In early April, my favorite wild places in Georgia are mountain woodlands where abundant spring ephemeral wildflowers — violets, trilliums, trout lilies, toothworts, blood root, anemone, saxifrage and the like — cast a spellbinding, yet short-lived beauty before the deciduous trees leaf out. With the first hints of summer in June, the flowers are gone, staying dormant until next spring.
But no worry. In late summer and early fall (autumn starts on Monday, Sept. 23), I have other favorite wild places — sunny meadows that burst with life, with riots of bright, colorful wildflowers whose beauty takes my breath away. To me, this time of year always has been the season of beautiful meadows.
There are many types of meadows. Some folks even label old pastures, hayfields and fallow fields as meadows. Even some power line rights-of-ways are called meadows. My idea of a meadow is an open, grassy ecosystem teeming with sun-loving wildflowers and insect pollinators and the like, where nature can follow its own course, at least most of the time — where a multitude of native non-woody plants, insects, birds and animals compete, coexist and survive as best they can.
Last weekend I took a two-hour afternoon walk across one of my favorite meadows in metro Atlanta — a long, lush grassy expanse in the Johnson Ferry north unit of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
A dazzling sight was huge colonies of bright yellow tickseed sunflowers intertwined with the dark purple blooms of ironweed. Goldenrods and wingstem added more yellow. Countless bees, wasps and other pollinators jostled for nectar at the blooms and at more than 15 other late summer wildflower species, such as passion flower and thoroughwort.
Dragonflies, damselflies and more than 12 species of butterflies flitted about. A meadow sight that I never tire of seeing is a gulf fritillary butterfly on ironweed blossoms.
Celebrate this season of meadow by visiting a meadow near you.
IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: Autumn officially begins at 3:50 a.m. Monday — the autumnal equinox. The moon is in the last quarter tonight. Only two planets are visible now: Jupiter in the southwest at dusk, and Saturn in the south just after dark.
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