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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, early October can still support a remarkable range of flowers in sheltered spots – even in cool Octobers such as 2007 or 2010. Mostly they are seen in ones or twos or 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, field madder or corn spurrey 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? On the other hand scentless mayweed is definitely in the summer survivor catgeory - a daisy-like plant that can be seen on arable field margins right throughout October, though it can be looking rather tired by now.

You can also see the occasional poppy and maybe charlock, hedge mustard, black mustard, prickly sow thistle, bristly oxtongue, black nightshade 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 sometimes seems to be deliberately planted in set-aside strips.

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 (and more rarely prickly sow thistle) appears in urban settings as well, though it too struggles to flower in October. In the same habitat you may also see some surviving Canadian fleabane, while redleg and fat hen can occur there or on bare ground in rural spots. On earth paths some pineapple weed may just survive, looking like scentless mayweed that has lots its petals, but with a distinctive pineapple smell when crushed.

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 until late in the month, and 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.

A very few large white trumpets of large or hedge bindweed may survive on fences or unkempt ground into the second half of October. In the same habitat the luxuriant flowers on Russian vine are getting scarce now, but can survive till the third or even fourth week. On old walls and in other odd corners mexican fleabane (a kind of daisy) can survive right through the month, as can yellow corydalis, but ivy-leaved toadflax flowers tend to only be found in the 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. Just 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, mouse ear, lesser stitchwort, common centaury, yellow-wort, wild carrot, burnet saxifrage, 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 are common catsear, autumn hawkbit and smooth hawksbeard, though lesser hawkbit, rough hawkbit (on downland) and nipplewort (on verges) are possible. 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 into October are common toadflax, herb robert, white deadnettle (very occasionally also red deadnettle), and hedgerow cranesbill, the latter definitely second generation, as it sometimes revives a bit in October. You might also see some surviving French cranesbill near gardens, and on wilder verges near habitation the occasional stunted alkanet. Other flowers that can may just crop on verges include red and white campion, nettle-leaved bellflower, greater celandine, bush vetch, and wood avens (aka herb bennet), while yellow pimpernel very rarely makes a late appearance in woods, and some tormentil still survives on heaths.

Hogweed continues to crop up now and again on verges - usually only one plant in flower - presumably grown from seed dispersed in the summer. The very occasional black horehound, common mallow or musk mallow you may see are probably survivors from the summer, however. An isolated creeping thistle bloom might pop up even late in the month, the latter definitely grown from seed dispersed in the summer or on new shoots 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. Some himalayan balsam can survive on riverbanks in the first week or so, along an isolated clump of water forget-me-not. In damp places you may just see a bit of water mint at the same time, while the occasional meadowsweet or Russian comfrey flower can pop up even late in the month.

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 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, daisies and (on chalk downland) salad burnet.

The silver-streaked "argentatum" variety of yellow archangel can been found in woodland, while foxglove leaves often appear in woodland clearings, though can be found on verges. The distinctive leaves of woodruff seem to last all winter but then give way to new foliage in the spring. Periwinkle leaves can carpet woodland or shady banks, often - though not always - near houses.

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 produce new leaves this month, while this year's creeping comfrey leaves seem to survive the winter. Greater celandine leaves crop up occasionally.

You can see lots of this year's stinging nettles dying back, but equally there plenty of new or young shoots on bare ground. Some of these may be white deadnettles - if not flowering they look almost identical. This year's dock leaves one are on the way out, but if it is mild you can see new ones appearing: whether these last the winter, I am not sure. The new ground elder shoots which one occasionally sees bursting through on road or path-side verges in October are probably in the same category. Most of the small herb robert shoots which proliferate on woodland path verges at this time of year also do not last till spring either, while the new hogweed leaves one sees in October are 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: the same is true of the occasional hairy (or possibly wavy) bittercress. 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 they may be 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.

By the sea 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 and sea lavender in salt marshes.

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 with low cabbage-like plants, this is oilseed rape which will produce lovely seas of yellow flowers in April. 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 species such as the sulphur tuft (which grows on tree stumps) and common earthball. Innocent-looking white mushrooms in this habitat could be the ultra-poisonous deathcap, while the trooping funnel can make large "fairy rings" one or two metres across. Note also the horizontal bracket fungi on trees and logs, such as the striking dryad's saddle, or the intriguingly named chicken-in-the-woods.

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. Also striking are the various species of inkcap, which start out looking like ordinary mushrooms and then dissolve into a black goo.

More October pages:

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