Here’s what’s blooming in town this week to make your walks more enjoyable
By Laura Eisener
It’s a tough month for arachnophobes – giant spiders are everywhere! Anyone entering the door on a Saugus Iron Works house tour before the buildings close on Halloween will have to walk under a giant orange and black spider on the bell. Beware – I have heard there may also be a few skeletons in the closet.
Sunflowers are still blooming in some places while others have already finished for the season. There are several demanding to be noticed at the Youth and Recreation building: one near the front door and a few more in a corner of the fence where Church Street meets Central Street.
Many kinds of asters are blooming in the fall landscape and are important sources of nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies. The old genus Aster once contained about 600 species, but it has been divided into several new species. Most North American natives are now in the genera Symphiotrichum, Eurybia, Ionactis, Eucephalus and a few others. Like the sunflowers and other daisy-like flowers, the composite flower heads contain disk florets and ray florets. The ray florets can be white, pink or purple on the many aster species.
The vivid purple asters first shown this year on September 29 at St. Margaret’s in Cliftondale are at their peak of bloom this week, the abundant purple petals appearing to cover the entire plant. Many parishioners refer to it as the “purple bush” and look forward to enjoying it every fall. Blooming in the sun beside a dwarf Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) with dark burgundy foliage on the church lawn beside the post office, it is truly a sight to behold.
Heath asters (Symphiotricum ericoides) have much smaller flower heads but are among the longest bloomers in the fall season, often continuing into November. Since they are typically still blooming at our first frost, they are sometimes known as frost asters. The small white flowers attract many bees in the fall when other flowers are becoming scarce. Since they don’t mind dry and gravelly soils, they can be found along the roadside in many places. Asters can be very interesting to look at closely, because we and the bees can tell when each flower head has been pollinated – after pollination the disk florets turn from yellow to a purplish color, less visible to bees, so they will be more attracted to the still-yellow florets that are still waiting for pollination.
Ornamental grasses are at their most showy in late summer and fall, and the seed heads last well into the winter. Most of the popular varieties are from Europe or Asia, but there are some standout species that are native to North America. One of the most beautiful is little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), which has blue-green stems in spring and summer that have now turned burgundy-tinged, and they have silvery seed heads that are now sparkling in the sun. It is the most abundant grass in the drier areas at Rumney Marsh, such as along the walking trail and slopes. It is commonly found throughout New England as a meadow grass and may have many kinds of wildflowers coexisting with it.
Since grasses are wind pollinated, people rarely consider them important for pollinating insects, and yet little bluestem is one which is essential to several butterfly species. Little bluestem is a larval host to cobweb skippers (Hesperia metea), Indian skipper (Hesperia sassacus), dusted skipper (Atrytonopsis hianna) and others. Many bird species enjoy the seeds in fall and winter.
Editor’s Note: Laura Eisener is a landscape design consultant who helps homeowners with landscape design, plant selection and placement of trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. She is a member of the Saugus Garden Club and offered to write a series of articles about “what’s blooming in town” shortly after the outbreak of the COVID–19 pandemic. She was inspired after seeing so many people taking up walking.
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