July afternoons can get quite hot, which may limit our outdoor activities. Also when we do venture out, we often find that we are accompanied by some unappreciated six-legged critters.
Conversely, early mornings at this time give us a mild temperature and though there are annoying insects about, they are not as abundant. For the last several weeks, I have been taking my walks shortly after sunrise. Temperatures are in the 50- to 60-degree range and calm winds, often with a coating of dew, giving pleasant conditions for a walk.
Dew-coated spiderwebs seem to get larger and more abundant each day as we move through summer and the spiders grow bigger.
Bird songs wane in midsummer as the songsters have raised their families and there is no need to sing, proclaiming home territories. I’ve been hearing some exceptions that continue their vocal: red-eyed vireos, indigo buntings, song sparrows, a few warblers and a persistent red-winged blackbird that started singing at the swamp back in March.
Also at this wetland, I hear from the two calling summer frogs: green and mink frogs. But the walks are mostly filled with the news of roadside flora.
There has been a diversity in species and colors of wildflowers here for weeks. Many of the ones that began blooming in June are still present; daisies, clovers, vetches, yarrows, trefoils and fleabanes. Hawkweeds and goatsbeards have moved on to the next phase and these plants now hold tufts of fluffy seeds.
But for each fading flower, another new one appears. There is a new story out here every day among the roadside wildflowers. Early summer flora gives way to those of midsummer and the open areas now abound with blossoms that were not here two weeks ago; black-eyed Susans, thistles, tansies, meadow-rues, sweetclovers and dogbanes.
Looking around, I see that a few late summer flowers have also begun: early goldenrods and two kinds of sunflowers, oxeye and tall sunflowers.
But I think the wildflowers of July roadsides are dominated by a quartet of obvious plants that will last for weeks; all are native. Purple fireweeds open new blossoms each day. Pink-purple milkweeds grow tall and thick with clusters of fragrant flowers. Yellow evening primroses with their four petals open at night and can still be seen when the dawn comes. And there are growths of the huge cow parsnips.
Standing 3-8 feet tall with thick robust stems and large “maple-like” leaves, cow parsnip is a roadside plant that is hard to not see as we pass by. Flowers are white and borne on flat umbels that reach up above the rest of the plant. Despite the size of the stem and leaves, the numerous florets are tiny, each with its own petals is only about one-fourth of an inch across.
This shape and growth pattern of cow parsnip reminds some of Queen Anne’s lace, a related plant of the same family. (Queen Anne’s lace, also called wild carrot, is well-known, but not as common as cow parsnip in the region. Also, cow parsnip is not to be confused with the noxious wild parsnip.)
This large group of flowers has others that grow here in summer: water hemlock, water parsnip, caraway and angelica, but none can equal the size of cow parsnip. These big plants will continue flowering for a couple of weeks and then form clusters of brown seeds. They remain standing after fading and large floral structures seen now in July will continue into the fall.