Monday, October 5, 2009
Touring the Gentian Meadows
October's a wonderful month for wandering meadows. The grasses, now tall and tasseled, move in the wind like waves in the sea, their green and tawny expanses studded with purples and golds and starry whites where the grasses intermix with asters and goldenrods. Now add to this glorious palette the radiant royal blue of hundreds of Fringed Gentians. That prospect awaited my friend and fellow blogger Jackie Callahan and me as we headed over to Montgomery County today to visit a nature preserve called Strawberry Fields Forever. Jeff Leon, the owner and careful steward of this remarkable property, had offered us a tour of his place: more than 70 acres of open meadows, plus 40 more of woods and wetlands, including streams and a pond.
We especially wanted to see that part of his lands where at least a thousand Fringed Gentians grow wild in an open area uniquely suited to this increasingly rare flower's particular needs: lots of sun and a dampish soil that is rich in magnesium. October is the month when this beautiful flower -- as blue as any blue could possibly be -- comes into its glory. Because it was rather cool today, with occasional sprinkles and only intermittent sun, the flowers had furled their fringed petals close to protect their pollen, so we didn't witness these plants' most spectacular showing. But still, we couldn't miss them there, growing profusely among the asters and grasses, for even their closed flower heads were radiantly blue.
Other delights surrounded us on every side, as we walked along among hedgerows of dogwoods, viburnums, and hawthorns hung with their autumn fruit.
We found one vine of Climbing Bittersweet, bearing terminal clusters of orange fruits that soon will split open to reveal glossy red berries inside. This is our native bittersweet, which is becoming increasingly rare as its habitat is taken over by the aggressively invasive tree-swallowing Oriental Bittersweet. Climbing Bittersweet will use a tree or shrub as support for its vine, but does not overwhelm its host, as the alien species does.
An old stone wall, covered with emerald mosses and crumbling with age, provided a mini-habitat for pretty pink Herb Robert.
Herb Robert has been blooming most of the summer and will keep on doing so until frost, and often even beyond, where it shelters among sun-warmed rocks. If you click on this photo, you can see that its stem is quite fuzzy: like a fur coat to keep it snug and warm.
Another flower that blooms well past frost is Witch Hazel, which we found today with its ribbon-like petals unfurled. This is one of the very last flowers to come into bloom, and when colder weather comes it will roll those petals up into tight little balls, releasing them again only on sun-warmed days. I have found these petals unfurled on sunny days as late as December.
All in all, a delightful walk through a splendid preserve with a charming and welcoming host who rejoiced in sharing his love for his land with two fortunate visitors. Next year, I'll make sure to come back on a warm sunny day when those gentians open their faces fully to the sun. What a sight that should be! (To see a photo of open gentians, go to my September archive and click on the post for September 2, "Clearing the Way for Fringed Gentians.")