Many plants and trees are beginning to show the signs of seasonal change. In the Wetlands the hues have shifted from the deep greens of summer to the much lighter hues of early fall. Willows and Sycamores have committed to the change. The Dogwoods are close behind; their fruit will soon be bright red. Poke Weed’s deep purple berries are greedily being gobbled up by Gray Catbirds. The waxy berries, or nuts, of Wax Myrtle should be ripe in time to be devoured by the Myrtle Warblers (Yellow-rumped Warblers) that will soon arrive from the north. The stage is set.
I’m most familiar with Wax Myrtle (a shrub) from the coast where migrating birds eat the waxy nuts while on their way south in the fall or while overwintering along the coast. The many Wax Myrtle plants in and around the Explore the Wild and Catch the Wind Loop were planted there. There’s not much question as to their origin.
However, I’ve noticed another plant in the Wetlands that has coastal “roots” and that has me a bit confused as to its origins. At first glance I thought it was Joe-pye Weed. A closer look revealed that it has alternate leaves, not whorled leaves as Joe-pye Weed does. The flowers are not quite right either. I’m now convinced that this plant is Salt-marsh Fleabane.
Salt-marsh Fleabane grows in salt marshes, although, refering to where the plant is commonly found, one field guide states “Mainly salt marshes. Coast from s. Maine south; rarely inland.” The plant is growing at the edge of the water in the Wetlands (image at left) and, depending on the water level at the time, its roots are usually wet. Curiously, one of these plants is also growing on the shaded part of the path between the main entrances to Explore the Wild and Catch the Wind.
Groundsel Tree, which is a woody shrub and not a tree as the name suggests, is common near salt marshes and sandy areas along the coast. It is also very common in our area along slough and drainages. You may see it along the highway growing from roadside ditches. Groundsel Tree blooms in the fall. One of these plants is growing next to the Wetlands Overlook, on the right as you enter the overlook. I’ve seen hundreds of Monarchs draped across these shrubs during migration along the coast. Here, it is a magnet for bees, wasps, and other nectaring insects in the fall.