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September flowers and fungi

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Picture: common fleabane. Click here for 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 on this reduces rapidly and you increasingly see flowers only 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 verges 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, wild parsnip, wild carrot, black medick, common centaury, 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). Common fleabane is a frequent and cheerful flower of rough grassland.

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, hedge bedstraw, mouse-ear and ragwort (usually 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 Canadian goldenrod can last into the second half, and common toadflax continues flowering into October most years.

These are all survivors from the summer, while for purple michaelmas daisies (actually a type of aster), this is the peak time. They grow particularly along railway lines and in gardens, but also crop up on other verges at times. They are 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. Definitely in new growth category is hogweed, which crops up from time to time on verges. Other new growth flowers include evening primrose and great mullein, which sometimes appear by railway lines or on other similar wasteground, and the very occasional dark mullein in grassier spots. You also sometimes come across golden or ribbed melilot on wasteground, and outbursts of green alkanet flowers near habitation. Herb robert, wood avens (aka herb bennet), red deadnettle and greater celandine may just crop up too.

Probably more in the straggler category is white deadnettle, which can be found in places throughout the summer but does seem to have something of an uptick in the autumn. Isolated examples of red campion, white campion, bladder campion, hedgerow cranesbill, common mallow, musk mallow, nettle-leaved bellflower and black horehound can be seen too.

Otherwise on verges, the big white trumpets of large and hedge bindweed sprawl across other vegetation all month, though in nothing like the profusion they were seen in earlier in the summer. You can also still find find some pink field bindweed on field or path edges, or broad-leaved everlasting pea draped over hedgerows or fences. 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. In the case of creeping thistle, these are almost always 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. Both grow on seafronts and rail lines, but can crop up on other wasteground or verges. Hawkweed oxtongue also seems to like downland.

Flowering shrubs include buddleia, which may still have some flowers, and dwarf gorse 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 still be in bloom in September even when they already have ripe berries, 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

In the first half of September neat cylindrical bales of straw dot fields of wheat that have been harvested, but they are soon gathered in, wrapped in black plastic and stored in barns. The ground is not necessarily bare for long: as the month goes on, new green shoots of winter wheat can appear.

Otherwise 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 more straggly stinking chamomile (smaller flowers, aromatic). Pineapple weed is mostly gone by now, but where it survives 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? Also possible till late in the month is the occasional poppy or redleg. Much more rarely you may see tiny pink field madder, blue-flowered chicory or borage, or the frizzy purple tansy-leaved phacelia, the latter an escapee from meadow grass seed mixes and also planted as a set-aside crop. Prickly sow thistle can be found too, and occasionally smooth sow thistle, perennial sow thistle and black nightshade.

Sometimes seen around arable fields in September are wild radish and charlock, while the similar-looking hedge mustard and black mustard may crop up on bare verges. There are also overlooked opportunist weeds such as groundsel, shepherd's purse, fat hen, 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. Knotgrass is still in flower in the first half of September but its blooms are too tiny to be noticed.

Chickweed, which can grow in grassy fields but is more of an urban plant, definitely seems to have a revival in September as the ground gets moister: it produces lots of new leaves and may even flower. Also found in urban settings is Canadian fleabane, which can still be in flower in September, though it is one of those plants where it is very hard to tell. 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. Red valerian may also still be flowering in the same place. Garden escapees that can survive near habitation include purple toadflax and monbretia, the latter with bright orange flowers, as well as periwinkle and French cranesbill

Note too the strange pink flowers of ivy-leaved cyclamen which spring up widely on grassy village verges this month. 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 and there is a much rarer orange balsam that occasionally crops up earlier in the month. Purple loosestrife can last into the first half of September, as can angelica, and in riverside meadows and other damp spots you can still find water mint till quite late in the month and gipsywort (a member of the mint family, but not aromatic) earlier in the month. More occasional plants of damp places include marsh woundwort and Russian comfrey, and in some years there is a revival of meadowsweet. Water forget-me-not sometimes crops up on stream or pond edges, and in ponds the cylindrical brown female flowers of bulrushes survive.

By the sea some sea aster may still be in flower in the first half (for example on Mudeford Spit near Christchurch, Durlston Head near Swanage, on the sea walls near Faversham, or on the west side of the river 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 (whose white flowers give way to green seeds), as well as the occasional yellow-horned poppy, sea campion, silver ragwort flower (though it is mostly over long ago) or clump of fennel. Golden samphire 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. Perennial wall rocket can last all month, and you may see sea radish or new flowering growth of black mustard.

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 early in September, though it is dying back (turning pink and then brown) by mid month: sometimes you also see erect or semi-erect versions of the same plant in and around seafronts. Tamarisk - a common semi-wild shrub in seafront parks and gardens - can still have some pink flowers, and the same may be true of the Duke of Argyll's tea plant, found in the scrub between Seaford and Newhaven, and in other coastal locations.

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 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. New shoots of yellow-horned poppy and silver ragwort can also be seen on shingle beaches.

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:


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