Nature is generous with many shades of purple flowers from early spring violets to late fall asters. As autumn rolls around, the variety and quantity of purple-hued flowers increase along the shoulders of the road near our cottage. Some purple flowers bloom from spring to fall, while others bloom only in the fall. Since these are some of the last wildflowers we saw before this year’s early snowfall, we thought it would be fun to highlight some of the late-season purplish blossoms.
The pale purple flowers of the bergamot are seen from July to September. This perennial aromatic plant is a member of the mint family. It grows to heights ranging from 60 to 120 centimetres in sunny open areas. Readers may also be familiar with bee-balm, a relative of bergamot, which grows in moist areas and produces a similar but larger red flower which is frequented by hummingbirds. The purple flower is bergamot and the red one is bee-balm.
The purple flowers of the bull thistle can be seen from June to September. This biennial plant grows to heights ranging from 60 to 180 centimetres. This is the spiniest of the thistles, so while the flowers are nice to look at do not try to pick them as all parts of the stems, leaves and bracts will hurt your skin, if you touch them. When the flowers go to seed they produce thistledown, also termed pappus, which may be used by goldfinches in the building of their nests next spring.
The slender, drooping violet-blue flowers of the creeping bellflower can be seen from July through October. Plants grow from 30 to 60 centimetres with blooms forming from the base of the stem towards the top. Plants spread by creeping runners.
The reddish-purple flowers of the meadow clover can be seen along roadsides, fields and other disturbed areas from June to October. These perennial plants grow up to 80 centimetres in height. The three leaflet leaves of this member of the pea family are an important source of food for herbivores. Bees, flower flies and butterflies are common visitors to the fragrant globe-shaped flowers.
The pink to purplish flowers of the purple-flowered raspberry are visible from June through September. This thornless perennial shrub grows in moist, shady open areas such as ditches. Plants grow to heights ranging from 90 to 180 centimetres. The raspberry plant has large palmate leaves, reminiscent of maple leaves, which form a lovely green background to show off the clusters of flowers. Once fertilized, the flowers are replaced by large red raspberry-like berries. While our field guides indicate the appetizing-looking berries are dry and lack taste, one of our White Lake neighbours enjoys eating them when he encounters them during his walks. The fruit and leaves are important sources of food for birds and other mammals.
Spotted knapweed blossoms at White Lake are most commonly purple but they occasionally come in pink or white. Flowers are visible from June through October. The branched, wiry stems grow to a height of 30 to 60 centimetres. This is one of the latest blooming flowers near the cottage. You will often find them being visited by bumblebees and other nectar-collecting insects that are still active in October.
We are warmed by memories of these late fall flowers which helps deflect our concern over the colouring of our cold fingers, toes and noses during outings in the fresh winter air.
Two good sources for additional information are Timothy Dickson et al’s The ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario; and, Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny’s A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and Northcentral North America.