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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. 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.

One flower that is definitely in season at this time of year is the purple michaelmas 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.

In arable fields, flowers such as field pansy, field speedwell, wild radish and (just occasionally) 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 or hedge mustard. In addition shepherd's purse and groundsel may appear on cleared arable fields but seem to be more often found as urban weeds. Chickweed, also 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.

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 viper's bugloss may have a second flowering, the latter usually by the sea. 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, wild carrot and agrimony. In short mown grass you can still see some daisies and in pasture the occasional creeping or meadow buttercup.

A reasonable number of dandelions can be found, continuing an autumn resurgence that started in September. Many go on to produce seed heads. 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 and nipplewort are possible. Larger, rougher plants with dandelion-like flowers include the spiky bristly oxtongue (which flourishes particularly near coasts), smooth sow thistle, prickly sow thistle and 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 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, chicory, bush vetch, alkanet and great or dark mullein 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 plats 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 railway lines and on other wasteground examples of the very persistent evening primrose may reappear, and also on railway lines you may see some Oxford ragwort in flower, apparently thinking it is April. 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, particularly early in the month but sometimes later. There can also be a small resurgence of periwinkle.

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.

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.

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 can be found in woodland.

Dandelion shoots - some quite mature, others obviously new - are also common in grass or on bare ground, 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. Greater celandine leaves crop up occasionally.

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. 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. 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:

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