Other August pages: • Berries, fruits, nuts and trees • Birds • Butterflies and insects • Weather
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There are still plenty of flowers to see in August, but quantities are now reducing. Many that you see are survivors from earlier in the summer, though there are one or two new species appearing and some that flowered earlier in the year return, having grown a new generation from the seed they produced then. All of this depends on there being reasonable amounts of rain, however: if August is dry, floral displays can be very limited.
Downland flowers can still be at their best early in the month - or they may have largely gone over; it depends on the amount of rain there has been At best, grassy slopes can be rich with herbs such as marjoram and basil, and dotted with agrimony, ladies bedstraw, red and white clover, and self heal. Some tufted vetch may just last into the month.
At a smaller size you still see tiny eyebright and restharrow, and maybe black medick or mouse ear. Umbellifers (plants with flowers like cow parsley) include burnet saxifrage and hedge parsley, as well as the distinctively yellow wild parsnip. There may also be some common centaury or yellow-wort dotted around, as well as more localised flowers such as harebell, vervain, round-headed rampion and the heather-like red bartsia. In addition, St John's wort, field bindweed, mignonette and sometimes weld can be seen, and very rarely betony.
Localised examples of almost any of these may be seen right till the end of the month and even into September - it is a feature of late August that you think all flowers are over, and then turn a corner and find a stretch of downland as richly flowered as it would be in July. But downland blooms that reliably last into September include knapweed, field scabious (also devilsbit scabious, though it is not at all common), ragwort, yarrow and wild carrot (whose flowers curl up into a brown ball when they go over). Also birdsfoot trefoil, though one tends to see dribs and drabs of this rather than the carpets of it you can get earlier in the year.
Also routinely lasting into September is a confusing category of dandelion-like flowers (most people think they are dandelions, but they have thinner stems and more delicate flowers with squared ends to their petals). Particularly common on downland is lesser hawkbit, whose flowers have a greyish-purple underside to the petals, and you can also find rough hawkbit, with its very hairy stem, though most of it has already gone over by this point. Also to be seen on downland at times are catsear, autumn hawkbit and smooth hawksbeard, all of which are branched (ie their stalks divide with a flower on each). Catsear can be told apart by the green or grey underside to its petals, but autumn hawkbit and smooth hawksbeard both have red undersides and can only be told apart by their leaves (not always easy when they are very short, as is frequent on downland).
Plants one might normally associate with verges or wasteground also crop up on the downs in August, most notably creeping thistle, spear thistle, marsh thistle and just maybe musk thistle or woolly thistle. Also sometimes found in quantity are rosebay willowherb and hogweed, as well as golden (or ribbed?) melilot. Ribwort plantain seems to undergo a bit of a revival on downland in late August and very rarely you might see hoary plantain. Path verges may have some silverweed still in flower - more likely just its characteristic leaves will be evident - or possibly some cinquefoil.
In the second half of August autumn gentians may also appear, easy to confuse at a casual glance with clustered bellflowers, which can also still be seen.
Ungrazed fields are now brown rather than green, with fading grass and seedheads. Even grazed pasture can be looking rather tired, no longer lush and green. Dotted around both you may still see red and white clover, and also some ribwort plantain. The occasional creeping or meadow buttercup may appear, along with perhaps some mouse ear or lesser stitchwort.
There may also be some ragwort, and perhaps some meadow vetchling in the early part of the month. Flowers more normally associated with downland in fields include self-heal, red bartsia and birdsfoot trefoil (or possibly greater birdsfoot trefoil which favours damper spots). The rust colour of dock flowers as they die off can make a striking sight.
In mown or grazed grass, particularly in parks, there may still be some daisies. See below under Path and roadside verges for details of dandelion-like flowers you may see in short grass fields and under Wasteground for thistles.
Path and roadside verges
Verges continue to be busy with flowers in August, though the display starts to thin out as the month goes on. One of the more striking sights are the fuzzy pink heads of hemp agrimony (not to be confused with the utterly different agrimony, which is a yellow spike: see below), which are common until around the middle of the month, though sometimes linger till the month's end. They look like they are seeding even when they are in bloom. Tansy (which looks like a daisy with no petals) continues to flower, as does large and hedge bindweed, whose white trumpets grace many hedgerows and wastegrounds, the flowers closing up tightly at night.
