Yellow Flowers


There are several members of the aster family putting on a show of yellow in the road ditches right now, and you know what that means!  Harvest season is upon us, school is about to start, and of course autumn is waiting in the wings.  Yes, it is that time of year.

Perhaps the most conspicuous yellow flowered plant I am seeing in the road ditches this time of year is field sow thistle (Sonchus arvensis) which looks like a 2-3 foot tall cousin of dandelions.  It is an introduced weed that is native to Eurasia and was first reported in the United States back in the early 1800’s.  It can now be found throughout much of North America where it occupies a wide variety of habitats ranging from wet meadows to cultivated and abandoned fields.  Sow thistle does not have any real importance to livestock or wildlife, but if you are so inclined, a chicory-like drink can be made from the roasted roots.

Many goldenrods (Solidago spp.) are also in full bloom now.  There are about ten species native to North Dakota, but most of what I have been observing in road ditches is Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) and stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida).  These two species can be easily distinguished by the shape of their flower clusters.  Rigid goldenrod has flat topped flower clusters while the flower clusters of Canada goldenrod are pyramidal in shape.  Neither species is considered to be important forage for livestock or wildlife, but they certainly are an important food item for bees and other pollinators during this time of the year.

No doubt many of you have noticed the wild sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) blooming the road ditches.  A half dozen or so species of sunflowers may be found in the state, and the kinds of sunflowers in road ditches can be quite variable, but a lot of it is the common or annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus) which is the native version of the commercial sunflower.  As many of you know, it is one of few crops that have been developed from one of our native species.

Finally, there is a plant producing lots of smaller yellow flowers along the shoulder of many roads across the state.  I am thinking of curlycup gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa).  It too is a member of the aster family and as the name suggests can be identified by the resinous material on the “cup” of the flowers.  As you might expect, this plant is a species of disturbed areas and has little livestock or wildlife value.  It is a native species, and the resinous material was not lost to Native Americans.  The plant was used to treat a variety of ailments ranging from saddle sores to rashes and poison ivy.

So look for these flowers as you go about your travels.  Our yellow flowering members of the aster family are putting on their annual late summer – early autumn show.    Enjoy it while you can.

Chuck Lura

Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.

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