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It’s Late In The Season For That.

December 3, 2011

It’s December, and signs of winter in Ohio are all around- darkness falling soon after 5 o’clock, trees mostly bare of leaves, and morning frost.

I’m getting out of the habit of looking for certain things on my hikes these days- wildflowers and insects, for instance .  From the spring clear into the autumn, there were all sorts of things vying for my attention on hikes.  Insects buzzed by or hopped on the trails, brightly colored blooms naturally attracted the eye.  With winter weather’s arrival, I focus my efforts on looking for birds these days by default.

However, there are some things I stumble across that remind me that there are some holdouts out there.

Remember the cicada chorus last summer?  By September, those sounds were few and far between, so you can imagine my surprise when I heard a lone cicada on October 11th.  This last survivor of the huge legions of noisy bugs trying to attract a mate probably did not find another of his kind.  It seemed sort of a sad sound for that reason.

In late October, I was surprised to run across two wildflowers I hadn’t seen in a while:

Late Ox-Eye Daisies

Late Yarrow

Consulting my copy of Robert Henn’s Wildflowers of Ohio, I found that both Ox-Eye Daisies and Yarrow- despite being summer plants- can bloom as late as October.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I had not seen specimens of either plant in quite a while.  They stood out because of their typical absence by this particular month.  They were surrounded by autumn blooms- Goldenrod and Asters were plentiful.  The other summer plants were long gone.  Even common things can be startling when you find them out of place.

Earlier in October, I had spotted a pleasant bright yellow bloom that I was familiar with seeing in the spring and summer:

A definitely late Wood Sorrel

Wood Sorrels can be found on lawns in the warm weather, but they are usually winding up their blooming careers by August.  So this one was a couple months late.  OK, that’s more impressive, and it was a cheerful sight to see.

In the middle of November, I ran across a moth fluttering slowly above a path.  I followed it and took its picture when it landed upon a bramble.  The temperature was just above freezing on a frosty late morning, and I was quite impressed with this individual, as I hadn’t noticed any butterflies or moths since early November.  Hang in there!

A late moth thawing out

But here in December, things out of place are even more interesting.

Yesterday afternoon, I heard a few crickets chirping quietly from grass that was frost-covered earlier in the morning.  The cricket chorus of autumn is over now, but there are some hardy individuals hanging in there, lurking under fallen leaves that take the brunt of the frost for them.  The week before I saw a grasshopper moving rather slowly in the grass- a sparrow was hopping around nearby searching for things to eat.  The insect supply is getting decidedly lower by now.

I’ve been out hiking the last 2 frosty mornings, getting in some photography between the rather prolonged rainy weather systems common lately.  Both days I was along the Scioto River, and I saw some wildflowers blooming that I did not expect to see.

Most Goldenrod is brown and fuzzy now

This Aster looked surprisingly fresh

This New England Aster is still hanging in there

Queen Anne’s Lace still flourishing

A tough Jerusalem Artichoke

An Obedient Plant shrugging off the frost

A remarkably fresh-looking Black-Eyed Susan that must be frost-resistant!

The amount of blooms I saw along the river was quite a surprise.  I’m wondering if there is something about growing along a river’s edge that preserves these flowers for longer than normal.  [edit- see quietsolopursuit’s comment below that explains this!]  Some of these plants are a couple months past their pull date.  I briefly wondered how long that perfect Black-Eyed Susan would last if it could be taken into a greenhouse…but there is a rhythm to everything in nature, and new plants come from the seeds of old plants that sustain the growing cycle.  Keep an eye out for those durable individuals that stick around longer, and appreciate their tenacity.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2011 10:45 pm

    These photos are beautiful. You are one with your camera more than ever I think. Margie

  2. December 3, 2011 11:08 pm

    I love surprises, thanks for sharing these.

  3. December 3, 2011 11:45 pm

    It’s great that you’re so far north and still finding wildflowers at the beginning of December. That’s true in central Texas too, but it’s more to be expected here because we’re much farther south.

