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October flowers

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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. Mostly they are seen in ones or twos or very small quantities, but just occasionally you find a patch merrily blooming away as if it was August.

It is often hard to tell if what you are seeing are survivors from the main summer flowering or new plants that have grown from seed dispersed earlier in the growing season. But a few flowers do definitely seem to undergo a revival in September and October, perhaps enjoying the greater moisture in the soil that comes from cooler temperatures.

Arable fields and wasteground

In arable fields flowers such as field pansy, field speedwell, wild radish and (just occasionally) scarlet pimpernel, field madder or corn spurrey can be seen once the crops have been harvested: 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.

You can also see the occasional poppy early in the month and maybe charlock, hedge mustard, black mustard, prickly sow thistle, black nightshade or the unlikely blue flowers of borage or chicory. The purple-flowered tansy-leaved phacelia, a garden escapee, seems to be on the rise as an arable weed too.

Shepherd's purse and groundsel may appear on cleared arable fields but seem to be more often found as urban weeds, and the same is true of annual mercury. Chickweed, in theory a weed of cultivated ground, seems to mainly appear on path edges and in urban settings, as well as sometimes in grassland, but despite producing lots of leaves it seems to struggle to flower at this time of year. Also sometimes seen as new growth in urban spots and similarly struggling to flower is hairy bittercress.

You may also see some surviving Canadian fleabane in urban locations, while redleg can occur there and on bare ground in rural spots. Some pineapple weed (looking like scentless mayweed that has lots its petals, but with a distinctive pineapple smell when crushed) may just survive on earth paths.

One flower that is definitely in season at this time of year is the purple michaelmas daisy, which is found particularly by railway tracks and in gardens until around the third week in the month, and in isolated spots even into November. You may also see some Oxford ragwort in flower on railway lines, apparently thinking it is April, and in the same habitat and on other wasteground the occasional evening primrose may appear.

The large white trumpets of bindweed can survive on fences or unkempt ground well into the second half of October and the same goes for Russian vine, which can have masses of white flowers throughout the month, though in other years it fades away by the third week. 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.

Grassland and verges

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, common and hoary ragwort, clover, marjoram and basil. Also yarrow, which lasts reliably until the end of the month. You might also see clustered bellflowers, but look at them closely because in some places they could be the rather similar looking autumn gentian.

Grassland flowers that crop up very occasionally in October include self heal, harebell, mouse ear, lesser stitchwort, common centaury, yellow-wort, wild carrot and agrimony, while viper's bugloss may have a second flowering by the sea. In short mown grass you can still see some daisies and in pasture the occasional creeping or meadow buttercup. Autumn cyclamen may still be seen on grassy verges near gardens, particularly early in the month but sometimes later. There can also ba small resurgence of periwinkle.

A reasonable number of dandelions can be found, continuing an autumn resurgence that started in September. Many go on to produce seedheads. Don't confuse these with members of the very similar-looking hawkbit/catsear family, which are still common in October. The species you are most likely to see at this time of year are common catsear, autumn hawkbit and smooth hawksbeard, though lesser hawkbit, nipplewort and (on downland) rough hawkbit are possible. Larger, rougher plants with dandelion-like flowers include the spiky bristly oxtongue (which flourishes particularly near coasts), hawkweed oxtongue, smooth sow thistle and earlier in the month perennial sow thistle (also known as corn sow thistle).

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 sometimes revives a bit in October). You might also see some surviving French cranesbill near gardens. White deadnettle (very occasionally also red deadnettle), nettle-leaved bellflower, bush vetch and alkanet may also appear, while some tormentil can survive on heaths.

Hogweed definitely seems to have a bit of a revival in September and October, presumably new plants grown from seed dispersed in the summer. The very occasional black horehound, common mallow or musk mallow you may see are probably survivors from the summer, however. 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, the latter definitely grown from seed dispersed in the summer or on new shoots put out by the plant.

By the sea red valerian may linger in sunny corners and you may see perennial wall rocket early in the month. Some himalayan balsam can 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.

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.

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 see the leaves of herb bennet (aka wood avens) and the silver-streaked "argentatum" variety of yellow archangel, while woodruff and wood sorrel can be found in woodland.

Dandelion shoots - some quite mature, others obviously new - are also common in grass or on bare ground, as are new catsear or hawkbit shoots. You can also see some new leaves of nipplewort. On verges you find the foliage of common mallow and forget-me-not, both of which are perennial, and foxglove and ragwort which are biennial - that is, they grew from seed this year and will flower next year, then die. Alkanet, also perennial, seems to produce new leaves this month, the old ones having died back. Greater celandine leaves crop up occasionally.

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. Most dock leaves one sees also 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.

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 often do not quite manage it: the same is true of the occasional hairy bittercress. In grassland the leaves of creeping thistle remain common, some still putting out their lettuce-like new growth, though towards the end of the month they may be starting to die back. The large rosettes of spear thistle will last all winter, however.

By the sea alexanders have put out foliage next to the dried stalks of this year's flowers. On shingle beaches and at the base of cliffs you can also see the plants of perennial species such as silver ragwort, rock sea-lavender, rock samphire, sea beet, red valerian, tree mallow, stonecrop, buckshorn plantain, hottentot fig and aster (the garden escapee variety): also wild cabbage on the shores around Folkestone and Dover.

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. If you see an arable field covered with low cabbage-like plants, this is oilseed rape which will produce seas of yellow flowers in April.

For some photos of flower shoots you can see now and later in the winter, click here.


October is still a good time for fungi, providing conditions are damp (which they usually are). But a frost will kill them off. Two places to see them include woodland - where you find the bright red fly agaric near birch trees, the classic "toadstool" of fairy tales - and damp grassland, where the parasol appears.

More October pages:

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