Curious Late Flowering

I noticed at the weekend that there were some unexpected plants still flowering up on the plain: small splashes of colour in amongst the old seed heads and the general brown of autumn. The sun was out the day before yesterday – now and again – so I thought I’d take the camera with me when I walked the dogs, to see what I could find.

These are the flower species I came across on an approximately three mile dog walk. Pretty much in order of appearance:

Red Clover, about ten flowers seen during the length of the walk. Some yellow flowers that look a bit like a small Dandelion – Cat’s Ear or Hawkbit? – maybe twenty of these along the way and none of them fully open. A single Dandelion, scrunched up and hiding in the grass. One clump of ragwort. Ten or more small Umbellifers (this is the family that has white, clustered-together flowers in the shape of an umbrella, which includes parsley, carrots, Ground Elder, Watercress [as I’ve just learned], and more than 3,500 other species around the world including the one here which I failed to identify).

I saw five or six Knapweed flowers, one or two on exposed ground as well as a couple in a sheltered spot. What were any of them doing in flower in the second half of November? The last time I remember seeing them was in mid or maybe late summer and they were covered in butterflies.

Then there was one single yellow Vetch of some kind, two tiny Harebells and a single Buttercup. A Buttercup in November?

The Oxe Eye Daisy was another surprise – just one of them seen. And then another type of Umbellifer – Yarrow, I think – two or three of these in a sheltered lane. And a couple of Scabius flowers, in the same sheltered lane – another flower popular with butterflies and normally seen from June to September.

It was a surprising variety to find on November 19th, I thought.

Why would any of these species be flowering so late in the year? There are no bees or butterflies around to pollinate them. There was a fly on the Scabius flower (above right) but it didn’t look like it would be much use.

Perhaps the late flowering is a kind of natural selection insurance policy against the possibility of a changing climate, one of the natural variations that might prove successful as the environment changes. But for the seasons to change that much the planet would probably have to shift on its axis. Maybe they’re just mutations, genetic mistakes that are unlikely to reproduce. Perhaps a bit of both. Whatever, if the amount each species was in flower over the season was represented by a bell curve, these late flowering examples would be at the flat-lining stage at the end: they have to be the very last flowers of the year.

It’s intriguing to see the different species still in flower, but their presence in the landscape doesn’t really raise the spirits and their generally stunted appearance doesn’t dampen them either. The main feeling is of being a bit mystified as to why, at this time of year, they’re flowering at all.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s not uncommon to see any of these species flowering on the Plain late in the year, especially as the autumn has been relatively mild. I’ve been observing late-flowering Vicia species and Onobrychis (Sainfoin), second blooms on crab apple and sloe too. I took photos of honey bees nectaring on Mahonia in the garden where I was working on Sunday. 🙂


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