Fall Fireworks

By Greg Lecker

One can even smell the fullness of the prairie at this time of year.  It’s a combination of wet leaves and spicy flower scent – the density of the biomass with a hint of the decay to come in the coming months.  Today, in addition, there is the faint scent of just slightly acrid fragrance of smoke. I don’t know if we can be certain whether the origin is the wildfires in Alberta, Canada or perhaps the Montana wildfires that recently consumed Glacier National Park’s beloved backcountry Sperry Chalet.  The jet stream and weather seems to connect all of us. Yellow blooms return my mind to a more pleasant place.

Showy GoldenrodCanada Goldenrod

“Fireworks” is my one word description of goldenrod. Among the last plants to bloom, goldenrods flower from August to October, and vary in height.  When most people think of goldenrod, they envision the plant known as Canada goldenrod. Borne on 2’ to 5’ tall stalks, arching spikes of numerous yellow flowers attract many insects.  Its leaves are thin and rough.  Contrary to popular belief, goldenrods are not the cause of hay fever, because goldenrod pollen is moved by insects and not by the wind (its pollen is too heavy—only about 1-2% of airborne pollen is from goldenrod).  The culprit is the less conspicuous, yet ubiquitous (except at the Arboretum), ragweed which flowers at about the same time.  Canada goldenrod spreads by roots that can create large patches.

Another yellow flower that doesn’t tickle the nose is Rosinweed.  Instead, it tickles the sense of touch!


One might wonder if rosinweed feels like the runt of the composite family – even enduring the name “weed”.  The untoothed, opposite leaves are stiff and scratchy to the touch and, while they don’t form a dramatic cup, they do clasp the stem in a manner slightly reminiscent of the cup plant.

I move into the Grace Dayton Wildflower Garden, and see that, like yellow and white fireworks respectively, zigzag goldenrod and white snakeroot light up the woodland shade.

Zigzag GoldenrodZigzag Goldenrod

Zigzag goldenrod provide late season color in the woodland.  From fibrous rooted crowns, its stems grow 2’ to 2-1/2’ in a “zigzag” configuration.  Elongated toothed leaves alternate along crooked stems.   Yellow “firework”-like flowers grow from each connection of the leaf with the stem.  In addition to its unique flower location, this plant differentiates itself from other goldenrods by its habitat – woodland rather than prairie.

White SnakerootWhite Snakeroot

White snakeroot is a white blooming member of the Aster family.  Flat clusters of many, tiny white flowers, somewhat resembling Baby’s Breath, are borne atop the branching top of 2’ to 3’ tall stems bearing lance-shaped leaves.  The plant grows especially well in dry shade and at the edges of deciduous woodlands.  White snakeroot tolerates dry soil and is one of the few wildflowers that seems to be able to rebound quickly, seemingly out of nowhere, after invasive buckthorn is removed from a woodland.

I encourage you to explore the nearest natural area now, while the summer greens area still full!

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.


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