Golden fall days of West Virginia wildflowers

Just because fall strolled through the door doesn’t mean the growing season in West Virginia woods has ended. Leaves are drifting lazily down from a few trees here and there. Mornings are cool. The sun’s rays are slanting in lower than before. But still the fields and roadsides are still popping with wildflower color. August was dry but not bone-dry, so plants seem to be hanging on in full bloom a little longer in 2022. Walks this week were slow affairs…a few strides forward and another flower or berry was waving at me for inspection.

At the recommendation of some naturalist friends, I added the “PictureThis” app to my phone. It lets the user take or upload a plant photo, then get an almost instant identification of the plant. It works amazingly fast if you have cell service or an internet connection, but also stores your photo for later if you’re out of range.

PictureThis screen

There are a couple of apps like this, and maybe I’ll try them, but PictureThis is pretty darn good. In addition to offering the common and botanical name of a flower or tree or plant, it also tells you if it’s native to your area, how to care for it, what kinds of habitat it likes to grow in best, and even throws in poetic references! Double-check the ID if you need to be scientifically certain of the species. I refer to the U.S. Forest Service website or just about any university botanical database.

Based on my walks during this third week of September, here’s some of what’s still blooming in eastern West Virginia right now:

ALL THE GOLDENROD! On a four-mile hike today, I spied four separate varieties of goldenrod…who knew there were so many? Growing within a mile of each other were Candian goldenrod, Bluestem goldenrod, Grass leaved goldenrod and Wrinkleleaf goldenrod. Each display the usual golden flower, but in different arrangements on the stem, and clustered in unique ways. All were growing along a rocky dirt road in a public wildlife area that had been timbered three or four years ago.

Cudweed, or Rabbit Tobacco (my new favorite wildflower name). This two-foot high flower has very small white buds that open to feathery flowers. Flowers and buds are iridescent, shining in the sun.

Cudweed, or Rabbit Tobacco

Another white wildflower still showing off in late September are the Bonesets — flowering in a cluster larger and more rounded than Queen Anne’s lace. The Late Boneset is fluffier, with tighter flowers on the stem. It’s also known as fall boneset, or late flowering thoroughwort. Some consider this plant a toxic weed, as it can pose a problem to livestock if it’s growing in grazing fields.

Late Boneset

Clustered in one particular area that had been cleared of mature trees, a large patch of yellow toadflax caught my eye for the second year in a row. Also known as “butter-and-eggs”, the light and gold yellow flower is a kind of wild snapdragon.

Toadflax, or Butter-and-egg

Also spotted in bloom this week:

Virgin’s bower (woodbine or wild clematis) — a white flower on a climbing vine along a mountain trail

Great blue lobelia (blue cardinal flower) — a purplish-blue bloom growing in a riverside area

Cardinal flower — a bright red cascading bloom that grows on riverbanks

Orange jewelweed — a small orange orchid-like bloom on tall, leafy plants that are hardy enough to grow in both wet and dry locations. It’s known to herbalists as an effective remedy for poison ivy rashes.

Wingstem (yellow ironweed) — another tall, golden yellow wildflower widely seen in our area, from fields to roadsides to riverside areas.

All of these late-blooming and flowering plants are important as hosts and waystations for pollinator species, from butterflies to bees, as they prepare for migration or overwintering. Besides their practical value, fall wildflowers keep the landscape vibrant as autumn ushers in shorter daylight hours and the closing of another growing season.

2 thoughts on “Golden fall days of West Virginia wildflowers

  1. This Saturday we attended the Maine Common Ground Fair again, a 4 day exposition of self-sufficiency, sustainability and wildcraft appreciation. One of the talks we participated in was Perennial Edibles, and we learned about several plants and trees that we hadn’t known about. Almost all of the plants and trees discussed had beautiful flowers as well, and many are found in the wild.

    Recommended reading is “Around The World in 80 Plants: An Edible Perennial Vegetable Adventure for Temperate Climates by Stephen Barstow [9] (Author)”.

    Michael Shunney Rockland, Maine


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