• Goldrenrod can thrive even in the harshest conditions, like next to the saltwater part of the St. Johns River. Photo by Pat Foster-Turley/For the News-Leader

The local flowers of autumn

I’m more of an animal person than a plant person, but there is something about the fall that makes plants stand out for me. Some of my favorite local plants are blooming now, and just seeing them keeps my spirits soaring.

Take goldenrod, for instance. I know that many people blame this yellow flowering plant for their seasonal allergies, but for most people it isn’t the culprit. Although goldenrod is most visible now when in full bloom, there are less conspicuous plants such as ragweed species shedding pollen now too, and these are the real allergens.

Although goldenrod thrives along many of our roadsides, my favorite stands of them are along Heritage River Road, off Heckscher Drive Remark-ably, these flowers flourish on the beach adjacent to the river, a salty habitat for sure. A few have even managed to seed themselves in our backyard at the pond’s edge. Some may call these weeds, but I call them wildflowers, and I love when they appear on their own.

And then there are the other yellow flowers present in damp areas and roadside ditches, the swamp sunflowers. When we moved into our new house on the pond 17 years ago, the far bank was covered with these blooming annual plants. I fell in love with them. I have watched the process of succession occurring in our pond and woods for years, and the swamp sunflowers gradually got overcome with spreading shoots of wax myrtle shrubs and pine saplings. Eventually the swamp sunflowers disappeared.

A couple of years ago, following our neighbor’s lead, we hired a crew to trim back the vegetation on this side of the pond, again exposing bare banks in front of the woods. This turned out to be a boon to the pond turtles, which now have a good place to bask in the sun in the afternoons. It also made more room for the egrets and herons to fish from the shoreline. Best yet, some swamp sunflowers have sprouted up again. Perfect!

On the planted side of our pond, our fall garden is beautiful. Although many of the summer blooming plants have given up the ghost for the winter, the sages and milkweed are adding color to the yard. Vincas have resprouted naturally from seeds shed by my existing potted plants. The weather is great now for enjoying these backyard beauties from our pond side deck, and no mosquitos are around to harass me.

I have planted a crop of cool weather spinach, lettuces and sweet pea flowers in my raised bed area, but without great expectations for their success. The seeds have just sprouted, but a rabbit has appeared again, too. Lettuce, spinach, pea sprouts – what more could a bunny want?

We’ve got a fence installed to keep the rabbits out, but alas, now I am finding holes under the fence that get reopened as fast as I can fill them in and cover them with metal sheets. I’m hoping that armadillos are doing this, not rabbits, but any day now I expect to see my seedlings gone before they even got really started. We’ve got a live trap out for the rabbit, but the only taker so far was an opossum, which we released. Oh well, at least we are trying.

Elsewhere around the island I am enjoying the displays of muhly grass, with their pink wispy tufts blowing in the wind. Gardeners have discovered the beauty and hardiness of these plants and they are appearing in entrances to developments, parking lot dividers and landscaping everywhere, it seems. But there is nothing like the beauty of the wild muhly grass in the dunes of Fort Clinch State Park, where it is surrounded by other flowering grasses, prickly pear cacti and other native plants. To top it off, deer often roam through this landscape, adding charm to the setting. That scene never gets old for me.

We may not have the fall colors that northerners are proud of, but we do have our seasons. For me, fall is about the best. Except for spring, when everything is growing. Or wait – maybe it’s winter, when all of our hiking trails are walkable again. But summer and the beach are just fine too. In fact, there is no time of year I do not enjoy on Amelia Island, a great place to call home.

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