Late Summer Blooms on the A.T.

September 13, 2023

The wildflowers that bloom during the last few weeks of summer—as the days shorten and temperatures fall—are perhaps not as well known or as showy as their spring counterparts. But they are as varied and beautiful as the landscapes they adorn. Here are a handful of late summer wildflowers to look for on the Appalachian Trail.

Goldenrod (Solidago arguta)

Yellow flowers with butterfly

Photo by Michael Barrick, courtesy of UnSplash

This yellow beauty comes in a host of species and is found Trailwide with a variety of shade-tolerant and shade-intolerant species. It can grow up to 5 feet tall, particularly in open fields with lots of sunlight. Prized by pollinators, including the monarch butterfly shown here, goldenrod is also a favored ingredient of many herbal tea drinkers. Throughout history, goldenrod has been relied upon for medicinal uses, as a tea replacement following the Boston Tea Party, and even as a replacement for rubber in car tires. Thomas Edison experimented with using latex from the leaves of a goldenrod varietal, but the resulting rubber was not of sufficient quality.

Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata)

Purple flower

Another member of the Asteracea family, common ironweed has densely clustered rose-purple flowers. It grows in moist to wet soils, so look for it along streams and in wetland areas in the Mid-Atlantic and southern New England regions. It tolerates full to partial sun and grows up to 4 feet tall. Ironweed is a host plant for the American painted lady butterfly and attracts large numbers of native bees.

Boneset (Ageratina altissima)

Cluster of small white flowers

The delicate white flowers of this member of the Asteracea family look innocent enough—but the plant contains the toxin tremetol. It is poisonous to both humans and livestock. Boneset’s other common name, white snakeroot, is perhaps a better fit for this dangerous plant. Boneset thrives in woodlands with rocky terrains and is found only in the southern half of the A.T. (south of Pennsylvania).

Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)

Small light purple flowers

Also known as wild ageratum or blue boneset, this plant’s bluish purple flowers form an almost flat top over triangular shaped leaves. It is found at the edge of forests, along stream banks, and in wet meadows. It can grow up to 3 feet high but is often lower. Blue mistflower is also popular with bees, birds, and butterflies.

Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium dubium)

Delicate purple flowered plant

This tall, stately plant stands out for its height—it can grow as high as 6 feet tall—and the large dome-shaped clusters of purple flowers at the top. Although it is native to sandy swamps and riverbanks, the plant is quite adaptable. It will grow in various types of soil and with varying amounts of sun. The “Joe” in the plant’s name, according to legend, is a Native American who used the plant to halt a typhus epidemic in the 17th century.

White Wood Aster (Eurybia divaricate)

Small daisy-like flower

The toothed, heart-shaped leaves of the white wood aster make it relatively easy to identify—as do the tiny white ray flowers surrounding the yellow head—which turns to red upon pollination. Although the flowers are small (usually an inch across) they are abundant. The plant tolerates shade well and can spread vigorously in the right conditions.

Note: Photos with the exception of the goldenrod are courtesy of Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at University of Texas, Austin