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.