Saturday, September 12, 2015

Signs of Late Summer in New England

Although summer is coming to an end here in New England, there are still many plants chugging along before the frosts arrive.  The yellows of Goldenrod fade as the riot of colors from Asters take over.  Various fruit trees and vines found this growing season especially friendly as there were no major hail storms, floods, or late winter storms to deal with.

This Aster is happily growing next to a riverbank, a parking lot, two dumpsters, and a concrete retaining wall.  To say that it's a hardy plant is quite the understatement.

This smaller flowering Aster is growing right next to the purple one and appears to be thriving.

This is one of our native wild grapes, possibly Vitis labrusca the Fox Grape, or Vitis riparia the Riverbank Grape or Frost Grape.  The fruits are smaller than cultivated grapes and intensely sour.  These native grapes were combined with wine grapes to produce the common Concord Grape which is another plant that has escaped into the wild.  Concord Grapes ended up being a pretty terrible grape for wine, but are excellent in jams and juice (with lots of added sugars).  Birds will eventually claim these grapes, although it did smell like there was some fermentation going on so the birds might end up a bit tipsy in the process.
It's difficult to figure out the scale of these wild grapes in the photos, but they're about the size of high bush blueberries; the larger blueberries commonly found in the supermarket or at "Pick Your Own" locations.

Sadly, this photo ended up a bit washed out, but I wanted to include it as it's a perennial herb I wasn't expecting to find (it's also between the river and parking lot where I found the Asters).  This is wild mint.  The leaves are much smaller than garden grown hybrids, although the scent of the plant is just as large.  It tends to grow in damp locations and spreads just like the mints found in gardens,  Runners from the parent plant were snaking through the grass and popping up all over.  There are a few different wild mints in New England and I'm not exactly certain of the variety in the picture.  It could be Mentha canadensis or Mentha arvensis or even Menta aquatica which is an introduced species.  Whatever the variety, the smell of it makes me long for some mint tea.

Recommended Plant:  For strong late summer color, few plants beat Eupatorium purpureum.  Commonly known as Joe Pye Weed, it starts flowering here in New England in August and lasts well into September depending on the location.  This is no shrinking violet and it tends to grow upwards of 4-5 feet with some cultivars growing much higher.  The variety known as "Gateway" can easily reach 6 feet and I've seen some specimens closer to 8.  Provide the plant with plenty of room, evenly moist soil (Eupatorium does not appreciate dry locations), and full sun.  It has few pests or diseases and may in fact become a bit aggressive in locations it's fond of.

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