Northland Nature: Green moss, fluffy seeds color November fields
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 email@example.com.
November is a month when we see plenty of seasonal happenings. The forest, with the leaf drop so apparent, now reveals the green plants of mosses, clubmosses and ferns under the trees, still green and remaining so. Out in the wetlands, we note the formation of ice during early morning walks. Soon, the ice covers the whole surface of the small bodies of water; ponds and swamps.
By the end of the month, this trend continues and we’ll see ice on nearby lakes. And often by this time, the whole landscape is wearing its white winter attire. But besides the woods and wetlands, I think there is much to see while wandering in the fields of November.
It wasn’t that long ago when I walked out here, I was surrounded by yellow goldenrods and sunflowers with a mixture of white and purple asters. With these native plants in bloom, they buzzed with the movements of a variety of bugs that came by for nectar and pollinating.
This insect activity proved to be successful and the pollinated plants proceeded to develop their seeds. With the onset of shorter and cooler days, the insect flights waned and without their presence, the floral bouquets of these open sites changed into the next phase. Now, when I walk here, I see the results of this plant-insect interaction.
Instead of colorful petals and rays among the green stems and leaves, the whole field appears to be a monotone of gray-brown, but the late summer wildflowers are still here. Perhaps the most obvious ones seen today are the ones that were so bright and abundant weeks ago: the goldenrods.
Instead of flower heads of numerous yellow rays and discs, these same plants hold fluffy growths. This grayish fluff appearing on nearly every goldenrod is an adaptation to their next phase. The plants have produced seeds and now disperse them. Taking advantage of the breezes out in this open site, the fluffy pappus attached to the seeds will carry them off.
We may be in November, but plants are preparing for next summer by sending off the seeds. Most will not grow, but enough will so that I look forward to fields of yellow in the future.
Other plants out here also disperse their seeds in several ways. Asters, pearly everlastings, fireweeds, milkweeds and thistles also drift in the winds of fall. Others, such as clovers, sweetclovers, sunflowers and the ubiquitous tansy, merely drop their seeds, often relying on animals, such as birds to eat them and so carry them off. Burdock, sticktights and agrimony will attach their products to passing animals; including us.
This “dead” looking field is one of plenty of life and preparation is done for the coming winter and the following warming times. What appears to be dead is only partially so. The leaves, stems and flowers of the plants have succumbed to the cold, but above the floral sites, the seeds in their new attire survive. Fields and roadsides will continue to look like this for the coming winter.
Also, underground, the rootstock of these perennial plants will cope with and live through the coming cold. Even if they were not to form seeds, the plants here will prevail.
There are a few other colors here, too. Yellows of reed canary grass and asparagus may still be seen and at the field’s edges, I find some blackberry plants with bright-red leaves. But the grays and browns have much happening as we go through late fall and into winter.