It's mid-August and the country roadsides are ablaze with yellow flowers. Coneflowers and giant sunflowers seem be everywhere. Some, like the black-eyed susans and the tickseed, grow to around 2-4 ft. tall. The large sunflowers like the cup plant, woodland and ox-eye sunflowers and the mulleins will send flower stalks 6-12 feet high.
I pull the car over and watch several yellow swallow-tailed butterflies as they dance around a patch of gray-headed coneflowers. I wondered how many years these beautiful yellow flowers have been growing there. A lot longer than I've been around or even the road.
Many of these bright yellow flowers are all that remains of the once lush and vast prairies that once dominated the land. Most of the plant life from that time is gone and less than one percent of these original plants remain.
One of my favorite sunflowers, with its rich yellow blooms, is the cup plant. They seem to grow in large clumps scattered about a ditch or low area and a single plant will send up several tall flower stalks. This sunflower's unique leaves surround the stalk and form a cup which holds rain water or dew. This mini watering hole is visited by thirsty birds and insects. It also may be a good hiding place for a tree frog or a place where a mosquito can lay her eggs.
In winter the cup plant will keep on giving as its seeds provide food for small birds and mice.
At the edge of the farm pond, a green heron is slowly stalking an unsuspecting frog. His patience and stealth pays off as he quickly strikes out with his sharp beak and comes up with the prize. This crow- sized heron is very shy and inconspicuous and is not often seen here in the Kickapoo Valley. As the little green heron swallows its meal with a gulp, I notice behind him, the pretty yellow flowers of the tickseed sunflowers. I always enjoy their flowers from a distance because of their habit of sticking a bunch of their spiny seeds to everything. I have spent countless hours pulling stick-tights from my gloves, shirt sleeves and socks. This job may be done outside on the back porch but if you don't want them growing next to the house next summer, don't throw them on the ground. The same advice goes for any weed seeds you pick off your clothing.
Soon another plant with yellow flowers will take the stage. Disturbed areas will soon be blanketed with the rich yellow tops of goldenrod. The goldenrod's flowers will give the butterflies and bees a much needed food source during the final days of summer.
A large black and yellow garden spider clings to the center of her web which she has stretched between two goldenrod stalks. The insects that come to feed from their yellow flowers may end up a meal for the waiting spider.
Yellow is the dominate color for flowers in the late summer and will brighten your walk down nature's trail. A few dried seeds placed in your pocket can later be planted in a sunny spot closer to your house. There's always room for a few more sunflowers around the yard and garden.
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