Posts Tagged ‘Bidens’

October begins bright yellow. Helianthus and Goldenrod literally glow on the roadsides and vacant lots. Goldenrod grows along my driveway and on the margins of my garden, but I had been unsuccessful in coaxing wild sunflowers to take root here. Then one gloomy day last fall, as I glanced toward a fallow area of my garden, a splash of sunshine greeted me. A Helianthus had burst into bloom when I wasn’t looking. It reseeded itself and they are back this year, shining in greater numbers.

White is also the color of October. Bidens alba grows in neglected places everywhere, especially in my yard. I keep them for the butterflies, but if I walk too close, the seeds, called Spanish needles, will spring out and cover my clothing. I appreciate these weeds because the butterflies love them. Unless we have a hard freeze, they will bloom all winter, providing nectar when all else is gone. On the roadsides, white banks of Bidens grow a foot high. The air above those little daisy-like flowers teems with butterflies. The county could not have provided a better show if they had planned it.

Every year I look for the date the Dog Fennel starts to bloom. They predict six weeks until the first frost. I have been watching this phenomenon for years and it seems to be pretty accurate. This year, they began to bloom on October 1st. Look for frost in mid November. Did you know these little white fountains have a scent? A very delicate one and you have to get close to detect it, but please, take the time to smell the Dog Fennel.

The colors of October are also purple and blue and pink and red. Earlier this month, I was cheered by the tiny, purple blossoms of Elephant’s Foot winking up at me against their intense green foliage. By now they have gone to seed but the purple spikes of Blazing Star have replaced them in the landscape. In wet areas, alongside ditches, in both sun and shade, Blue Mistflower blooms in dense clouds. Asters and other wildflowers too numerous to list brighten my daily walks along the dirt road. Spotted Horsemint is abundant. This is a wildflower you may overlook as they are not ostentatious, but familiarity breeds appreciation. Most are white, but last year I found purple Horsemint, and they are more numerous this season. I have collected seeds to plant along my driveway. Various colors of Morning Glory climb atop brush or twine across mowed spaces, mostly pink or blue or white. In similar areas, the Scarlet Creeper’s diminutive red blossoms are a pleasant surprise.

Besides collecting seeds, in coming seasons I will happily move some of the volunteers to areas where I want wildflowers to grow. But I must expect an argument out of them. They do not take kindly to domestication.

You cannot ignore the flying flowers. The butterflies are busy drinking their fill against encroaching winter. Yellow sulfurs everywhere dance in pairs high above the ground. Swallowtails of various colors, brown Hairstreaks, skippers, and the orange Gulf Fritillaries and Little Metalmarks delight in the sunshine while the Zebra Longwing enjoys the shade of my woods.

The butterflies are wise to seize the day because the season is fading. November approaches. Many wildflowers have lost their maiden glory and are gone to seed. Here in North Florida, we do not get the flashy fall foliage of the northern states. Some of our trees will turn yellow or red, but not in the profusion seen there. When northern trees have lost their autumn show and become bare and brown, my oak trees will still be green. They will clutch their frostbitten leaves all winter, then discard them in time for new growth and pollen-laden blossoms. I rake my yard more in spring than in fall. But while northern trees still sleep, our maples will announce Spring with their beautiful red florescence.

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“Treat people as if they were flowers and you will have a happy life.” I recently came across this quote by a man named Jacques Romano. Largely forgotten today, he was quite a sensation in his time, chemist, traveler, philosopher, and psychic, who maintained his down to earth personality even while hobnobbing in the salons of the rich and famous. He died 50 years ago at the age of 98. I believe he deserves lasting renown on the basis of that one quote alone.

“Treat people as if they were flowers.” How do we do this? There are so many  flowers and their lives are so very different. Some are beautiful, some smell nice, some are useful, some are unpleasant, and some are downright treacherous. But all have their place in the world.

