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September flowers and fungi

Other September pages: Berries, fruits, nuts and seeds • Leaf fall • Birds • Insects, butterflies and animalsWeather

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

Even at the start of September flower numbers are very much reduced from their summer highs, but you can still see a wide range of species. As the month goes this reduces rapidly and you increasingly see flowers in ones and twos. Some species (particularly dandelions, catsears and hawkbits - see below) can put on quite good displays right to the end of the month, however.

Grassland and grassy verges

Flowers of downland, meadow and grassy verge that may survive into September include harebell, mignonette, restharrow, birdsfoot trefoil, cinquefoil, tormentil, red bartsia, St John's wort, agrimony, ribwort plantain, lesser stitchwort, burnet saxifrage, hedge parsley, wild parsnip, wild carrot, black medick, eyebright, self heal and vervain. Sightings of these tend to be early in the month but isolated examples may crop up later.

Even hardier are red and white clover, knapweed, field scabious, marjoram, wild basil, yarrow and daisy which can be found right into October. Much less common, but still very occasionally cropping up into October, are devilsbit scabious and clustered bellflower (the latter possible to confuse with the much rarer autumn gentian, which occurs in the Chilterns as the Chiltern gentian).

There are also some grassland flowers that revive in a small way in September (that is, have a new burst of flowering). These include creeping and meadow buttercup, common centaury, hedge bedstraw, mouse-ear and ragwort (mainly hoary ragwort but also sometimes common ragwort).

Dandelions have a very definite second flowering and in some years become quite widespread. It is easy to confuse these with catsears and hawkbits (see next paragaph) which form the vast majority of dandelion-like flowers over the summer; by contrast the main flowering time for dandelions is March to May, with only very occasional ones encountered over the summer. But in September there is a pronounced resurgence of them. They can be distinguished from their near relatives by their larger flowers and thick milky stems, and many go on to produce their characteristic fluffy round seed heads later in the month.

Common catsear and autumn hawkbit also continue to be common in September, and grassland and verges can be dotted with them well into October. In addition you may see lesser hawkbit and the very occasional rough hawkbit, the latter on downland. Looking fairly similiar to all these, though with smaller flowers on more complex plants, is smooth hawksbeard which can be found throughout the month. (For larger plants with dandelion-like flowers, see Wayside below.)

Wayside

Various summer wayside flowers linger on into September. Tansy and the last dregs of rosebay willowherb, great willowherb, broad-leaved willowherb and hemp agrimony tend to be only seen at the start of the September, if at all, but common fleabane and Canadian goldenrod can last longer. Common toadflax even continues flowering into October in some years.

These are all survivors from the summer, as are the purple michaelmas daisies (actually a type of aster) which grow particularly along railway lines but also on other verges throughout the month. These can be at their best at the month’s end (Michaelmas is 29 September).

With other flowers it is hard to tell if they are stragglers from summer or new growth from seed - perhaps the distinction is a fuzzy one anyway. Definitely flowering from new growth in September is hogweed, which crops up from time to time on verges, and white deadnettle, which often sees something of an uptick in September (though it is a very variable flower which can crop up at almost any time from spring to autumn). Much more rarely you see red deadnettle reappearing.

Other species that could be new growth or stragglers include evening primrose, red campion, white campion, bladder campion, hedgerow cranesbill, green alkanet, wood avens (aka herb bennet), herb robert, common mallow, musk mallow, greater celandine, nettle-leaved bellflower and black horehound. Isolated examples of these can crop up at any time of the month.

Otherwise on verges, the big white trumpets of large and hedge bindweed can be seen sprawling across other vegetation all month and early in September you may find some pink field bindweed or broad-leaved everlasting pea. Another wayside climber – traveller's joy – has gone over by now but its seeds do not yet have the fluffy appearance that gives it its winter name of old man’s beard. Mainly earlier in the month, though sometimes later, you can also see occasional thistles in flower - including creeping, spear, marsh and musk thistle. Some of these are definitely new growth.

