Near the end of a very pleasant October, we prepared the cottage for winter, draining the plumbing, beaching the floating dock, cleaning out the eaves trough, cutting and splitting firewood, and so on. By this time, most of the colourful fall leaves had fallen from the deciduous trees and blanketed the ground. Oh yes, we also did some raking and mulching. Fortunately, the weather was so pleasant we were able to kayak as well as take a couple of walks along the cottage road. During the walks, we were pleasantly surprised by the number of hardy plants that were still in bloom, and want to share some of these flowers with you.
We start off our late-fall flower tour with three species belonging to the aster family of plants. The aster family, also known as the sunflower or composite family, is the largest family of flowering plants. All the plants in this family sport flower clusters, termed heads, that are composed of many small flowers, termed florets. Many of the species in this family have two types of florets, ray florets which look like flower petals and disk florets which appear to be the flower’s centre, forming what is termed radiate heads. Both types of florets include male and female components and present a staggering range of colours – white, yellow, red, blue, pink, mauve and purple.
The common name of some of the plants in this family includes the word ‘aster’. One is Lindley’s aster which is a perennial. Plants grow to a height of one meter. Each flower has ray florets that are bluish-mauve and disk florets that start out in August being yellow but turn purplish-brown with age.
Gaillardia, also called showy blanket flower, is also a member of the aster family. This annual can grow to 40 centimetres, producing a solitary flower on a stem. We have two colour variants growing around our cottage. One has reddish ray florets tipped with yellow; the other has yellow ray florets tipped in a reddish colour. Both variants have disk florets that are reddish in colour. One of our field guides indicates flowering is in June and July but this photograph of a reddish variant was taken at our cottage near the end of October!
Spotted knapweed also is a member of the aster family. Plants, which have highly branched stems, can grow to 90 centimetres. The flowers which are entirely composed of disk florets can range from purple to mauve to white. One of our field guides indicates blooming occurs from June to August. Both the purple and white flowers pictured here were blooming near our cottage around the end of October!
We also see blossoms from other flower families in the autumn at the cottage.
Blueweed, also known as viper’s bugloss, is a member of the borage family. It is easily identified by its funnel-shaped blue flowers and long, red stamens that protrude beyond the flower petals. It is a biennial plant that can grow to a height of 80 centimetres and blooms from June until late October.
Clover is a member of the pea or bean family which is the third-largest family of flowering plants. Members of this family form mutualistic associations with nitrogen-fixing bacteria and so play an important role in increasing soil fertility by adding nitrogen. The two species pictured below have compound leaves that are typically made up of three leaflets. White sweet clover can be an annual or a biennial plant that can grow up to three meters tall. Red clover, which is also called meadow clover, is a perennial that grows to 80 centimetres in height. We see both blooms from June to October.
While fall is the time when nature seems to be dying or preparing to hibernate and we “close up” our cottage on White Lake, we can still find these and other final fall flowers that help brighten our day. The background of yellow/red/brown leaves on the ground gives these fall flowers a very different appearance from their summer background of green. Unfortunately, October was the last hurrah for cottage flowers. When we returned to rake leaves in November few blooms were to be found … but wait until next spring.
While we relied primarily on Timothy Dickinson, Deborah Metsger, Jenny Bull, and Richard Dickinson’s The ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario to research this article, we supplemented our research with William Niering and Nancy Olmstead’s National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers – Eastern Region.