The spring was wet, cool and later than normal. After a few months of temperatures below the norm, the summer moved in and gave us a July that was one of the hottest on record.
A little behind schedule, the spring wildflowers and trees flowered in May, getting our attention and that of pollinating insects. Subsequently, these plants formed their berries and fruits.
Now, in August, we see just how common they are. Harvest is often seen this month. We usually associate this with the gardens or fields, but looking around in the woods and along the roadsides, I see plenty of crops here as well.
During morning walks now, I’m struck by the August silence. Virtually no birds sing at dawn, only a few later in the day. The mornings are cooler than July and often with dew and fog. In these conditions, spiderwebs are revealed in huge numbers.
Besides looking at the insect-catching snares of these eight-legged critters, I also note the changing of roadside flora. Mid-summer flowers of fireweeds, milkweeds and evening primroses are still in bloom, but the ones associated with late summer are appearing, too.
The trio of late bloomers — goldenrods, asters and sunflowers — opening and becoming more common. Each day, there seems to be more of these yellow, white or purple flowers. They will eventually reveal about 10 kinds of each of these flowers.
I also see lots of bergamot, bonesets and jewelweeds along the route while joe pye weed and arrowheads flower in the wetlands. Some, like thistles, are going to the next stage of summer and forming fluffy seeds.
Other plants are forming their seeds in different ways and I find a plethora of berries along the walks at this time. At the roadsides, the shrubs of raspberry, dewberry, blueberry, juneberry (serviceberry) and gooseberry all have ripe small fruits that we call berries, usually with seeds inside.
All are edible and quite delicious; even if the gooseberry is spiny. Being colorful and tasty is their method to help disperse their seeds. Such berries cannot drift in the wind, but when consumed by passing birds and mammals, they can spread seeds to other locations.
Some other berries may not be desired by us, but various wildlife find them quite good. Red elderberry, one of the first to form becomes the first to lose their berries, devoured rapidly. The red berries of pin cherries, currants and Tartarian honeysuckles advertise their products well, but among humans, few are taken. The white and bluish berries of dogwoods are usually avoided by us.
And in the woods, the red and white baneberries (sometimes called doll’s eye) should be left alone as are the newly-ripened Clintonia. (These are also known as blue-bead lilies and now when we see the berries, we know why this name.) Running the gamut of colors now in August, their berries are effective ways of dispersing.
Walking here, I see plenty of ripe berries and seeds, but I also note more to come. Choke cherries, highbush cranberries and blackberries, still green, will soon be showing up along the route. Purple berries of sarsaparilla and reds of jack-in-the-pulpit are on the way in the woods.
Not as colorful are the nuts of hazel and though they are not as obvious to us as berries, they are quickly discovered and devoured by bears and squirrels. This is so much so that I find it hard to locate ripe hazelnuts. Yes, besides gardens and fields, August has much ripe produce.