Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Brrrr? Achoo?

The temperature might be 95 degrees on a July day, but the sight of its yellow blossoms can offer a chill that’s autumnal.

New Englanders used to say Early Goldenrod’s appearance presaged an early winter, but as its name suggests, this species always blooms in July.

Early Goldenrod is just one of nearly 50 kinds of goldenrods found in the Northeast, most blooming in late summer and fall. All are subject of another, more serious misconception: They are said to cause hay fever.

It’s simply not true. Goldenrods bear colorful flowers that attract insects. Their pollen grains, designed to be carried by bees, are too big to become airborne and to end up in the noses of allergy sufferers.

The real villains are grasses, plantains and ragweeds, which bear green flowers and dispatch their tiny pollen into the air. In fact, any time you see a colorful flower, you can bet the display is aimed at attracting bees and that the pollen is too big to bug you.

It’s the unnoticed, dull, green flowers that create the season for sneezin’.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Scent of summer

There’s nothing elegant about the look of milkweed. In fact, to most people, it is what its name suggests: A weed. But get close to a cluster of its unusual flowers and you may be charmed.

Few native wildflowers smell as sweet as common milkweed. The plant uses its powerful scent to attract bees, which provide pollination like Pony Express riders. As they crawl across the blossoms, their legs unwittingly pick up tiny saddlebag-shaped pollen packages to deliver from one flower to another.

The result of pollination are those late-summer packages of fluff that delight children and which the Navy once used to fill life vests.

For us, however, milkweed is a room freshener. Somewhat drab and droopy, the flowers are not the stuff of fancy bouquets. But pick a stalk – don’t mind the sticky juice, from which Thomas Edison once tried to make rubber – put it in water, and place it in a dark corner of a room where it will stand unseen but not unnoticed as it sweetens the air with its fresh summery scent.