Northland Nature: A few flowers bloom in shady woods
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The days of July provide a constant look at the diverse roadside botany. While daylilies count off the days of summer in the yard, myriad wildflowers give us a continuous daily glow from the roadsides. Taking a walk on the same route each day may sound like a boring thing to do, but I find that the flora here have a variety. Each walk has more to see.
Some of these plants that were so common in June may still be with us and it is not unusual to find daisies, hawkweeds, trefoils, vetches and yarrows lingering into this month. And we get a peak at what is to come next month as early goldenrods, asters and sunflowers blend with the flora of July. But July flowers, those of midsummer, demand attention.
I find a trio that dominates the scene at this time. Purple flowers of fireweeds and milkweeds continue to unfold new florets each day. Though they both have the suffix of “weed,” they are each native. Fireweed and milkweed patches are great to observe, but there is more.
Evening primrose, the third of the trio, produces four large, yellow petals as daylight fades. Other flowers present in the open spaces, native and non-native, include thistles, cow parsnip, mullein, tansy, bergamot, St. John’s wort, butter and eggs, wood lily, black-eyed Susan and sweetclover. Milkweeds even provide more variety with swamp milkweed in the wetlands and the orange butterfly weed in the fields. All these flora thrive in the sunny open areas, but some growth also happens in the shade of the nearby woods.
A woods walk at this time will be among a plethora of emerging mushrooms and other fungi. Though highly diverse, most do not grow tall or last long, but not so with the ferns. These leafy plants do well in the shade and it is not unusual to find ostrich and interrupted ferns and maybe lady and cinnamon ferns that have grown up to our shoulders. And among the fungi and ferns, there are a few flowers here, too.
The strange Indian-pipe plant has no chlorophyll and so looks white. It does not need sunlight and is common in the shady forests of summer. But I also find one that does have green leaves with its ample flowers of white or pink growing under the arboreal canopy: shinleaf (Pyrola).
Since they grow in the non-sunny forests and since they are usually less than a foot tall, shinleaf is not well-known. There are sites where several grow, but they do not have the clusters that we might see with the flora of the open. But once discovered, they cause the woods walker to pause and see them more clearly. Plants unfold a rosette of oval leaves that are only slightly above the forest floor.
Different species of shinleaf have different leaves as well as flowers. From the center grows a straight stem with many flowers surrounding. Most of the five-petaled plants are white; one kind is pink. The delightful colored petals have a long pistil extending from them.
These beautiful plants do very well in the shade of the woods; often without being seen by us. They are able to grow in this lesser-lit site because their green leaves remain on the plant all winter and are able to make use of the early spring sunlight, providing needed resources to survive in the shade.
Yes, there is plenty of roadside botany in July, but much to see in the forest as well.