Take the hybrid tea roses. They are cultivated for their beauty. Some have a romantic fragrance and some have no scent at all. But like the beautiful people in this world they have needs. They can easily be devastated by insects and disease and thus they require our care.

Some people are more like azaleas. They bloom their hearts out each spring, then they fade into the background for the rest of the year. They are quite hardy and require little care, but be wary of stunting their growth. I have seen azalea bushes pruned like ordinary shrubbery. They lose their form and grace. When spring comes, a few brave blossoms try to emerge from the squareness and they look sad, if not ridiculous. Leave them alone. Let them grow.

Some flowers of course need to be pruned. My Cherokee rose blooms in profusion for a few weeks in early spring then spends the rest of the year trying to take over the world. If I did not cut her back, she would. When I approach with pruning shears, she fights back with thorns that can deeply wound an ungloved hand. The runners seem actually to lash out at me, tearing at my face, arms, and clothing. I have to treat her with respect, but I keep her around because of her beauty.

Many flowers are not only showy but useful. Think of fruit trees. After the lovely petals drop, the blossoms are pregnant with new life – to sustain us and to perpetuate new generations. Other useful flowers are not as showy. Think of the many vegetables without whose flowers we would starve.

Speaking of starvation, think about our pollinators, the bees and butterflies. We have learned to plant flowers to attract these insects and hummingbirds to our yards. The canna lily is one. Not a true lily, it is so called because it looks like one. The native varieties have small, bright flowers rich in nectar. New varieties have been developed that have more showy flowers but our nectar loving neighbors are unable to get past the big petals to drink the life-sustaining fluid. Do not disdain the modest but useful. Nurture them.

Many plants that we call weeds have beautiful flowers. Some of these we now call wildflowers because we have learned to appreciate them, such as the Florida state wildflower, the coreopsis. We actually plant them on roadsides now, but once I saw a work crew mow down a bank of black-eyed Susans in full bloom. I’m sure the men were told to mow down those “weeds”. No flowers ever bloomed in that place again. Some other less showy weed replaced them. Do we sometimes treat people that way?

I have learned to appreciate a cursed weed called Bidens. It is also called Spanish needles because of the barbed seeds that will attach to every thread of your garment if you get too close. They don’t hurt, but the seeds are a devil to pull off because there are so many of them. But the Bidens has a small daisy like flower which is edible. So are the leaves. The plant’s most saving grace, however, is that it’s popular with the butterflies. I have seen Bidens bloom in winter when they were the only food available for the butterflies. Be sure to include them in your butterfly garden. Or just leave a patch along the edge of your driveway or in a corner of your vegetable garden. If you don’t want them to spread everywhere, just pinch off the spent flowers before they go to seed.

Bidens may deserve its bad reputation but goldenrod does not. These yellow spikes that brighten roadsides and waste spaces in the fall are blamed for people’s allergies. Do not prejudice yourself with rumors. The real culprit is ragweed which blooms invisibly at the same time. So enjoy the goldenrod.

But what about the ragweed? They are a nuisance in your garden and to your sinuses and they are not even pretty. Maybe the world would be better off without them. Do you know people like that? But wait – the larvae of several moths feed on ragweed and the seeds are an important winter food for many birds. So don’t obsess over your bird feeders. Leave some ragweed in your garden for the birds.

Sometimes as I walk around my yard I catch a whiff of something that causes me to check the soles of my shoes. No, nothing there. The smell is from a variety of viburnum whose blossoms smell like dog poop. Do you know people like that? But the viburnum is a native shrub. It belongs here. Other than its unpleasant odor, it is an attractive shrub which produces berries that are food for wildlife. Sometimes we just have to put up with a little unpleasantness.

Treat people like flowers. Each is unique. Treat each with love and respect. Appreciate them for their virtues, have patience with their shortcomings, and be wise in handling their vices. When we treat our flowers this way, they make us happy. How much more happiness would this world have if we would treat all people like flowers?

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Bonnie T. Ogle

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