The pretty field bindweed (which has smaller flowers than the other two bindweeds, usually pink, though they can be white) is scarcer by the second half of August, but can still be found right till the end of the month. Tufted vetch can also be found on verges earlier in the month, and very occasionally you see greater celandine - nothing to do with the lesser celandine that flowers earlier in the year but in fact an member of the poppy family, though it looks more like a crucifer.
Two flowers with unexciting names, but which are striking to look at, are common fleabane and common toadflax. Both are characteristic August wayside flowers, which can linger into September. In addition there is the occasional hedge woundwort and black horehound, both of which should be long gone by now, but somehow manage to pop up from time to time, and you may just see some red hemp-nettle. Verges also have isolated examples of red, white or bladder campion.
As is the case all summer there are also some white deadnettles, the occasional green alkanet flower, and maybe some dovesfoot cranesbill, hedgerow cranesbill, small-flowered cranesbill or French cranesbill. Some hogweed may still be seen, and hedge parsley can crop up throughout the month, while early in August you may just see stone parsley.
Smaller dandelion-like flowers found particularly on grassy verges but also sometimes in fields include common catsear, which has a green or grey tinge to the underside of its petals, and autumn hawkbit, which has reddish tips to them. Both look quite similar to the casual glance (at this time of year you are often looking at autumn hawkbit when you think you are seeing catsear), but can be distinguished from other hawkbits because they can (but do not always) have branched stems with two or more flowers per plant, rather than just one stem and one flower. Autumn hawkbit also has distinctive leaves like barbed arrowheads. Smooth hawksbeard is another flower of this type, but which grows in clumps, while nipplewort has similar flowers to smooth hawksbeard but is a more complex plant with diamond-shaped leaves and only grows on verges. Lesser hawkbit is also sometimes found on some short grass verges.
There is also a definite uptick in real dandelions in late August and early September - not usually noticed because of all the similar-looking flowers listed above which dominate over the summer: but true dandelions are in fact very rare from mid June to mid August. If you look closely you can see that these have much thicker stems than catsears and hawkbits and produce a milky sap from their stems when they are broken. They also have very distinctive saw-toothed leaves
In addition several of the downland and grassland flowers listed above may occur on grassy verges including marjoram, agrimony, knapweed, mignonette, black medick, wild basil, field scabious, red and white clover, vervain and parsnip. Wild carrot is also sometimes a verge flower, as are yarrow, silverweed, self-heal and St John's Wort. Creeping buttercup occasionally crops up, as does cinquefoil or (on sandier, heather soils) tormentil, both of which may at first glance be mistaken for buttercups.
You also see some ribwort plantain on verges and greater plantain continues to be common on barer waysides, its flower spikes generally looking as if they have gone over, though closer inspection might reveal some still in flower, a haze of purple. The rust-coloured spikes of gone-over dock flowers also appear in places.
Garden escapees you may see on verges include purple toadflax, a tall purple spike (which should not be confused with purple loosestrife: see Damp places below) and montbretia, with its striking orange flowers. You might also mistake nettle-leaved bellflower for a garden plant, though in fact it is quite wild.
Rosebay willowherb – that glory of July wasteground – can remain in flower right through August, but is past its best, with flowers right at the tip of a seedy stem. The much less spectacular great willowherb also lasts the month in places, and you may also see lesser willowherbs such as broad-leaved willowherb. Common mallow and musk mallow can both be found throughout the month, and can still see the related hollyhock growing in and around gardens, sometimes right till the end of the month.
By the side of railway tracks you can still see buddleia in flower, as well as evening primrose or a dramatic spike of mullein (usually great mullein but sometimes the more delicate dark mullein). Most, but not all of these have faded by the end of the month. Common ragwort is also found by railway lines as well as on path verges and wasteground, and growing between the stones of the track bed you can sometimes see Oxford ragwort, a native of the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. Red valerian - normally a plant of seaside shingle and garden walls - also occasionally crops up on railway lines in August, and this seems to be a favoured spot for the striking yellow Canadian goldenrod. Also frequently seen by railway lines and paths, as well as in gardens, are purple michelmas daisies. They appear mid month (in places somewhat earlier) and last well into September.
