If you’ve been walking through the park in mid-September, you might have noticed that almost any un-mowed, grassy area is alive with a sea of tall, yellow flowers. Whether it’s the powerlines by Big Lake, the curve in the Multi-Use trail along Reedy Creek Lake Trail, or even at our park’s Visitor Center, one plant steals the show this time of year. Wingstem, or Verbesina alternifolia, is a mainstay of fall wildflowers at William B. Umstead State Park and plays a key role in the environment around here.
Named for the short flaps (or wings) of plant material extruding from the stem of the plant, Wingstem is native to much of the Ohio River Valley, southeast, and Midwest of the country. From Kansas to North Carolina, and from Michigan to Alabama, Wingstem blooms anywhere from July to October, depending on where in the country you may find it. Here in our part of North Carolina, you can just about check the calendar and circle September 15th for when you want to start looking. This date is pretty important because it falls just a few days after the peak Monarch butterfly migration comes through our area. Wingstem provides ample opportunities for the southbound lepidoptera to stop over and grab a snack on their annual journey down to the mountains of Mexico.
Wingstem is a host plant for Silvery Checkerspot butterfly, Summer Azure butterfly, and Gold Moth. This means that these insects will seek out this plant to lay their eggs on so the caterpillars can eat the leaves and complete their lifecycle. It’s also an important fall flower in our area for tons of wasps and bees when many other summer bloomers have gone to seed for the year.
Wingstem grows well in medium wet soil and prefers a bit of shade, but you can grow this plant in your own backyard if you are looking for a little early fall color. It can get up to eight feet tall and can be a bit of an aggressive spreader by seed, but when much of the garden loses its hue, Wingstem will be there to make September pop with its golden yellow petals.
If you haven’t recently, come out to the park to check out this beautiful flower that blankets the powerlines like some kind of a natural yellow brick road. We’d love to see you out enjoying the park and soaking in the last bits of summer weather before we start shifting to the bearable days and cooler nights of fall.
- Ranger Nick Dioguardi
The Umstead Coalition is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
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