The late summer wildflowers – wild being the key word – they tug at my soul. They are not the carefully tended beauties in my garden, and they are not the vibrant, low-to-the-ground delights of the spring forest wildflowers that burst forth with the return of the spring sun before there are leaves on the trees. These are the late summer wildflowers that hug the edges of the forest, reach for the sun, and grow waist high at least and line the sides of the roads; these are the wild children that are the late bloomers, the ones who took all summer to gather the sun’s strength and brightness. The waning sunlight tells them now or never and they finally burst forth in bloom and push their energy into new seeds of life for the next generation.
The purple ironweed is my favorite and it is such a vibrant violet hue in the morning sun that it takes my breath away, holding its head above the golden rod who bends her hands saturated with yellow towards me with an offering. These two so commonly grow together, as if they have a long-standing dance card and won’t let anyone else cut in.
Jewelweed flowers a little all summer, but in the late summer becomes particularly spectacular in long wide stretches along dirt roads especially. The lacy green foliage about three feet high is dotted with little orange blossoms revealing delicate mouths, each hanging from a cord and inviting the bees to enter.
Stinging nettles are not sought after for their blooms, but after standing guard all summer for the other flowers they make haste to bring forth their seed in a subtle spray of small white flowers, still armed to the teeth.
Tall wild yellow coneflowers and wingstem compete for the brightest yellows and vie for the most sunlight as they illuminate their green surroundings and make everyone smile with their free-flowing easy grace and big wide-open faces waving to us.
A field of Queen Anne’s Lace is a late summer marvel. This jewel needs the full sun of wide-open spaces to fully shine. Evidently Queen Anne of England was an expert lace maker, hence the name. Anyway, this beauty is sometimes called wild carrot as it can be substituted for a carrot when young and as the bloom matures it curls inward and looks like a delicate bird’s nest.
Stickweed grows in old fields with radiant golden flowers, taking over where the grass is less than robust. My friend’s farm has a lot of stickweed and the cows and goats won’t eat it, so the farmers don’t like it. But her radiant golden flowers glow as they reach for the sky. She is another survivor.
What does it take to be a wildflower that is so prolific that it grows everywhere although humans do not plant it, or tend it and in fact often go out of their way to irradicate these “weeds”? A weed of course is only a human judgment of whether a plant is wanted or unwanted by other humans. And unwanted plants often get the additional moniker of “invasives”.
These are the plants that will save the Earth with their tenacity and determination. These are the ones that grow in the harshest places, the disturbed land, the broken land. These beauties have the strength to move in and roll up their sleeves and put down their roots, able to make a home with very little to feed on, and no protection. In fact, they often heal the land by reaching deep into the dirt and pulling up long stored minerals from the rock itself. Wildflowers with their wild cousins the vines, will literally rewild the Earth – all we must do is get out of their way.
These are the flowers I really want to get to know the most, to know their medicine. Tell me your stories, your secrets, I ask. Help me to listen to you. You are such beautiful mamas, dancing with abandon, knowing that you thrive best in large communities surrounded by your closest family, feeding each other, protecting each other. You learn so quickly how to settle in without any excuses or second guesses, to take root, to make a home for yourself, and then send your progeny out into the world far and wide, giving them your untamed wisdom to take with them.
These wildflowers say to me, “We are wild, and we would rather not be in your cultivated garden. Mother Earth is our favorite gardener. Only She knows the deepest secrets of our long story over the millennia and how and what we need to do, to adapt when. Her ways with us always have the goal of survival of the whole ecosystem, and we trust her to show us the way. Some years we grow tremendously, and some years we almost fade away. That is how we become stronger. We are food for bees, butterflies, birds, rabbits and much more. That is the way of the wild – we are eaten just as we eat of the earth and the sunlight is our food. We are the ones you cannot contain.”
Will we be able to listen to this wild wisdom when we really need it? To learn from them how to be in the world and how to heal our land? Their survival is the key to our survival. Their glory can be our glory.
Their roots bring up the very glory from the dirt itself, the greatest mystery of all, the body of the Earth, the body of Our Great Mother.
Images: 1) Ironweed 2) Goldenrod 3)Jewelweed 4) Jewelweed with bee 5) Stinging Nettles 6) Yellow coneflower 7) Wingstem 8) Queen Anne’s Lace