Darrell Blackwelder: Wildflowers light up the fall landscape

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 27, 2012

SALISBURY – Normally in late September and October, homeowners are thinking about adding color to their homes with mums and pansies. Now is an excellent time to incorporate these colorful plants into your landscape.It’s been interesting to see the fall color display along the roadways and fields throughout Rowan County. Evidently our weather over the last few weeks with ample rains and cooler temperatures has produced a flush of colorful wildflowers. Ironically, upon further investigation, many of our local wildflowers are distant cousins to our hardy garden chrysanthemums, Aster sp. family. Flowering asters are very common at this time of the season, but also in the aster family are goldenrod, tickseed and rabbit tobacco. Plants in the Aster sp. family respond well to cooler nights and warm days as experienced over the past few days.
Goldenrod is the perennial flowering plant reaching 3 to 4 feet with graceful golden flowers. This plant can be divided and planted as fall or late summer flowers. Often mistaken as a source of hay fever pollen, the plant can be established as a monoculture in home gardens. Many nurseries have a selection of cultivars that feature a more compact or a more weeping type plant.
Tickseed (Coreopsis sp), bur marigold or Bidens wildflower is another member of the Aster sp. family. The wildflower sends a dominating bloom along the edge of fields and roadways. The plant grows as an annual or biennial plant, generally in clusters. There are many species of the plant found in most of the United States. This flower may be confused with wild sunflower or Schweinitz’s sunflower (Helianthus schweinitzii), a close, but important cousin. This flower is on the list of federally protect plants. Native only to North and South Carolina, this rarity is characteristically known by its course-textured leaves, both top and bottom surfaces, along with fuzzy or hairy stems. From pictures, the two look identical, but the texture differentiation makes true identification easy.
Alongside both tickseed and goldenrod is a silver-like plant known as rabbit tobacco, cudweed or cat’s paw. This aromatic aster grows wild in most of the states and in parts of Mexico. Some sources reveal the leaves will help clear sinuses either made into a tea or simmered in water.
Then of course fall wildflowers would not be complete without mention of our native asters. Native asters can be a variety of colors and forms from low growing plants to climbing fall bloomers.
Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension Director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities by calling 704-216-8970 Facebook or online at www.rowanextension.com