Larger plants with dandelion-like flowers (for smaller ones, see Grassland above) include smooth sow thistle with its triangular-ended leaves, prickly sow thistle, and maybe also perennial sow thistle (aka corn sow thistle) with its showy flowers. You may see the occasional nipplewort on verges too. Bristly oxtongue - an ugly spiky plant but with pretty yellow blooms - and hawkweed oxtongue which is easily confused with it, are both found throughout the month, particularly nearer the sea but also inland as well.

Flowering shrubs include buddleia, which may still have some flowers, and dwarf gorse flowers on sandy heaths early in the month. In 2019 I also twice saw full-sized gorse putting out a few tentative blooms mid month on the south coast, though October or November is a more normal time for it to do this. Honeysuckle and bittersweet (woody nightshade) can also still have flowers in September, and you may just see some burdock flowers very early in the month. Weirdly, dogwood sometimes produces new blooms even as its leaves start to tint. This is also the month for ivy flowers: see September berries, fruits, nuts and seeds for more on this.

Heather continues to be in flower in the early part of the month, but has mostly faded by mid month.

Arable and urban verges

Early in September neat cylindrical bales of straw dot fields of wheat that have been harvested, and throughout the month the newly-cleared arable fields are a good place to find wildflowers. In particular the daisy-like scentless mayweed lasts on field margins into October, and you may just find some of the similar-looking but slightly more straggly stinking chamomile (smaller flowers, aromatic). Pineapple weed looks like either of these flowers without their petals: it has a definite pineapple aroma when rubbed.

Tiny plants such as field speedwell, scarlet pimpernel, and field pansy also spring up, taking advantage of the newly cleared land - or were they there hidden by the crops all along? - and you may just see field madder. Also possible till late in the month is the occasional poppy or redleg. Much more rarely you may see blue-flowered chicory or borage, or the frizzy purple tansy-leaved phacelia, the latter an escapee from meadow grass seed mixes. Perennial, smooth and prickly sow thistle also crop up in arable fields, as does black nightshade occasionally.

Sometimes seen around arable fields in September are wild radish and charlock, while the similar-looking hedge mustard and black mustard sometimes crop up on bare verges. There is also a whole category of largely overlooked opportunist weeds such as groundsel, chickweed, shepherd's purse, fat hen, common orache, annual mercury and knotgrass which can appear on bare agricultural ground but more often seem to appear in urban corners or on bare path verges. Chickweed definitely seems to have a revival in September as the ground gets moister. Knotgrass is in flower in the first half of September but its blooms are too tiny to be noticed.

You can get a big eruption of Canadian fleabane in urban locations in September too. Some Oxford ragwort can linger on the clinker of rail lines, as well as in other stony habitats.

Garden escapees

Flowers that are particularly associated with sheltered walls in gardens include yellow corydalis, ivy-leaved toadflax and mexican fleabane: all can be found right up to the end of the month. Earlier in the month red valerian may also still be flowering in the same place. Garden escapees that can survive near habitation at the start of the month include purple toadflax and monbretia, the latter with bright orange flowers, as well as periwinkle, French cranesbill and lavender (only found in gardens).

Note too the strange pink flowers of ivy-leaved cyclamen on grassy village verges. Much more rarely - usually in parks - you come across autumn crocus. Soapwort, a showy pink flower that looks like a garden escapee but in fact is quite wild, may just be found earlier in the month.

Another escapee, Russian vine, is at its best right throughout September – a mass of white flowers, draped over a fence or hedgerow. The dangerously invasive Japanese knotweed, which has similar but much less showy flowers, also blooms this month, if it is allowed to. Sometimes clematis montana, a pink-flowered climber which drapes over suburban fences and which mainly flowers in spring, puts out a few new blooms in September, as does rosemary (strictly a garden plant).

River and seaside

By rivers himalayan balsam can survive all month (there is a much rarer orange balsam that occasionally crops up too), and you may see some marsh woundwort. Water mint can be found in damp places, and purple loosestrife and angelica linger on river banks. White water lilies are sometimes still in bloom on ponds and you can still see the cylindrical brown female flowers of bulrushes. You may get a revival of meadowsweet or occasionally see some comfrey - probably Russian comfrey rather than the native variety. Rarely you might see some water forget-me-not.