If you see a dandelion-like flower but on a tall spiky plant, chances are it is a sow thistle of some sort - particularly perennial sow-thistle (also known as corn sow thistle), which has very beautiful, showy flowers, though smooth sow thistles (which have distinctive lower leaf endings like arrowheads) are also quite common. Also sporting dandelion-like flowers are hawkweed oxtongue (and other hawkweeds - for example one of the leafy hawkweeds), and the warty-leaved bristly oxtongue, which is common near the sea. All these can last well into autumn, as can yellow crucifers (from the cabbage family) such as hedge mustard, black mustard and hoary mustard.
Not much loved by humans but popular with butterflies and insects, thistles mostly go over early in August, filling the air with their fluffy star-shaped seeds. The most common variety is creeping thistle, and this also continues to have some flowers throughout the month. In addition you can see its new leaf growth dotting rougher fields, looking a bit like pale lettuce and it also produces new plants, some of which go on to flower. Spear thistle is also in full bloom earlier in the month though then mainly goes over, leaving the occasional one in flower later in the month. Marsh, musk and woolly thistle are usually over by August but may crop up in places, Goldfinches are fond of thistle seed and they also like teasel which you can still sometimes see in flower in the first half, a delicate pink band around its fierce spiky seed heads: by the end of the month its flower heads are brown and desiccated, however.
On disturbed ground, golden or ribbed melilot or white melilot, members of the pea family, make a pretty display. The bright blue flowers of chicory are always an exciting sighting when they crop up in the same habitat. Goat's rue is a garden escapee that can appear in such habitats.
Often overlooked is mugwort - a tall plant with tiny beige flowers, which is nevertheless very common once you start to notice it. Opportunist weeds on bare ground or in urban corners may include shepherd's purse, groundsel, scarlet pimpernel, pineapple weed, knotgrass, common orache, hairy and wavy bittercress, redleg, and Canadian fleabane. That relic of the dinosaur era, the horsetail, continues to have its fly-whisk plants decorating bare ground and verges.
Burdock, which produces those burs that stick to your socks in winter, may still be flowering early in the month. In the winter its burs will stick to your socks: for now, smaller seeds do this, coming from cleavers, wood avens, enchanter's nightshade and other flowers.
Throughout the month you can still find such opportunist wall plants as ivy-leaved toadflax, yellow corydalis and mexican fleabane growing out of garden and house walls. At the base of garden walls you sometimes find feverfew or lady's mantle. Also looking like a garden escapee is the pink-flowered ivy-leaved cyclamen, found on verges near houses. Inside gardens, lavender is mainly over, but continues to flower in places, attracting lots of bees when it does.
On heathland, this is the peak month for heather. Bright pink bell heather appears from quite early in the month but the paler flowered standard heather species is better towards the end of the month. You can sometimes see young gorse shoots flowering late in the month, though established plants do not flower until September.
Hedgerows will likely be graced with traveller’s joy – wild clematis – which in theory is flowering at the start of the month and going over by its end, though this timetable can vary wildly: some of the plants (all in 2007) do not flower till the end of August or go over till mid September. Another striking sight in the hedgerow (usually in semi-residential settings) is Russian vine, which produces a mass of lovely white flowers right through August. The dangerously invasive Japanese knotweed, which has leaves as big as a hand, also puts out similar, but much less showy flowers later in the month.
Clematis montana, a climber with striking pink flowers often found draped over railway line fences and which normally blooms in late April and early May, may put out a few flowers in late August too. Near railway lines and on other wasteground is also a good habitat in which to see broad-leaved everlasting pea, with its striking pink flowers: it otherwise crops up on unkempt waysides.
Wheat and other arable crops are cut during August, if they have not already been in late July. You may even see fields being ploughed up towards the end of the month, an unmistakable sign of autumn. On arable field edges, scentless mayweed can be found right through the month, and you may just find some stinking chamomile (smaller flowers, aromatic). Looking like a mayweed that has lost its petals is pineapple weed, which does indeed have distinctive pineapple aroma when rubbed.
On freshly-cut arable fields and on the edges of ones still growing, a range of small flowers may appear (or perhaps they were growing all the time amidst the crops and only now are revealed). Among them are field pansy, scarlet pimpernel, common fumitory, shepherd's purse, field madder and common field speedwell. The last of these identifiable by its one white petal surrounded by three blue ones and undergoes a definite revival in wetter Augusts. Occasional poppies still survive too and on muddy ground you can see redleg (also sometimes called redshank), a type of bistort.
