Summer Wildflowers

People sometimes find themselves taking long car rides during summer vacation. Watching for roadside wildflowers can help pass the time. Here are a few common roadside wildflowers plus observations to make about them and some things to think about. Many of these are so successful they are called weeds. What is a weed?

Crown Vetch 

Crown Vetch is planted along the roadsides of Pennsylvania as a ground cover to keep soil from eroding. Its pink flowers may show up as early as May and be found all summer. Beekeepers are not happy to see miles of highways planted with Crown Vetch because it does not provide nectar for honeybees. What would happen to fruit growers if most roadways and meadows were planted in Crown Vetch? Crown Vetch is a legume, the same plant family as beans and peas.

Black-eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan flowers are bouquets of small flowers. The brown flowers in the center have small petals and are called disk flowers. The larger orange flowers on the outside have five longer petals connected together. These long petaled flowers are called ray flowers. Black-eyed Susan is in the composite family along with asters, dandelions and goldenrods.

Chicory 

Chicory starts to show its blue flowers in late June or early July. Its roots can be dried and used to make a drink a lot like coffee. Its leaves can be used in salads. Varieties of chicory are grown as a vegetable crop. Like Black-eyed Susan, Chicory is in the composite family. Which flowers does it have?

Queen Anne's Lace

Queen Anne's Lace flowers look like white doilies. This plant is a wild carrot. Smell its root and it smells like a carrot. Garden carrots have been bred to have a large, tender root; wild carrots have not. The white doily is made up of many tiny flowers. Can you find a Queen Anne's Lace with a flower in the center which is a different color? Queen Anne's Lace is related to parsley and celery.

Goldenrod

Early Goldenrod is the first of many goldenrods to flower in late summer and fall. It is related to Chicory and Black-eyed Susan. Does it have disk or ray flowers or both? Goldenrod has heavy pollen carried from one plant to another by insects. Goldenrod gets the blame for causing hay fever because it starts to flower about the same time as ragweed. Ragweed has light wind carried pollen which gives many people hay fever. In Europe, many goldenrods are grown in perennial gardens for their beautiful flowers. 

Brightly colored flowers act like billboards to attract insects which move pollen from one plant to another. Once a flower receives pollen it can ripen seeds to grow new plants. Why would it be good for many flowers of the same kind to flower at once? 

By traveling north or south or by going into the mountains or toward the coast, you may see the color of meadows change as you reach an area where different plants are in flower. Or at home you can watch a single field as it changes through the summer. Try waiting near some flowers to see what insects come to pollinate them.

The study of plants is called botany.
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