Though I enjoy cool shady woods on a hot summer day, after dinner my wife and I often hike to an open field on a high spot not far from the house. I mow it each fall to maintain it as a meadow, but each summer it grows back with a vengeance. This year, as wet as it has been, has been no exception.
To keep the meadow accessible, I mow a loop trail each spring. I also mow a larger circular area at the high spot where we keep a fire ring. On clear summer nights we like to lie under the stars as night falls and watch as stars pop into view. We watch for shooting stars and track the International Space Station (www.spotthestation.nasa.gov to find it from your location) when it crosses the sky.
Before nightfall, we walk the loop trail and sometimes spook a cottontail or deer. But always we enjoy the summer blooms that decorate the trail.
Right now, three white flowers are most conspicuous - Queen Anne's lace, yarrow, and ox-eye daisy - all exotic invaders from the Old World.
Grasses, of course, dominate the meadow; they provide structural support for growing wildflowers. Rising to heights of six to eight feet is an annually expanding stand of big bluestem that I planted about eight years ago. By the end of August, it towers over me. It's my little patch of tall grass prairie.
The most dainty of the summer whites is the composite, yarrow (Achillea millefolium), which thrives in old fields and along roadsides. The genus name refers to the Greek hero Achilles who carried its leaves in his pocket during the Trojan War. The leaves' medicinal properties include an astringent effect to stop blood flow from a wound. Yarrow's white flat-topped flower clusters are easy to recognize, and its lacy fern-like leaves are finely dissected, hence the specific epithet, millefolium, meaning a thousand leaves. Crush the leaves between your fingers to detect a distinctively pungent aroma.
Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota) can be confused with yarrow, though it's taller and its flat head of white flowers is larger. Look for a single deep purple flower at the center of each head. If in doubt, pull the stiff stem from the ground and smell and taste the root. Your nose and taste buds will confirm that Queen Anne's lace is the wild form of the garden carrot.
In a few weeks when the Anne's lacey flowers die and curl to form a concave cup, look for large black-and-yellow garden spiders that spend the night inside the protective cover of the cup. There's often an impressive spider web nearby.
Finally, stands of ox-eye daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum) punctuate many wild meadows. These ecological invaders thrive along my gravel driveway, but in the field they add a touch of class. The perfectly round golden disk surrounded by immaculate white petals is recognizable by anyone who has ever wondered, "She/he loves me, she/he loves me not." Freshly picked daisies often decorate our kitchen table this time of year.
Another more colorful group of wildflowers is poised to bloom within the next few weeks. More than 100 species of goldenrod (genus Solidago) brighten North American meadows in late summer and early fall. They are the bright yellow flowers that turn verdant meadows and open fields into seas of gold. Goldenrod typically transforms our meadow in early September.
Though beautiful as a cut flower, goldenrod is often blamed as the cause of hay fever. It is not. Late summer hay fever allergies are triggered by wind blown pollen, usually from ragweed. Its flowers are small, dull, and inconspicuous, so ragweed is often overlooked. Goldenrod gets unfairly blamed for runny noses, sneezing fits, and weepy eyes because it's so showy in late summer.
But goldenrod is blameless. Its pollen is too large and sticky to be carried by the wind. It requires insects to move it from one flower to another. Check a stand of goldenrod in full bloom, and you'll find an entire community of bees, wasps, flies, beetles, and true bugs - all potential pollinators.
Contact Shalaway via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.