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Nature and Weather in South East England

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, or even in places into September. 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 still some black horehound, and you may just see some common hemp-nettle. There are also isolated examples of red, white or bladder campion.

You may see the occasional white deadnettles or green alkanet flower too, and maybe some dovesfoot cranesbill, hedgerow cranesbill, small-flowered cranesbill or French cranesbill, the latter mostly near gardens. Some hogweed may still be seen and hedge parsley can crop up throughout the month, though it is more common in the first half. 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 looking a bit more dainty and having more branches lower down.

Tansy, which looks like a daisy with no petals, continues to flower, though it is not particularly common. 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, mostly fading later in the month. Burdock 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 is already at its best at the start of the month and on wetter heathland you may come across some cross-leaved heath, but the paler-flowered standard heather species is at its best in the second half. Tormentil is a common yellow flower in sandy grassland. Also on sandy soils you can see dwarf gorse flowering in the second half of the month: this is a different species from full-sized gorse, which does 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. The most striking of these is perennial sow-thistle (also known as corn sow thistle), which has large showy flowers. Smooth sow thistle and prickly sow thistle (which looks like a yellow thistle) are also quite common on both rural and urban verges. Rougher-looking plants sporting dandelion-like flowers include hawkweed oxtongue and the warty-leaved bristly oxtongue, which is frequently seen near the sea but also found inland. Much less common than any of the above is the more delicate wall lettuce, which has triangular leaf endings like smooth sow thistle but much smaller flowers, and various other hawkweeds (such as leafy hawkweeds).

All of the flowers in this section can be found well into September

Grassland flowers on verges

Various flowers normally associated with downland may occur on grassy verges including marjoram, agrimony, knapweed, black medick, birdsfoot trefoil, 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 and meadow buttercup occasionally crop up on verges, 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 knapweed, self-heal, red bartsia and birdsfoot trefoil (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), as well as occasional dandelions. As 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, and though you can already see lots of its flowers going over, there is nevertheless always some in flower right into September. Evening primrose is also quite regularly seen on railway lines in the first half but is scarcer in the second. The dramatic spikes of mullein (usually great mullein but sometimes the more delicate dark mullein) crop up now and again, both by railway lines and on other bare ground.

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, though it is also found in other verge locations. 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) and hawkweed oxtongue.

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 or black mustard - both yellow crucifers (that is, from the cabbage family) - though earlier in the summer is a better time for them.

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, annual mercury, 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 or creeping yellow cress, both mat formers.

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 still 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. The smaller field bindweed, which grows along the ground, has smaller flowers which are usually pink, though sometimes white. It is scarcer by the second half of August, but can still be found right till the end of the month.

On chalk soils, hedgerows are 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 unkempt waysides you can also see broad-leaved everlasting pea, with its striking pink flowers, while 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. Both honeysuckle and bittersweet (woody nightshade) can still have flowers even while simultaneously sporting red berries.

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. (French cranesbill, mentioned above, is also in this category.) 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). 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.

The lurid orange-red seeds of cuckoo pint continue to provide a striking sight, though seem to be a lot less common than the leaves of this plant are early in the year. Very occasionally you find a yellow pimpernel flower, though the normal flowering time for this plant is much earlier in the year. You also may just come across small balsam - a plant with large leaves and tiny yellow flowers - or the lemon-scented balm.

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

Damp places

River banks and other damp places 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 the brown cylindrical female flowers of bulrushes (aka reedmace) for much of the month, and some meadowsweet may survive in the first half. 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, but which has barely any aroma. 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. There are many other confusing mint hybrids, of which one is peppermint, a cross between spear and water mint (though it is not at all common).

Note also the rather striking marsh woundwort that can be found in damp places in August (and sometimes on ordinary verges) - a much more striking plant than hedge woundwort (see above). Common comfrey can just linger on by some riversides, but check the identification carefully (eg leaves running down the stems) to be sure that it is not one of the imported foreign species of this plant.

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). Earlier in the month you may also see white watercress flowers (eg on the Darent River near Farningham in Kent).

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 usually during the first half of August. Cylindrical bales of straw on the cut fields are a familiar sight throughout the month. You may even see fields being ploughed up towards the end of August, 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, faintly aromatic). Looking like a mayweed that has lost its petals is pineapple weed, which does indeed have a 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, shepherd's purse, groundsel and field speedwell, and much more rarely fumitory, field madder and black bindweed. Field speedwell in particular undergoes a definite revival in wetter Augusts. Occasional poppies survive too and on muddy ground you may 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 might 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 escapes from garden meadow flower seed mixes.

More August pages:


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