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August wayside flowers

Other August pages: Downland and seaside flowers Fruits, berries, nuts and treesBirdsButterflies and insectsWeather

Put your cursor over any photo to see its caption, or click here to see more August flower photos.

Verges continue to be busy with flowers in August, though the display starts to thin out as the month goes on. One striking sight is the fuzzy pink heads of hemp agrimony (not to be confused with plain "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.

Rosebay willowherb can remain in flower right through the month, but is past its best, with flowers right at the tip of a seedy stem. The much less spectacular great willowherb lasts the month in places and you may also see the much smaller and more inconspicuous broad-leaved willowherb. Common mallow and musk mallow can both be found throughout August.

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 common hemp-nettle. Verges also have isolated examples of red, white or bladder campion (and pink campion, which is a hybrid of red and white).

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. A related and a much rarer plant is the wispy stone parsley.

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, sometimes looking a bit like pale lettuce. Some of these new shoots go on to flower.

Spear thistle is also in full bloom earlier in the month though then mainly goes over, leaving the occasional 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, but still look very striking.

Another unloved weed which nevertheless produces colourful yellow flowers is ragwort, which grows on path verges, wasteground and in overgrown fields. In August a lot of it seems to be hoary ragwort, but some common ragwort also survives. The difference between the two is subtle, common ragwort having tiny black specks at the top of its bracts (on the underside of the flower) and hoary ragwort having more leaf branches lower down.

Tansy, which looks like a daisy with no petals, continues to flower, though it is not particularly common. Pretty field bindweed (which has smaller flowers than the other two bindweeds - see hedgerow climbers below - which are 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 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).

One overlooked wayside flower is mugwort - a tall plant with tiny beige flowers (the kind that you have to examine closely to be sure they are actually flowering). It is nevertheless fairly common once you start to notice it. 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 and enchanter's nightshade, as well as distinctively conical ones from agrimony.

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. Tormentil is a common yellow flower in sandy grassland. You can sometimes see young gorse shoots flowering late in the month, though established plants do not flower until October or November.

Dandelion-like flowers

A range of dandelion-like flowers are found particularly on grassy verges but also sometimes in fields. One is common catsear, which has a green or grey tinge to the underside of its petals, and another is 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 and has smaller flowers, while nipplewort has similar flowers to smooth hawksbeard but is a taller plant with diamond-shaped leaves. Lesser hawkbit, which has just one flower per stem, is also sometimes found on some short grass verges.

There is also a definite uptick in true 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.

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. Smooth sow thistle (which has distinctive lower leaf endings like arrowheads) and prickly sow thistle (which looks like a yellow thistle) are also quite common on both rural and urban verges.

Also sporting dandelion-like flowers are hawkweed oxtongue (and other hawkweeds - for example leafy hawkweeds), and the warty-leaved bristly oxtongue, which is common near the sea.

All of the flowers in this section can last well into autumn

Grassland flowers on verges

Various flowers normally associated with downland may occur on grassy verges including marjoram, agrimony, knapweed, black medick, wild basil, field scabious, red and white clover, common centaury, mignonette, 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, which may at first glance be mistaken for a buttercup. You also see some ribwort plantain on verges, and rust-coloured spikes of gone-over dock flowers.

Meadows and rough pasture

Dotted around grassy fields you may still see red and white clover - the latter more often on mown grass or grass paths - 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 early in the month: at this time of the year it often seems to be hoary ragwort, though common ragwort is possible. Perhaps also some meadow vetchling or tufted vetch. Flowers more normally associated with downland that may be seen in grassy fields include self-heal, red bartsia and birdsfoot trefoil (or possibly greater birdsfoot trefoil which favours damper spots). Yarrow can sometimes take over a field, as can thistles (see main section above). 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. Catsear, hawkbits and smooth hawksbeard may also be found here (see Dandelion-like flowers above) and as already mentioned white clover is also possible. Fungi can also start to appear in grassy fields in August.

Railway tracks and bare corners

By the side of railway tracks (and on other bits of urban wasteground) 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.

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 michaelmas daisies. They appear mid month (in places somewhat earlier) and last well into September.

