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Nature Notes: Over a sea of gold

Kelly Bahl

Jay C. Hormel Nature Center Outreach Naturalist

September is filled with the feeling of back to school, hopefulness of cooler weather, and the return of autumn and all of its glory with pumpkin spiced everything.

However, even before the leaves start their parade of colors and Jack Frost visits for the first time, there are plenty of signs of the impending fall season. Whether you notice the migrators leaving their summer homes, like the orioles, Hummingbirds, and monarch butterflies, or maybe watching squirrels gathering acorns for their food stocks for the winter months; the land itself will tell you the tides are turning as they change their tune from the summer. The prairies turn from a rainbow display peeking through the green with whites, purples, pinks, yellows, oranges, and everything in between, into a full on display of gold. One type of plant has patiently waited for the time to shine with its yellow flowers. Goldenrod is a very common plant that Minnesota is home to 16 of the total 77 species found in the world.

This plant is what dominates in September into October causing once green fields dotted with flowers to be almost completely yellow, or golden, in color. The more subdued yellow color this plant sports is the inspiration for the goldenrod crayon you can find in your pack of colors.

Goldenrod not only helps brighten up the summer to fall transition, it acts as a vital food source. When a lot of flowers have already dropped or turned to seed, goldenrod is there to keep the nectar flow alive and well.

There are a lot of things that rely on nectar for their food source before fall officially arrives, such as butterflies, beetles, flies, bumble bees, moths, and honey bees! September is prime time for harvesting honey for our hives at the nature center and our prairies full of goldenrod keep them happy and healthy through harvest and into the winter. On the other side of the food web, goldenrod acts as an all you can eat buffet for critters like wasps, spiders, beetles, and birds who come and prey on the insects feeding on goldenrod nectar.

There is one insect that is especially thankful for this native wildflower where it gets its namesake. The goldenrod gall fly relies on goldenrod plants in order to continue its life cycle. This fly, like most insects, goes through metamorphosis where it proceeds through stages of egg, larva, pupa and adult. A lot of insects make their own pupa/chrysalis/cocoons, but the goldenrod gall fly will use the goldenrod plant. This fly will lay its egg inside of the stalk of one of the plants. The goldenrod will provide protection for the egg and larvae as it makes a circular mass around where the larvae are insulating and protecting it through the winter. Next time you walk out on the trails this fall, winter, or spring, you can look for little spheres on the stalks knowing that there is a larvae inside waiting for the spring thaw.

September at the Nature Center

Follow us on social media or head over to our website at hormelnaturecenter.org for all the details on upcoming programs and events!

• Sept. 4: Halloween Warm-Up. Tickets go on sale at Super Fresh

• Sept. 8: Volunteer Work Party , 3:30 p.m.

• Sept. 11: Honey harvesting, 9 a.m. to noon; Sola Fide Observatory Open House, 9 p.m.

• Sept. 16: 50th Anniversary Special Guest Tom Pease,  6:30 p.m.

• Sept. 25: Last day of canoe and kayak rental; Sola Fide Observatory Open House, 9 a.m.