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October flowers and fungi

Other October pages: Introduction to leaf fallTree by tree - the autumn sequenceBerries, nuts, seeds and shrubs BirdsDeer rut, insects and farm animalsWeather

Picture: scentless mayweed. Click here for more October flower and fungi photos.

Though one might expect them to have disappeared in September, quite a lot of flowers species can still be seen in October, particularly early in the month. Mostly they are seen in 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 in the growing season. 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.

Arable fields and wasteground

In arable fields, flowers such as field pansy, field speedwell, wild radish and (just occasionally) scarlet pimpernel or field madder 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?

Scentless mayweed is definitely in the summer survivor category - a daisy-like plant that can be seen on arable field margins right throughout October, though it can be looking rather tired by now. As its name suggests, it produces no aroma at all, but if you rub its leaves and then sniff your fingers, you may just find that it is in fact stinking chamomile - an almost identical plant, which actually has a not too awful smell despite its name.

In the same habitat you can come across the occasional poppy, and maybe black nightshade (also seen as an urban weed), black bindweed or the unlikely blue flowers of borage or chicory. The purple-flowered tansy-leaved phacelia, a garden escapee, may crop up as an arable weed too, and is planted in set-aside strips. Red deadnettles sometimes appear.

Arable weeds with yellow flowers include charlock, hedge mustard, black mustard, prickly sow thistle and bristly oxtongue, most of them new growth, as these are bare ground opportunists. Don't confuse charlock with the very similar-looking white mustard, which is sometimes grown as a cover crop - that is, seeded in arable fields after the wheat or barley has been harvested in order to return nutrients to the soil and to protect its micro-organisms.

Shepherd's purse and groundsel may appear on cleared arable fields but seem to be more often found as urban weeds, and the same is true of annual mercury. Chickweed, 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 or wavy bittercress.

Smooth sow thistle appears in urban settings as well, though it too struggles to flower. In the same habitat you may just see some surviving Canadian fleabane early in the month, while redleg and fat hen can occur there or on bare ground in rural spots. On earth paths some pineapple weed may just survive into the early part of the month, looking like scentless mayweed that has lots its petals, but with a distinctive pineapple smell when crushed. A rare urban weed that you can see along the riverside at Richmond-on-Thames, and occasionally elsewhere, is gallant or shaggy soldier.

One flower that is definitely in season at this time of year is the purple michaelmas daisy, which is found particularly by railway tracks and in gardens, mostly in the first half of the month, but with some lasting even into November. You may also see some Oxford ragwort still in flower on urban railway lines or wasteground, as well as the occasional evening primrose. Herb robert and common toadflax can survive on rail tracks early in the month

A very few large white trumpets of large or hedge bindweed may be seen on fences or unkempt ground, and in the same habitat the luxuriant flowers on Russian vine can survive till the third or even fourth week. On old walls and in other odd corners mexican fleabane (a kind of daisy) can last right through the month, as can yellow corydalis, but ivy-leaved toadflax flowers tend to only be found in the first three weeks.

Ivy-leaved cyclamen may still be seen on grassy verges near gardens, particularly in the first half of the month but sometimes later. Purple toadflax also sometimes crops up in odd corners near gardens, and occasionally you see one or two flowers on periwinkle.

Grassland and verges

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, common and hoary ragwort, red and white clover, marjoram and basil. Also yarrow, which lasts reliably until the end of the month.

Grassland flowers that crop up very occasionally include self heal, harebell, lesser stitchwort, yellow-wort, wild carrot, burnet saxifrage, mignonette, ribwort plantain and clustered bellflower. 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 seedheads. Don't confuse these with members of the very similar hawkbit/catsear family, which are still common in October. The species you are most likely to see at this time of year is autumn hawkbit, which occurs in grassland and on grassy verges. Common catsear crops up in similar places, while lesser hawkbit is found in short turf and rough hawkbit on downland. Smooth hawksbeard and nipplewort (easy to confuse with each other when short, as they often are at this time of year) may just be seen, the former more often on grassland, the latter on verges.

Larger, rougher plants with dandelion-like flowers include the spiky bristly oxtongue (which flourishes particularly near coasts, though also inland), hawkweed oxtongue, smooth sow thistle, prickly sow thistle, and, earlier in the month, perennial sow thistle, also known as corn sow thistle.

Other verge flowers that can survive or revive in October are common toadflax, herb robert, white deadnettle (very occasionally also red deadnettle), and hedgerow cranesbill. You might also see some surviving French cranesbill near gardens, and on verges near habitation the occasional stunted alkanet (definitely new growth). Rarer sightings include red and white campion, greater celandine, great mullein, bush vetch and wood avens (aka herb bennet), while yellow pimpernel may just make a late appearance in woods.

Hogweed continues to crop up now and again on verges - usually only one plant in flower - presumably grown from seed dispersed in the summer. Any black horehound, common mallow or musk mallow you see are probably survivors from the summer, however.

An isolated creeping thistle bloom might pop up even late in the month, definitely grown from seed dispersed in the summer or on suckers put out by the plant. In the first week of the month you might just see a marsh, spear or welted thistle in flower, but all three are supposed to be long gone by now.

By the sea red valerian may linger in sunny corners and you may see a bit of sea mayweed: also perennial wall rocket early in the month. Just occasionally some yellow-horned poppy, silver ragwort, garden aster, lucerne or tamarisk survives in flower in the first week or two.