Oxford ragwort still sometimes crops up on the clinker by railway tracks, an environment that reminds it of its native habitat on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. Some common or hoary ragwort may grow here too as well as sow thistles (see above)

On other 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. You may just see hedge mustard, black mustard or hoary mustard - all three of them yellow crucifers (that is, from the cabbage family).

Opportunist weeds on bare ground or in urban corners may include shepherd's purse, groundsel, scarlet pimpernel, pineapple weed, field speedwell, knotgrass, common orache, spear-leaved orache, fat hen, hairy and wavy bittercress, redleg and Canadian fleabane. Chickweed plants appear in response to wetter weather but they tend to struggle to flower. Very occasionally you see spreading yellow sorrel, a pretty yellow mat former found on bare ground.

Greater plantain continues to be common on paths and tracks, its flower spikes generally looking as if they have gone over, though closer inspection might reveal the faint purple haze of one till in flower. That relic of the dinosaur era, horsetail, continues to have its fly-whisk plants decorating bare ground and verges.

Hedgerow climbers

The white trumpets of large and hedge bindweed grace many hedgerows and scrubby corners (including the sides of railway tracks) in August, the flowers closing up tightly at night. On chalk soils, hedgerows are also covered in traveller’s joy – wild clematis – which is usually at its best early August, with some lasting until the end of the month. Exceptionally (eg in 2007) it does not start flowering until mid month.

Another striking climber (often seen in semi-residential settings or along railway lines, though also sometimes rurally) 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 and with ruler-straight bottom edges, also puts out similar, but much less showy, flowers later in the month - fortunately infertile in this country (it spreads by root tendrils).

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. 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 gardens

Garden escapees you may see on verges in August 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 and found on rural verges, and the same is true of the flashy pink soapwort, found on bare ground.

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, something that red valerian also does. At the base of garden walls you sometimes see feverfew or lady's mantle. Also looking like a garden escapee is the pink-flowered ivy-leaved cyclamen, found on verges near houses at the end of the month. Hollyhocks, which are related to mallow, can be found till the end of the month, while michaelmas daisies are a common sight in gardens in the second half. Purely a garden plant, lavender is mainly over, but continues to flower in places, attracting lots of bees when it does.

Shady spots and woodland

In the woods you can continue to see enchanter’s nightshade in flower till late in the month, and the same is true of herb robert and a very occasional wood avens (aka herb bennet). In the early part of the month wood sage may perhaps 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. The plant with redleg-like leaves and inconspicuous grass like flowers which grows in damper spots on tracks and in clearings is water pepper - again found all month.

Cooler, damper Augusts can be good for fungi and mushrooms otherwise they appear more towards the month's end

Arable fields

In medieval times the first day of August was Lammas Day - Loaf Mass Day, the time when the first bread could be baked from the new harvest, ending the "hunger gap" of July. To this day harvesting of wheat begins in late July, with remaining fields cut during August. 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, groundsel, field madder and field speedwell. The last of these undergoes a definite revival in wetter Augusts. Occasional poppies still survive too and on muddy ground you can see redleg.

In addition you may find the occasional wild radish or shoot of charlock (or other crucifers such as hedge mustard), as well as sow thistles (smooth, perennial or prickly). Arable edges may also host fat hen, a plant with diamond shaped upper leaves and greyish flowers, or the similar looking common orache. In bare muddy places, for example near field gates, you may see knotgrass.

More exotic possibilities include fool's parsley, which I once found growing all along the edge of an arable field in Kent. The striking blue borage also very occasionally crops up on arable fields, and in 2018 I twice saw tansy-leaved phacelia, a frizzy purple-flowered flower not unrelated to borage, which apparently is sometimes included in meadow flower seed mixes.

Damp places

Streams remain choked with lovely but invasive himalayan balsam - very occasionally you also see orange balsam - and in the first three weeks or so you get the tall spikes of purple loosestrife.

In addition you can see bulrushes (aka reedmace) for much of the month, and 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 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 – in particular water mint, topped with double globes of pink flowers; corn mint, which has globes spaced up its stem (and which can also be found in drier spots), 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 (and sometimes apparently on ordinary verges) - a much more striking plant than hedge woundwort (see 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, sneezewort and lesser spearwort (which looks like a buttercup, but with different foliage). I have also seen mats of white watercress flowers on the Darent River near Farningham in Kent.

More August pages:

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