By the sea some sea lavender or rock sea-lavender may just survive into the early part of the month, though is mostly over by now. You might see some sea aster in the first half (for example on Mudeford Spit near Christchurch, Durlston Head near Swanage, on the sea walls near Faversham, or at Cuckmere Haven). It could be confused with michaelmas daisy (to which it is related) at a casual glance, though its leaves are quite different. The large flowered mat-forming garden escapee asters that grow on some seafronts may still survive in places.

Other specialists of the sea shore that may linger into September include red valerian, sea mayweed, pink-flowered sea rocket, or rock samphire, as well as the occasional yellow-horned poppy, sea campion, silver ragwort flower (though it is mostly over long ago) or clump of fennel. Perennial wall rocket can also last all month, as can sea radish. Golden samphire also lasts into early September, for example on Durlston Head near Swanage, on the sea walls near Faversham in Kent, on Samphire Hoe near Dover, or by the River Adur at Shoreham-by-Sea.

As mentioned above, bristly oxtongue and hawkweed oxtongue are also fairly common seafront plants, and on shingle the occasional Oxford ragwort may crop up. Buckshorn plantain sometimes continues to flower inconspicuously in a corner. The brown desiccated sprays of sea kale berries make a somewhat sombre sight on shingle beaches, and small new shoots of viper's bugloss sometimes produce a few blue flowers on shingle beaches or downland near the sea

Mats of spear-leaved orache can still be seen on seaside shingle, though it is dying back by the end of the month. Much more rarely you see common orache as an erect plant on bare ground by the sea. Sea purslane may also still be in flower early in the month on the edge of salt marshes and tidal rivers, though it is frankly hard to tell if this plant is flowering or not: the same is true of the remaining stalks of sea beet. Tamarisk - a common semi-wild shrub in seafront parks and gardens - still has some pink flowers.

New shoots

New creeping thistle shoots are common in September, and sometimes they produce light-coloured new growth that looks a bit like iceberg lettuce. Ragwort and smooth sow thistle shoots can also be seen, some bursting into flower.

These are late flowering plants that will bloom (or not) before the winter and then die back, but surprisingly as the month goes on you can also see plants that are starting to grow now in order to flower next spring. Perhaps most noticeable are the new leaves of cow parsley (which really look like parsley at this time of year) and the new shoots of cleavers (goosegrass), both of which are seen on path and road verges. By the sea (and also sometimes inland) the new leaves of alexanders also emerge near the desiccated stalks of last year's flowers (identifiable by their black seeds). It was this winter foliage that prompted the Romans to introduced them to Britain as a pot herb.

Other plant shoots which will last the winter to flower next spring or summer include yarrow, dovesfoot cranesbill and spear thistle in grassland; salad burnet on downland; garlic mustard and dandelion on verges; and the argentatum variety of yellow archangel in woods. Towards the end of the month, usually on verges near gardens, you see new forget-me-not shoots that will flower in April.

In contrast, the shoots you can see now of herb robert and hogweed are killed off by the winter cold. With stinging nettles the picture is confused: many summer nettles have yet to die back and others that seeded later in the summer are only part grown: but there also seem to new shoots. Some of the last two categories do seem to survive the winter, but some may be white deadnettle, which is sometimes still in flower at this time - when young, the two species look almost identical.

Fungi

September can be a good month for fungi in both woodland and grassy fields but this depends on the weather. They like cool nights and damp conditions, so the end of the month or October is often a better time to spot them.

Quite a common woodland fungus is the common earthball, and you can also see fly agaric, the classic red "toadstool" appearing near birch trees. Notice also large horizontal bracket fungi on trees trunks. A common grassland fungus is the attractive parasol, but what looks like an innocent field mushroom may in fact be a highly poisonous deathcap.

More September pages:


© Peter Conway 2006-2019 • All Rights Reserved

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