Other October pages: Introduction to leaf fall • Tree by tree - the autumn sequence • Berries, fruit, nuts and shrubs • Birds • Deer rut and insects • Weather
Put your cursor over any photo to see its caption, or click here to see more October flower photos.
Though one might expect them to have disappeared in September, early October can still support a remarkable range of flowers in sheltered spots – even in cool Octobers such as 2007 or 2010. Every time you think you have seen the last flower of the year, you are surprised to discover another one merrily blooming away as if it was August – sometimes a whole great patch of them.
One flower that is definitely in season at this time of year is the purple michelmas daisy, which is found particularly by railway tracks but also on other verges until around the third week in the month, and in isolated spots even into November. Other flowers one sees fall into two categories. Some are late summer flowers that have somehow survive long after they should have faded, and others are plants that have flowered and seeded earlier in the year and are now producing a second generation.
It is often hard to distinguish between the two. In arable fields flowers such as field pansy, field speedwell and wild radish can be seen once the crops have been harvested, but were they there all along or are they new growth taking advantage of the newly cleared ground? On the other hand scentless mayweed is definitely in the summer survivor catgeory - a daisy-like plant that can be seen on arable field margins right throughout October and even into November.
You can also see the occasional poppy early in the month and maybe charlock, hedge mustard or some other yellow crucifer. There are also a number of weeds of bare ground - including chickweed, shepherd's purse and groundsel - which may appear on cleared arable fields but seem to be more often found as urban weeds or on the bare edges of paths. Hairy bittercress can also appear as an urban weed, though it (and indeed chickweed) seems to struggle to flower at this time of year, and you may see some surviving redleg (also known as redshank) and Canadian fleabane in such locations.
Flowers of grassland and grassy verges that may still linger on in favoured spots, particularly in the early part of the month, include field scabious, devilsbit scabious, knapweed, ragwort, clover, marjoram and basil. Also yarrow, which lasts reliably until the end of the month. Meanwhile common centaury, yellow-wort, lesser stitchwort and vipers bugloss may have a second flowering, the latter usually by the sea. You may also see clustered bellflowers, but look at them closely because in some places, such as the Chilterns, they may be the rather similar looking autumn gentian. Grassland flowers that crop up very occasionally in October include harebells, self heal and wild carrot and one sometimes gets some new shoots of agrimony.
A reasonable number of dandelions can be found, continuing an autumn resurgence in them that started in September, some of which go on to produce seed heads. Don't confuse these with members of the very similar-looking hawkbit/catsear family. The species you are most likely to see at this time of year are common catsear, autumn hawkbit and smooth hawksbeard, though lesser hawkbit and nipplewort are possible early in the month. Larger, rougher plants with dandelion-like flowers include the spiky bristly oxtongue (which flourishes particularly near coasts), smooth sow thistle, perennial sow thistle (earlier in the month: also known as corn sow thistle) and hawkweed oxtongue.
Other verge flowers that can survive into October are common toadflax, herb robert, red and white campion (and pink campion, a hybrid of the two), plus hedgerow cranesbill (the latter definitely second generation, as it seems to revive a bit in October). You might also see some surviving French cranesbill, mainly near gardens. The occasional buttercup, white deadnettle (very occasionally also red deadnettle), nettle-leaved bellflower, chicory, bush vetch, alkanet and great or dark mullein may also appear, and daisies may still dot short grass. Oxford ragwort can be found on railway lines, apparently thinking it is April, while some tormentil may survive on heaths.
Hogweed can also prove long lasting (or more likely, spring up anew), as can black horehound and very occasionally mallow or musk mallow. Earlier in October a few musk or marsh thistle flowers may be spotted, while an isolated creeping thistle bloom might pop up even late in the month. By railway lines and on other wasteground examples of the very persistent evening primrose may reappear, and on old walls and in other odd corners ivy-leaved toadflax and mexican fleabane (a kind of daisy) can survive right through the month, as can yellow corydalis. Autumn cyclamen may still be seen on the verges near gardens early in the month.
By the sea red valerian may linger in sunny corners. Some himalayan balsam can also survive on riverbanks early in the month, and the occasional meadowsweet and comfrey (probably Russian comfrey rather than the native variety) has a late flowering.
Special mention on the survivor front has to go to the large white trumpets of bindweed, which can be going strong on verges well into the second half of October. One can see why this plant is such a persistent pest for gardeners, and the same goes for Russian vine, which has masses of white flowers throughout October, though it is starting to weaken towards its end.
Next year's flowers
Amazingly in October you can already see the plants of next year's flowers starting to grow. On verges you can see the new leaves of cow parsley (which really do look like parsley at this time of year), as well as the new shoots of garlic mustard and cleavers (aka goosegrass).
These are definitely new growth, grabbing their territory for next year's flowering season, but other flower plants one sees are perennials, which flowered this year and will last throughout the winter to flower in the next. In grassland these include buttercups - very common - as well as cranesbills, cinquefoil, ribwort plantain, yarrow, clover and daisies. On shady verges you can also see the leaves of herb bennet (aka wood avens) and the silver-streaked "argentatum" variety of yellow archangel, while woodruff can be found in woodland.
Dandelion shoots - some quite mature, others obviously new - are also common, as are some catsear/hawkbits. However most dock leaves one sees seem to be on the way out. The hogweed leaves one sees at this time of year are also not found later in the winter, suggesting that they are killed off by the frost, and the same is true of many (but not quite all) herb robert shoots.
Stinging nettles are mostly this year's plants dying back, but there are some new shoots on bare ground. Some of these new shoots may be white deadnettles - if not flowering they look almost identical. Also on verges you can see green alkanet and mallow leaves, which are both perennial, and foxglove and ragwort which are biennial - that is, they grew from seed this year and will flower next year, then die.
On wasteground and in odd urban corners there can be an upsurge in chickweed and smooth sow thistles, both of which look as if they are about to flower but somehow never quite do. The leaves of creeping thistle are also quite common, some still putting out their lettuce-like new growth, and the large rosettes of spear thistles can be seen.
By the sea alexanders are putting out foliage next to the dried stalks of this year's flowers. You can also see the plants of perennial species such as silver ragwort, rock sea-lavender, rock samphire, sea beet, red valerian, tree mallow and stonecrop: also wild cabbage on the shores around Folkestone and Dover.
For some photos of flower shoots you can see now and later in the winter, click here.
Some arable fields at this time of year start to be cheered up with the first green shoots of winter wheat, but grass, which can still be fresh and green early in the month, stops growing around mid month and starts to take on a tired winter look.
October is still a good time for fungi, providing conditions are damp (which they usually are). But a frost will kill them off.
More October pages:
- Introduction to leaf fall
- Tree by tree - the autumn sequence
- Berries, fruit, nuts and shrubs
- Deer rut and insects
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