    Steve Schwartzman

  4. December 4, 2011 1:12 am

    You will probably find the very first plants of spring greening up in the same places along the river as these late bloomers are holding out in now. Water is slower to cool than air is, if you get to the river early on a cold morning and there is no wind, you’ll see mist on the water. That’s the river giving up its heat to the air.

    Ground water from springs is always about 55 degrees year round, it takes a while for it to either warm up in the summer, or cool off in the winter. Rivers pick up spring water all along their course, so they tend to moderate the air near them. Not as much as the Great Lakes do, but I’m sure that living in Ohio that you’re familiar with the moderating effects of the lakes, and lake effect snow. The river is a small scale version of that.

    Also, we think of river banks as the end of the river, but that’s only partially true. The soil near the river is more moist than farther away, and the warmth from the river is transfered through the moisture to the soil, hence the plants staying alive later in the season.

    • December 4, 2011 1:14 am

      Oh, great post! I was trying so hard to explain the mechanisms causing what you were seeing that I forgot to add that, sorry.

    • December 4, 2011 4:53 pm

      Thanks for the explanation- it makes perfect sense. I edited the post to direct readers to this excellent comment!

      • December 10, 2011 12:12 pm

        “That’s the river giving up its heat to the air.” That is a beautiful sentence by quietsolopursuits. We live by Lake Michigan, and it took me a long time to understand this–so I will remember this post! Science and poetry.

  5. December 4, 2011 3:37 am

    I’m with you, I’d love to see how long a bloom season a daisy or any other beauty from summer would be in a greenhouse… I would love to have a greenhouse just to try… 😉
    You’ve captured the last dance of the blooms and bugs before their long winter’s nap, with perfect display of photos and thoughts. 🙂

  6. December 4, 2011 5:23 am

    Hi Tracy. That little moth looks very cold and lonely in the bare woods. I love the reminders of sumer. Jane

  7. December 4, 2011 9:16 am

    Hi Tracy. I also love to find surprises like these wildflowers and insects. A spot of color in the midst of brown can be so refreshing! Seeing your photos and reading the story were almost like being on the hike with you.

  8. December 4, 2011 10:47 am

    Beautiful and interesting. Your last sentence sums up a lot!

  9. December 4, 2011 11:13 am

    Isn’t it wonderful to be at that place where we recognize the changing seasons in such detail? Where we see, so easily, what is out of place? For a long time, the forest – nature – was something I observed out my window. Now, like you, I love that I am able to bear witness to its changes up close!

  10. December 5, 2011 12:33 am

    It’s interesting to see that many blooms so late in the year. I think it’s warmer there than it is here: I haven’t seen any blossoms for some time now and last night it snowed again with low temperatures settling in again tonight. Enjoy them while you can!

  11. December 5, 2011 11:12 am

    What a great reminder of the miracles of the seasons…it’s like “snow fleas” in the dead of winter…how can it be that they hop around on the snow…and small birds living in a blizzard and 20 below zero…how can it be, but “it be”…thanks for all the life in this “between seasons” post…we are seeing flowers too here in Arkansas…but it is not unusual like you are seeing…but love it none the less…Ohio reminds me so much of Minnesota…though weather is more severe there in winter…but love what you do…each and every post…kudos to you W.S…

  12. December 7, 2011 3:51 pm

    Beautiful photos. It’s stunning to see a Black-eyed Susan this time of year. We’ve had a few asters and goldenrod hanging on, but not much else.

  13. December 9, 2011 3:20 pm

    Thanks for the great comments, everyone! 🙂

  14. December 10, 2011 12:14 am

    Beautiful photos of the flowers. I think Houston has similar flowers which are hanging on till the harsh weather of Winter strikes . In a way , we still get to celebrate the colors and Spring and Autumn through the wonderful posts you made . Merry Christmas and best wishes to your family.

  15. December 15, 2011 11:11 am

    We’re seeing this too, here in Pennsylvania. Butterflies, dandelions in full bloom, forsythia bushes blossoming and new leaves sprouting on my lilac bush… the warm weather is tricking mother nature.


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