Monday, September 30, 2013

Autumn in a bottle (gentian)

I've been following (vicariously) autumn's advance in upstate New York, where fall colors are at their brightest right now, ideal leaf viewing weather during the next week or two.

None of that here, yet --- although the brightest of nature's seasonal earthbound flora --- goldenrod and the various sunflowers --- are fading from blazing yellows to more subtle browns, setting the stage for airborne reds and golds when leaf canopies flame out into winter a little later.

It's the time of year I go looking for bottle gentians, the last of the old prairie flowers to bloom before hard freezes begin. These are subtle and low-growing plants --- gentian blue and in clusters, but low-growing and unobtrusive among taller grasses. 

I found these late yesterday along the trail at Pin Oak Marsh. They have not yet begun to open, but even when they do there will not be a spectacular show. The blossoms remained cupped rather than splayed, hence the name "bottle."

The colony easiest to find --- I know of three at Pin Oak but most likely there are many more --- is just south of the most northerly bench along the concrete path. Walk south of the bench a few feet and start studying the low-growing plants among the grasses just west of the trail. If you're patient, you'll begin to see them. Feel free to wade into the grass for a closer look, but don't stomp.

There are other signs of autumn at the marsh, too --- an increase in the duck and goose population at various times of the day, seeds of thistles and the various milkweed preparing to take flight, a few early leaf colors. It's a great time of year, so get up from behind that computer and go take a walk --- it's almost light.

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