Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tall Boneset

If you like white flowers, Tall Boneset, Eupatorium altissimum, could well be your favorite. Blooming begins in the summer, but plants are at their showiest in early fall. Clusters of the small flower heads can grow into large aggregations that look like tiny cloud formations drifting across the landscape.

Tall Boneset is commonly found throughout the tall grass areas of Blue Jay Barrens. This is because it is an aggressive plant that grows very well on the dry, shallow soils found here. Plants growing in better soil conditions sometimes create flower clusters too heavy for the stout stalks to hold aloft. Rain or heavy dew often adds enough weight to take these overlarge plants to the ground.

Tall grass doesn’t hinder the development of this plant. Like many of the tall prairie plants, a single long stalk reaches up to a point that allows branches to spread and develop flowers. The flowers are held high enough to be easily visited by pollinating insects.

Right now is the absolute peak time to view these flowers. The first flower heads have just begun to release ripe seeds. From this point on, seed loss will cause the flower clusters to take on a more gray appearance. Most of the seeds develop at about the same time and the flowers will look like a fuzzy mass as the pappus, those feathery little projections attached to the seed, dry and spread.

There are several species of Boneset with almost identical flowers. Other characters often need to be checked to make a proper identification. The long, narrow leaves of the Tall Boneset usually have a few teeth along the margins. One easy to see feature is the set of three heavy veins running the length of the leaf.

Insect activity abounds on these plants. The flowers themselves attract a wide variety of visitors and the rest of the plant has a swarm of active residents. Treehopper larvae are being tended by ants on this plant. A plant in harmony with insects always seems to be more complete.

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