Enjoying autumn’s bounty

By Tom Seymour | Sep 10, 2020
Photo by: Tom Seymour New England Aster

It’s September and fall is in the air. But rather than being just the end of the road for some plants, it stands as the season beginning for others.

Fall wildflowers stand out among the new season’s offerings. As opposed to the typical spring wildflower, which is usually dainty and ephemeral, fall wildflowers boast of tall stems and conspicuous displays.

New England asters rank among my favorite wildflowers of all, spring, summer and fall. These come in shades of violet, rose and magenta. Some violet-shaded asters tend toward purple. These showy wildflowers can attain heights of between three and seven feet. New England asters have lance-shaped, toothless (smooth edges), clasping (have no petiole or stem of their own and attach directly to the stem) leaves and a hairy stem.

Not surprisingly, given their intrinsic beauty, New England asters are the ancestor from which today’s named varieties were born. Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to improve upon something already outstanding and that remains true in the case of New England asters.

Last Wildflower

New England asters have a relatively long season, beginning in early-to mid-September and lasting into October, making them our last, blooming wildflower of any consequence. Additionally, these late-blooming wildflowers provide bees with one, last boost of nectar before cold weather puts an end to blossoming plants.

New England Asters grow in moist areas as well as on dry fields and along barren roadsides. A long stretch of New England asters in full bloom makes a sight not soon forgotten.

These handsome wildflowers make for lush, colorful bouquets. Be sure to change the water regularly, since the cut flowers are of a very thirsty nature.

When the last aster has stopped blooming and the landscape no longer sports its contingent of colorful wildflowers, then we have only early winter to look forward to.

Canada Goldenrod

Long before American florists began using the various goldenrods in floral bouquets, Europeans went for them in a big way. Finally, we took the hint and now goldenrod figures prominently in store-bought bouquets.

While there are too many varieties of goldenrod to mention, including cultivated types, we here in Maine have one of the showier varieties, Canada goldenrod. This one- to five-foot goldenrod has lance-shaped, sharply toothed, alternate leaves that spiral up the stem.

Besides medicinal uses, which include chewing on the fresh blossom for sore throat relief, Canada goldenrod practically shines and when incorporated into a grouping with New England aster, makes a splendid companion.

Canada goldenrod grows on lawn edges, fields and along roadsides, often in great profusion.

White Aster

White asters, another fall wildflower, are hard to distinguish one from another. A common variety that grows in eastern Canada and Maine, is the flat-topped, white aster.

Leaves are lance-shaped, and toothless, or smooth on the margins. The smallish flowers grow in flat clusters atop the stem. Mostly found along edges, including around lawns and even along ponds.

When a stem or two of white asters are added to a mix of New England asters and Canada goldenrod, the end result is the best of what fall offers in the way of wildflowers.

Gem-Studded Puffballs

Here’s a common, wild mushroom that grows on lawns, along gravel drives and even on old, decaying stumps. It’s the gem-studded puffball, a choice, wild mushroom.

I always hesitate to mention wild mushrooms outside of my field guides to wild plants, but this is one mushroom that is very easy to identify. First, these usually grow about half the size of a golf ball, are often somewhat pear-shaped and are coated with lots of small, rubbery spines that are easily rubbed off with the fingers. The mushroom has a hole on top from which the dry spores “puff” out when crushed or stepped on.

Next, when sliced in half, longitudinally, the ripe puffball should display a pure-white appearance, with a feel similar to soft cheese. Older mushrooms develop yellowish flesh, making them too bitter to be edible.

The only possible link to a toxic mushroom is if the sliced mushroom displays the outline of a developing, cap-style, Amanita mushroom. But with the spines and the hole on top, there is no chance of mistaking a gem-studded puffball for anything else but a choice, fall mushroom.

Note, though, that one inedible variety of puffball, the hard-skinned puffball, is very firm, like wood and has black flesh. There is no chance of mistaking this for a good, gem-studded puffball.

To cook, first rub off any clinging debris, slice in half and fry in butter or butter substitute. I sometimes roll my mushroom halves in flour before frying to a golden brown.

Enjoy fall’s bounty, its colorful wildflowers and its tasty mushrooms.

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