to staunch the flow of blood from a wound. The mythical Greek character Achilles reportedly carried it with his army, and it was used that way for troops from both sides during the American Civil War.

Yarrow is native to North America, Europe and Asia. It was historically called woundwort because it was used to staunch the flow of blood from a wound. The mythical Greek character Achilles reportedly carried it with his army, and it was used that way for troops from both sides during the American Civil War.

Penstemon got its name because it, unusually, has five stamens. There are over 250 species in this genus. One of its common names is beardtongue, so named because its protruding lower lip is lined with hairs.

Penstemon got its name because it, unusually, has five stamens. There are over 250 species in this genus. One of its common names is beardtongue, so named because its protruding lower lip is lined with hairs.

An essay on summer meadow flowers must include goldenrod, in this case, Canada goldenrod. There are many species of goldenrod in central New Jersey but Canada is the most common. The female tiger swallowtail butterfly here is unusually marked. The males are always yellow with black markings. Some females are yellow, some are black; this one is half black.

An essay on summer meadow flowers must include goldenrod, in this case, Canada goldenrod. There are many species of goldenrod in central New Jersey but Canada is the most common. The female tiger swallowtail butterfly here is unusually marked. The males are always yellow with black markings. Some females are yellow, some are black; this one is half black.

Rose swamp mallow grows in wet areas along streams and in wet meadows. Its huge flowers are about a foot across and come in shades of pink, white and scarlet.

Rose swamp mallow grows in wet areas along streams and in wet meadows. Its huge flowers are about a foot across and come in shades of pink, white and scarlet.