Nature Menu

Introduction Beginner's Guide Where to find wild flowers Where to find butterflies Week by Week SWC_Nature

Nature and Weather in South East England

August wayside flowers

Other August pages: Fruits, berries, nuts and treesDownland and seaside flowersBirdsButterflies and insectsWeather

Picture: purple loosestrife. Click here for 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 full 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 on bare waysides. Common mallow and musk mallow can both be found throughout August, and likewise you can still see some flowers on buddleia even late in the month, though many or even most will have gone over.

August is also the month for the exotic-looking common toadflax, whose flowers look a bit like scrambled eggs, and which is still going strong into September. In the same orange and yellow colour pallet is cheerful common fleabane, which is usually found in grassland (see below) but sometimes on verges. In addition there is the still some black horehound, and you may just see some common hemp-nettle or the delightfully lemon-scented balm. Just occasionally betony also crops up, particularly in woods for some reason, though it is more usually a downland flower in these parts. There are isolated examples of red or white campion.

You may see the occasional white deadnettles or green alkanet flower too, and maybe some hedgerow 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 but 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 seeding widely even early in the month, but you may see the occasional flower later on. Marsh thistle is usually over by August but may crop up in places, and just occasionally you may also see welted thistle. 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. The dramatic nettle-leaved bellflower also crops up here and there, looking like a garden escapee, but in fact quite wild. 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). Tufted vetch can be found on verges earlier in the month.

One overlooked wayside flower is mugwort - a tall plant with tiny beige flowers which 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 the distinctively conical ones from agrimony.

On heathland, this is the peak month for heather. Dark 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 mostly comes out in the second half and is often at its best at the end of the third week. Tormentil is a common yellow flower on 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 in August, particularly on grassy verges, mown grass and 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 and its flowers tend to be slightly smaller (though they vary).

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 hedgerow plant with diamond-shaped leaves: it can undergo a bit of revival in August (that is new plants grow and flower). Lesser hawkbit, which has just one flower per stem, is sometimes found on 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 larger flowers, 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 found on verges in all sorts of locations in August, both rural and more urban. Smooth sow thistle is also quite common, more particularly on urban verges but sometimes rural ones, and sometimes you see prickly sow thistle, which looks like a yellow-flowered thistle, and is usually, though not exclusively, rural.

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 (both are also bristly to the touch). Very occasionally you also come across other hawkweeds (such as leafy hawkweeds).

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

Grassland flowers on verges

As well as the hawkbits and catsears mentioned above, flowers more normally associated with downland that may occur on grassy verges include marjoram, agrimony, knapweed, black medick, birdsfoot trefoil, wild basil, field scabious, red and white clover, common centaury, 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 ribwort plantain on verges, and the rust-coloured spikes of gone-over dock flowers.

Pasture, rough grassland and mown grass

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 some mouse ear.

Ragwort also remains common in fields: at this time of the year it often seems to be hoary ragwort, though common ragwort is possible. In the same colour palette is cheerful orange-yellow common fleabane, a very characteristic August flower which can grow in great profusion in rough grassy places. Some lingering lesser stitchwort, meadow vetchling or tufted vetch may also be seen in the same habitat.

Flowers more normally associated with downland that may be seen in grassy fields include knapweed, self-heal, red bartsia and birdsfoot trefoil (quite often greater birdsfoot trefoil, which favours damper spots). Wild parsnip, wild carrot and hedge parsley may occasionally be found in rougher grassland, and you also still see some field bindweed. 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, and occasionally also dovesfoot or small-flowered cranesbill. Catsear, hawkbits and smooth hawksbeard may also be found here (see Dandelion-like flowers above), as well as occasional dandelions. White clover is possible in mown grass too, since it flourishes on trodden ground. Very occasionally you see creeping yellow cress, a mat former. Fungi can start to appear in grassy fields in August, such as the large parasol: see Shady spots and woodland below for their ideal conditions.