Some himalayan balsam can survive on riverbanks at the same time, along with an isolated clump of water forget-me-not or water chickweed. In damp places you may just see a tiny bit of water mint at the very start of the month, while the occasional meadowsweet or Russian comfrey flower (both definitely regrowth) can pop up even late in October.

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 cleavers, garlic mustard and (later in the month) wood avens (aka herb bennet).

These are definitely new growth, grabbing their territory for next year's flowering season, but the leaves of other plants remain from this year's growing season and 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, while on chalk downland a distinctive shoot is that of salad burnet.

Dandelion shoots - some quite mature, others obviously new - are common in grass or on bare ground, and you can also see some catsear and hawkbit leaves there. On verges you can see the new foliage of nipplewort and the leaves of common mallow, the latter probably left over from the summer. Forget-me-not and alkanet may produce new leaves this month (amidst the old ones in the case of alkanet), and so can winter heliotrope, which will flower in December or January. This year's creeping comfrey leaves seem to survive the winter, while greater celandine leaves crop up occasionally.

You can see this year's stinging nettles dying back, but equally there plenty of new or young shoots on bare ground. Some may be white deadnettles - if not flowering they look very similar. This year's dock leaves are on the way out, but you can see new ones appearing, some of which may last the winter. The same may or may not be true of the new ground elder shoots which one occasionally sees on road or path verges, but most of the small herb robert shoots that proliferate in shady spots do not seem to last till spring. Any new hogweed leaves are definitely killed off by frost.

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. You can also see some new field speedwell plants, a few of which flower in arable locations (see above), and maybe a rosette of Canadian fleabane. On bare ground in rural areas greater plantain leaves are very evident.

In grassland the leaves of creeping thistle remain common, some still putting out their lettuce-like new growth or even flowering, though towards the end of the month the more mature plants are starting to die back. The large rosettes of spear thistle will last all winter, however. Rough grassland is also where you see the new rosettes of ragwort, which is biennial - that is, it grows from seed this year and will flower next year, then die.

The silver-streaked leaves of the "argentatum" variety of yellow archangel can been found in woodland, while foxglove leaves often appear in woodland clearings, though can be found on verges (where they might be confused with creeping comfrey). In the second half the leaves of this year's dog's mercury start to yellow and die back. The distinctive leaves of woodruff seem to last all winter however, albeit in a somewhat tatty state: they then give way to new foliage in the spring. Periwinkle leaves can carpet woodland or shady banks, often - though not always - near houses.

In shallow streams you may see the foliage of watercress, while the poisonous fool's watercress has almost identical leaves and occurs in both flowing water and still ditches and ponds. By the sea (and also inland near coasts) alexanders have put out foliage next to the dried stalks of this year's flowers (it was this ability to produce foliage in winter that caused the Romans to introduce it here as a vegetable).

On shingle beaches and at the base of seaside cliffs you can also see the plants of perennial species such as silver ragwort, rock sea-lavender, rock samphire, sea beet, red valerian, tree mallow, stonecrop, buckshorn plantain, hottentot fig and aster (the garden escapee variety), as well as new shoots of yellow-horned poppy. Also wild cabbage on the shores around Folkestone and Dover and sea purslane in saltmarshes, on the banks of tidal rivers and other odd bits of bare ground by the sea.

Some arable fields at this time of year are cheered up with the first green shoots of winter wheat, which look initially like grass (albeit regimented in rows). If you see an arable field covered in cabbage-like leaves, it is quite likely to be oilseed rape: make a note of the location and come back in April to see a glorious sea of yellow flowers. However another possibility is the rather similar stubble turnip, which is a winter crop grown for sheep to eat.

Grass in lawns and fields stops growing around mid month, which is usually when you last hear a lawnmower. It remains lush and green even at the end of the month, however, not yet having taken on a tired winter look.

For some photos of flower shoots you can see now and later in the winter, click here.


October is still a good time for fungi, providing conditions are damp (which they usually are) and nights are reasonably cool - but not too cool, as a frost will kill them off. The best place to see them is woodland, where you find the bright red fly agaric near birch trees - the classic "toadstool" of fairy tales - and russula (aka brittlegill) species, which can also be a gorgeous reddish-pink. A striking purple species of mixed woodland (often oak or beech) is the amethyst deceiver.

Note also the attractive sulphur tuft (which grows on tree stumps) and the brown or golden honey fungus, which grows at the base of woody plants. Other brown species include brown roll rims or boletes of various types, while the common earthball is a beige colour. Innocent-looking white mushrooms in this habitat could be the ultra-poisonous deathcap or the less threatening false deathcap - or perhaps some kind of puffball.

One of the larger woodland fungi is the trooping funnel, which can make large "fairy rings" one or two metres across. Translucent white porcelain fungi grow on fallen beech logs, while cute bonnets of various species also grow on rotting wood. Also striking are the various species of inkcap, which start out looking like ordinary mushrooms and then dissolve into a black goo.

Note also the horizontal bracket fungi on trees and logs, such as the striking dryad's saddle, the red beefsteak polypore, and beige-coloured chicken-in-the-woods. The smaller turkeytail also makes attractive scallops on wood stumps and logs, and on dead wood or dying trees you can find the amusingly named King Alfred's cakes, which look like (and are as hard as) black lumps of coal.

Fungi also crop up in grassland - in particular the large and graceful parasol, which starts as a speckled ball and then opens out into the umbrella-like shape that gives it its name. Richmond Park seems to have a lot of them.

More October pages:

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