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Elizabeth Willenbrink

The Importance of Fall Wildflowers

Beckley Creek Park, Pope Lick Park, Turkey Run Park

Did you know that goldenrod is not actually the cause of your fall allergies? Instead, it is a fall sight we should all be excited to see!

Many of us may think of late summer and early fall for its dry, hot days, but in the meadows throughout The Parklands, wildflowers put on a show despite the minimal rainfall. Tall, showy Goldenrod and vibrant Black-Eyed Susans bloom next to deeply colored Iron Weed and perky New England Aster flowers. This showy combination of yellow and purple symbolizes an end to the season and provides native pollinators with their last meals before cool weather sets in.

The complimentary colors of yellow and purple makes these fall flowers attractive to our eyes, but the flower petals also hold special cues for bees, butterflies, moths, and other pollinating insects. Each petal also displays UV markings, which are only visible to insects, and gives pollinators a visual clue on where to land to best access the plant’s nectar. Insects and birds use this nectar in preparation for a long winter.

Asters and goldenrods can easily dominate native meadows due to their role as an important fall and winter food source for local animals. The nectar of these flowers provide energy to Monarchs journeying to Mexico for overwintering. The seeds of these plants are used as food for many small meadow creatures such as mice, moles, and voles. When small meadow mammals thrive, these creatures provide a food source for larger animals such as foxes, coyotes, and birds of prey. Thus, the seeds of fall wildflowers like goldenrod and aster help maintain a healthy food web in the harsh winter months that will usher in a new spring.

Orange and purple cosmos can also be seen blooming near the Beckley Station entrance of Beckley Creek Park. These showy flowers bloom all the way until the first frost keeping vital nectar available for migrating monarchs and other pollinators late into the season. For more wildflower viewing locations visit the Prairie Preserve in Pope Lick Park or Seaton Valley in Turkey Run Park.