Railway tracks and bare corners

By the side of railway tracks you can still see buddleia in flower, and this is a favoured spot for rosebay willowherb. Evening primrose is also quite regularly seen on railway lines (and sometimes on derelict industrial sites) 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.

Oxford ragwort can still sometimes be found on the clinker by railway tracks, an environment that mimics its native habitat on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily. Herb robert may be flowering inconspicuously in the same place. On the bare ground edges of railway lines you get a fair bit of hawkweed oxtongue and some common toadflax, as well as the occasional purple toadflax.

The green verges of rail lines seem to be a favoured spot for Canadian goldenrod, though it is also found in non-railway locations too. The same is true of purple michaelmas daisies, which appear mid month (sometimes earlier) both by rail lines and in gardens, and last well into October. You also sometimes find good displays of wild carrot along the grassy sides of railway cuttings.

On other disturbed ground ribbed melilot, a member of the pea family, may make a pretty display. The bright blue flowers of chicory are always an exciting sight 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, fat hen, spear-leaved orache (quite common by the side of rural main roads), black nightshade, hairy or wavy bittercress, annual mercury, redleg and Canadian fleabane. Chickweed plants may appear in response to wetter weather but they tend to struggle to flower. Very occasionally you see spreading yellow sorrel, while a rare plant of urban cracks, particularly in London, is shaggy or gallant soldier.

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 on verges and in fields, 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. 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 white flowers right through August. The dangerously invasive Japanese knotweed, which has leaves as big as a hand. with ruler-straight bottom edges, puts out similar, but much less showy, flowers later in the month - fortunately infertile in this country (it spreads by root tendrils, or human carelessness).

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, an attractive spike of a flower which crops up on all sorts of bare ground. There is also a much rarer pale toadflax found on path edges to the west of our region, for example near Goring.

Montbretia, with its striking orange flowers trays from gardens onto wilder verges, as does French cranesbill. Meanwhile goat's rue is so well established as plant of waste places that its garden origins are forgotten: it is generally past its best now, but may survive into August. Soapwort is the reverse - a wild flower with striking pink blooms that was indeed once used to make soap. It is still occasionally found in wild locations, but is also planted in parks and gardens. Just occasionally some dame's violet also survives into August.

Hollyhocks, which are related to mallow, tend to be going over by now, but can be found in places till the end of the month, and the same is true of lavender, purely a garden plant, but very popular with bees. Michaelmas daisies are a common sight in gardens (and as noted above, also along railway lines) in the second half. Near the end of the month you find the pink-flowered ivy-leaved cyclamen on verges near habitation.

Throughout the month you can still find ivy-leaved toadflax, yellow corydalis and Mexican fleabane growing out of walls, something that red valerian also does. At the base of walls you may see feverfew.

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 very occasionally 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 to red seedheads of cuckoo pint (sometimes still partly green early in the month) continue to provide a striking sight, though seem to be a lot less common than the leaves of this plant are in the winter. Very occasionally you find yellow pimpernel, though the normal flowering time for them is earlier in the year. You may also come across small balsam - a plant with large leaves and tiny yellow flowers, whose seeds explode in surprising fashion if you touch them - or wall lettuce, a shade-loving member of the cabbage family that is easy to mistake at a casual glance for nipplewort.

Cooler, damper Augusts can be good for fungi and mushrooms in woodland, though otherwise they come out in September or October. They need moist soil and a good temperature difference between day and night to appear. Ones that may be seen in August in woodland include earthballs.

Damp places

River banks and other damp places remain choked with lovely but invasive himalayan balsam, which is popular with bumble bees. Very occasionally on riverbanks you also see orange balsam (try the River Wey between Peasmarsh and Farncombe or Chilworth Gunpowder Works). Particularly in the first three weeks or so you get the tall spikes of purple loosestrife. Note also the rather striking marsh woundwort, which can be found both in damp places and on more ordinary verges.