In addition you may find the occasional wild radish or shoot of charlock (or other crucifers such as black mustard) on field margins, as well as fat hen, a plant with diamond shaped upper leaves and greyish flowers, along with the similar looking common orache. In bare muddy places, for example near field gates, you may get knotgrass.
Woods and shady places
In the woods you can continue to see enchanter’s nightshade in flower till late in the month, while herb robert and a very occasional wood avens (aka herb bennet) can be found blooming right to the month's end. In the early part of the month wood sage can also be found on wood edges and among heathland shrubs. Look out also for a flower with large leaves and tiny yellow flowers – small balsam - or for the occasional appearance of the lemon-scented balm.
Later in August some fungi and mushrooms start to appear, especially if it is damp and mild.
Streams remain choked with lovely but invasive himalayan (or indian) balsam (very occasionally you also see orange balsam) and in the first three weeks or so you get the tall spikes of purple loosestrife. Much more rarely there is also the striking flowering rush - not the tassel-like flowers you see on ordinary rushes, but a plant with a great spray of pink flowers on stalks.
In addition you can see bulrushes (aka reedmace) for much of the month, and in the early part of it some meadowsweet may survive. If you see a large umbellifer (cow parsley-like plant) by a river it might be angelica: the clue to identification is in its leaves, which are more conventional than those of the similar-looking hogweed. In ponds, water lilies (both yellow and white) continue to flourish.
One of the other delights of August is the various mints you can find growing in damp spots such as ditches – in particular water mint, topped with double globes of pink flowers; corn mint, which has globes spaced up its stem, and gipsywort, which has little ruffs of white flowers and grows by rivers. Spearmint has a tall spike made up of pink globes and leaves that smell of toothpaste, but if you see a mint with spears of flowers it is likely to be round-leaved mint or its near relative apple mint.
Note also the rather striking marsh woundwort that can be found in damp places in early August - a much more striking plant than the more common hedge woundwort (see Wasteground and verges above). Comfrey - more probably one of the imported hybrids than the native common comfrey - can just linger on into the early part of the month by some riversides. Rarer plants of damp or wet places you may just see in August include water forget-me-not, water chickweed, celery-leaved buttercup and brooklime.
By the sea
In salt marshes you can still see sea lavender, and on chalf cliffs (eg between Brighton and Rottingdean) rock sea-lavender. In the same kind of place - rocky coastlines - rock samphire (which is now once again being used in posh restaurants as a vegetable) is in flower right to the end of the month in places. A much rarer golden samphire is sometimes found at the base or top of cliffs eg at Durlston Head near Swanage). Not confined to coastal areas, but commonest in them, is fennel, a yellow umbellifer (ie it has a flower like cow parsley, only yellow) whose thread-like leaves smell strongly of aniseed.
An umbellifer whose flowering season is long over is alexanders, but its black seed-heads can be very conspicuous in August. On shingle beaches yellow-horned poppy can still occasionally pop up - note its enormously long seeds (up to 30cm), the longest found on any UK plant.
You may also find isolated examples of sea campion, sea radish, sea beet, sea pea, sea mayweed, sea holly, sticky groundsel and maybe some silver ragwort. Also asters, which are more likely to be garden escapees than the smaller flowered wild sea aster (which looks a bit like a michaelmas daisy and which is also found growing at Durlston Head near Swanage, as well as near Cuckmere Haven). Sea kale has yellow-green berries early in the month but by the end they have largely gone
Lucerne is a plant sometimes found on shingle margins or cliff tops, and sea rocket is quite common in and around some beaches, though perennial wall rocket also gets a foothold on some shingle beaches. Other plants I have observed on shingle in August include bittersweet (woody nightshade), common mallow, bristly oxtongue, chicory, hoary mustard and Canadian fleabane.
Spear-leaved orache, with its triangular leaves, forms mats over shingle beaches, but its flowers are inconspicuous and green; common orache may also be seen in the same habitat. Red valerian survives in places (or has a second flowering).
On downland by the sea viper's bugloss also sometimes produces new shoots - you wonder what these tiny blue flowers are. Tamarisk, a common shrub in seaside parks and gardens, continues to have a few pink flowers and Spanish broom may still have some yellow blooms.
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