As the end of summer approaches, most of our garden flowers are beginning to fade. They have endured everything from hot, dry conditions, downpours of rain, and a brush with a hurricane and a tornado! This is the perfect time of year to retreat to cooler, tranquil woodlands and discover unusual plants in which to delight. Many of our woodland species are overlooked. Most of us in Ruston live near areas where we can discover some of these plants. Our town still has wooded tracts where these species can be found. The Rock Island Greenway, for example, is a prime location to find native woodland species.
On a recent walk through my favorite natural habitat, Rock Island Greenway, I noted the following plants:
Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) is a small evergreen shrub with holly-like leaves. It has dense clusters of yellow flowers in early spring and by early autumn shows off a crown of dusty bluish-black berries.
Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) also known as French mulberry, is a favorite because of its lush, yellowish-green foliage in autumn and arching branches. Its most striking feature are the clusters of glossy, iridescent-purple berries in the fall that last into winter. Wildlife, especially birds and white-tailed deer, are attracted to this plant.
Goldenrod (Solidago ludoviciana) is in the sunflower family. In Louisiana, one can see it in dry, open woodland landscapes and along roadsides and other sunny locations. Its bright yellow flower spikes are a show stopper! It does not cause allergies as many mistakenly believe.
Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), also known as inland sea oats or river oats, is a grass native to our area. Known for being invasive, it is, nonetheless, alluring with its oat-like little leaves that turn golden later in the year, making it shimmer and dance alongside a pathway. It goes beyond the ordinary!
Swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius) sometimes known as narrow-leaf sunflower is a yellow gem. One can see it in late summer along fence lines, old homesteads or on the edge of woods in filtered sunlight. Tall and statuesque with a wild appearance, it makes a statement.
Dwarf sumac (Rhus copallinum) is a small tree with abundant clusters of mauve-brown berry fruit drooping from its branches. When cooler temperatures arrive, the leaves turn flame red; an amazing sight!
Devils walking stick (Aralia spinosa) is a tall, slender tree covered with sharp, vicious-looking, stout spines, hence its colloquial name is very apt! The single trunk terminates in a large, leafy umbrella-shaped canopy. This woody plant is easy to overlook as it blends readily into neighboring undergrowth; not to be discounted!
Elderberry (Sambucus) is easy to spot in the spring with its lacy off-white flowers. In late summer numerous bunches of dark berries form, becoming a magnet for numerous species of woodland birds.
As we say goodbye to summer and transition into autumn, take a walk in nearby wooded areas or discover the beauty the Rock Island Greenway has to offer. Expect to be surprised, delighted and comforted by what you find. Perhaps you have some of these treasured gems in a woodland near your house. Don’t overlook them!
This news article was written by Mary Elleson, Lincoln Parish Master Gardener.