Yellow Autumn Wildflowers in my Neighborhood

My neighborhood is on the top of a fall line hill in a sandy soil zone. The sandy substrate originated during the Eocene (55 million – 33 million years ago) when this region was a sea shore. It is a narrow zone found across 6 states, and it borders the oak-hickory-pine forest to the north and the open pine savannah zone to the south. The original dominant trees in this zone were sand laurel oak and longleaf pine, but the latter has been replaced by loblolly pine which is faster growing and less dependent upon frequent fire. Before European settlement the region was subject to periodic grass fires that thermally pruned the open woodland. Today, fire suppression results in thick growths of oak saplings on vacant lots. The original environment likely consisted of widely spaced pine and oak with an abundance of herb and grass species growing in the sunny undergrowth. The name of my road is “Piney Grove,” indicating what this area looked like about 50 years ago when the road was first paved.

This time of year 3 common yellow flowers bloom in my neighborhood, and there were probably acres of them here before it was subdivided into lots and landscaped with non-native turf grasses. Cottony goldenaster (Chrysopsis gossypinus) is a tough plant well adapted for growing in hot sunny conditions with sandy soils. I assume the name is based on the appearance of the bud before the flower blooms–it resembles an unopened cotton ball. I could find just 1 scientific study of this plant, and it focuses on anatomical distinctions between this and similar species. I’ve noticed 1 species of bee, 1 species of butterfly, and a small hornet, pollinating this perennial. This species has probably occurred in this region for millions of years because it has had similar climate and soil for ages.

I have a natural patch of cottony goldenaster in my yard. I don’t have to spend money on flowers.

Common sulphur butterfly (Colias philodice) pollinating a cottony goldenaster flower. The fall brood of this butterfly is greenish-yellow and they look like a leaf. They feed upon clover during their larval stage.

I don’t know what species of bee this is. But it is also pollinating a cottony goldenaster.

Sticktights (Bidens sp.), also known as beggar-ticks, produce a zoochorus fruit. The fruit sticks to fur, feathers, and clothing, and the seeds are spread throughout the environment in this way. It’s impossible for a deer, fox, or human to walk through a field and not inadvertently collect many of these fruits. 150-200 species of sticktights exist.

Fruit of the sticktight. These fruits stay on the plant after it dies and this increases the chances for the seeds to be spread by passing animals.

There are even more species of hawkweeds (Hieraciums sp.). Botanists count over 10,0000 species of hawkweed. I think the species in my neighborhood is field hawkweed (H. aespotosum), but I am no botanical expert and I don’t even know of a source with all 10,000 species illustrated, described, and compared.

Hawkweed.

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