Other flowers on the edge of rivers include water forget-me-not or much more occasionally (try the River Wey between Peasmarsh and Godalming) water chickweed. Both look like their terrestrial equivalents, only in the case of water chickweed with substantially bigger flowers. A tiny bit of common comfrey can linger on by some riversides, but check the identification carefully (eg leaves running down the stems) to be sure that it is not Russian comfrey, which can also be found in drier places.

In damp meadows some meadowsweet may survive in the first half. If you see a large umbellifer (cow parsley-like plant), it might be angelica: the clues to identification are its brown stems, and its leaves, which are more conventional than those of the similar-looking hogweed. Marsh thistle may also just survive here, particularly in the first half, and this is also the place to find lesser spearwort, looking like a buttercup but with narrow-bladed leaves. Much more rarely in the same habitat you might see sneezewort, which looks a bit like feverfew.

August is also the month to find mints flowering in damp spots, which can include roadside ditches or the damp corner of a field. By far the most common is water mint, topped with double globes of pink flowers, which can grow in great profusion. Corn mint, which can be found in drier spots, has globes spaced up its stem, while gipsywort (probably the second most common mint, though one which disappointingly has almost no scent) has little ruffs of white flowers and grows by rivers.

Rarer mints include spearmint, which has a tall spike made up of pink globes and leaves that smell of toothpaste. However, 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).

Earlier in the month you may see white watercress flowers in shallow streams (usually on chalk - eg the Darent River near Farningham in Kent). The poisonous fool's watercress, which has similar foliage but very different flowers, can also occur in the same habitat but is more often seen in stagnant ditches or on pond edges (where the edible watercress cannot grow).

On pond and river margins you can see the brown cylindrical female flowers of bulrushes (aka reedmace), while water lilies (both yellow and white) continue to flourish on still lakes and ponds. Less attractively, stagnant water can be covered in green pondweed.

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. This depends on the weather, however. Wheat needs to the dry when cut: if it has excess moisture it can only be used for animal feed and not for making bread. On the other hand it should not be too dry. So farmers nervously watch the weather forecast, waiting for exactly the right time.

Cylindrical bales of straw from the cut fields are a familiar sight throughout the month, and early in the month there may still be black plastic bales in grassy fields (cut grass wrapped while damp in order to make silage - fermented grass - for winter livestock feed). These are quickly gathered in, however. Towards the end of August you might even see wheat fields being ploughed up (or more often in our part of the world, lightly tilled), an unmistakable sign of autumn.

On arable field edges the daisy-like scentless mayweed can be found right through the month, though if you rub its leaves you may just find some is stinking chamomile (smaller flowers, faintly aromatic: not really stinking, but faintly unpleasant) - or even, early in the month, scented mayweed (much nicer smelling, and only the flowers are aromatic). Looking like a mayweed that has lost its petals is pineapple weed, which does indeed have a distinctive pineapple aroma when rubbed: it grows on paths and tracks as well as other rural bare ground.

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 charlock (or other crucifers such as hedge mustard), as well as sow thistles (perennial or prickly usually: much more rarely smooth). Also fat hen, a plant with diamond shaped upper leaves and greyish flowers, or, more rarely, annual mercury. In bare muddy places, for example near field gates, you can see knotgrass, whose flowers are probably now going over, but are so tiny it is hard to tell.

More exotic possibilities include fool's parsley, which can occasionally be found growing along the edges of arable fields. The striking blue borage also very occasionally crops up in the same habitat, as do the equally blue flowers of chicory. Tansy-leaved phacelia is a frizzy purple-flowered flower not unrelated to borage, which originally escaped from garden meadow flower seed mixes and is now sometimes deliberately sown in set-aside strips (bees love it). Even more rarely you see lucerne, once planted as a fodder crop.

More August pages:

© Peter Conway 2006-2023 • All Rights Reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment