Sunday, October 20, 2013

October's bright (red, white &) blue weather

First frost is forecast overnight Monday or Tuesday and there's an accelerating sense of urgency, at least around here where the yellow heirloom tomatoes still are producing enthusiastically but the furnace kicks in after dark and there's some debate about whether or not it's worthwhile to keep watering the planters. It's time for a little Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885), too. Remember this?

O suns and skies and clouds of June, and flowers of June together, 
Ye cannot rival for one hour, October's bright blue weather.

Lucas County's prairie remnants are putting on a patriotic show of red, white and blue before settling into winter. The bright red here is sumac --- lovely in small doses, but with the potential to overwhelm if not kept in check.

Iowa's sumac is not poisonous, by the way --- poison sumac doesn't grow here. So if you've gotten a rash after playing in the woodlands or prairie, look elsewhere for something to blame.

The blues that were gleaming in the brown grass yesterday are downy gentians, generally a sign of undisturbed prairie. They also are for practical purposes the last of the native plants to bloom.

Look carefully and you'll notice subtle variations. The blossoms of one isolated group of gentians were bordered in white.

There are a few bottle gentians here, too, but I'm generally happy to find this variety at Pin Oak Marsh and leave it at that.

I was hoping to find lady tresses, a tiny variety of orchid, in the grass --- I've found them here before --- but not this year. Maybe I just wasn't patient, or observant, enough.

So these matured spikes of prairie blazing star will have to suffice for white. Think back to late July and early August when blazing star was putting on its colorful show here and elsewhere in southwest Lucas County. Now gone to seed, scattered widely, it's done its job and settled down to rest.

Today's predicted high is 65 and sunshine is in the forecast. October's bright blues will be gone soon enough, so seize the day and enjoy it! Octobers always come around; sometimes critters like us don't make it.

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