North Coast Chapter - CNPS

Fall Flora

By Clare Golec

In the soft, warm, and fading light of the fall season the fall flora displays are a pleasant completion to an always great floristic season. Many of the species of the Compositae family (in reference to the "flower" actually being a composite of flowers) are late bloomers. The Aster (Greek for star) is a genus noted for it’s late season flowers and consists of approximately 300 species. Asters closely resemble the genus Erigeron (Greek for early old age) in appearance, however the erigerons or fleabane daisies bloom earlier in the year, as the scientific name aptly implies. Along the Pacific Northwest coast a frequent wayside aster is the common California aster (Aster chilensis). This species has a delicate pyramidal arrangement of lavender daisy-like flowers, and is native to the Channel Islands and central and north western California on up to British Columbia. Another composite with pyramidal arranged flowers is Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis ssp. elongata). This showy native of the Cascade Ranges, Sierra Nevada, central and north western California on up to British Columbia is reportedly one of the most difficult taxonomic problems in North America. The inflorescence is a majestic plume of countless tiny golden flowers that apparently was carried into battle during the Crusades, used as substitute for tea during the American Revolution, and is a source of a very permanent yellow dye. Solidago (Latin for to make whole) was reputed to be a medicinal plant, however the curatives of this plant have not been supported by recent research. Another attractive late blooming native composite is pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea). The generic name is obscure but some people attribute it to a Linnaeus anagram of a closely related genus Gnaphalium (Greek for tuft of wool) commonly referred to as cudweed. The specific name is Greek for pearly, an effect created by the whitened tips of the chaffy bracts that closely surround the tiny yellow flowers. These flowers are commonly dried for winter ornament, hence the common name everlasting. Thoreau is reputed to have called this the artificial flower of the September pastures. The marsh gumplant (Grindelia stricta) is a conspicuous bright yellow native composite of the Humboldt Bay marshes. The generic name, Grindelia, honors David Grindel (1776-1936) a Russian botanist. The specific name, stricta, is Latin for drawn together or tight, probably in reference to the tight flower heads. This species is fittingly named "gumweed" as the flowers are surrounded by bracts covered with sticky latex. Hairy cat's-ear (Hypochaeris radicata) also has bright yellow flowers that are dandelion-like. This European weed is a very prevalent component of disturbed sites, such as any nearby lawn, vacant lots, or roadside and is often mistaken for dandelion. However unlike a dandelion this species does not have thin smooth leaves, but has tough radulate leaves (feeling like a tongue of a cat). This rough feel of leaves has been appropriately applied to the species name of a common woodland aster (Aster radulinus) native to the Pacific Northwest.

Several "umbels" are prominent in fall, umbel refers to members of the Umbelliferae family (Apiaceae) as flowers of this family are presented in an umbrella fashion. Wild carrot or Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota, both names being a combination of Greek and Latin for carrot) is a widely naturalized plant from the Old World whose selected strains were developed into the cultivated carrot. This roadside plant of our area has showy white flat-topped clusters of small flowers ringed at the base with a lacey arrangement of bracts. Within this umbel of flowers occurs a single central purplish flower, which is thought to represent a bull’s-eye on which insects may zero-in for a landing and from which rose a curious superstition that this flower was of benefit for mitigating epilepsy. The Kellogg’s yampah (Perideridia kelloggii) is another native white flowered umbel that possesses a caraway scent, and is sometimes referred to as wild caraway. This slender and graceful species is a lone green component of the dried coastal grasslands time of year. The generic name is Greek for around the neck, which refers to the involucre present (group of bracts subtending the flowers). Yampah is an Indian name and this plant was well known and used by the Indians. The roots are very palatable either fresh, roasted, boiled, or dried and were often pounded into flour. The Lewis and Clark journals reported it to be "agreeably favored…not unlike annis seed". Clark in his Wildflowers of the Pacific States cites this plant as "the best flavored and most nutritious of native food plants" and appropriately warns to be correct in your identification, as it closely resembles a lethal umbel of the Pacific Northwest. (Cicuta bulbifera) found north of California.

Lastly two other common components of our fall flora are wild teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris) and naked lady or belladonna lily (Amaryllis belladonna). Teasel is a naturalized European plant of the Dipsacaceae family found in vacant lots and along roadsides that has an odd hard cone-shaped inflorescence of lavender flowers. The generic name is Greek for thirst in reference to the leaf bases, which are cupped around the stem and can hold water. However to bring this prickly thing close to your mouth you would have to be dying of thirst. The specific name is Latin for of the woods, though of vacant lots might be more appropriate. The naked lady is a beautiful and fragrant liliaceous flower that often adorns old Victorian gardens in the Humboldt Bay area. This species has large pinkish trumpet-shaped flowers that arise from the ground without leaves but are soon followed by leaves. The generic name is supposed to have been taken from a famous shepherdess mentioned by Virgil who was distinguished for her beauty and the specific name is, of course, Italian for beautiful lady. A fall flower well worth stopping and smelling amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life.

[Home ]

California Native Plant Society - North Coast Chapter
P.O. Box 1067 Arcata, CA 95518-1067
Last updated October 1998