WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
They are wild and free. They choose where to grow. They need no care from us, just a bit of respect to survive. Some are native species, others invasive or naturalized, but the wildflowers of our July roadsides share common traits. They thrive in disturbed soils and open areas and add colorful beauty to the road’s edge. They are the vanguard forces of nature trying to make things right!
Butterfly Weed: The brilliant orange blossom of Butterfly Weed is unmistakable for appreciative humans, and nectar sipping butterflies. It’s next to impossible to hike in an uncut meadow or prairie without encountering the most stunning member of the milkweed family. The meadows and roadside of Highland State Recreation Area, and the roadside edge of Independence Oaks County Park-North are just two locations where they are now at peak bloom.
Chicory: This pale blue beauty of Chicory that some insult by calling a weed, is found almost everywhere and anywhere the earth is exposed. The small leaves are sparse and have a resemblance to dandelion leaves. The delicate blossoms are found along its wiry stem that may exceed three feet in height. This plant has a stronger thirst for moisture than the butterfly weed, and is most commonly found at the edge of rural roadsides or even popping up from cracks of sidewalks in urban areas. The tender young leaves can be added to salads, the dried roots ground and roasted as a coffee substitute.
Day Lily: The common Day Lily is a naturalized species we have to come to love. Unlike our native Wood Lily and Michigan Lily that often ‘hide’ in woodlands, the Day Lily seems to be especially fond of northern Oakland County but can be found across the county.
It’s a common plant around older urban homes and the rural hard-packed county roads that meander between our many lakes. Gather the unopened flower buds, boil them for a minute and add them to soups or serve as a vegetable. As for the name ‘day’ lily, each blossom blooms for just one day.
Queen Ann’s Lace: This creamy white wildflower that some call a wild carrot is crowned with a large flat-topped cluster of tiny individual flowers. It is very common in urban lots that are reverting back to nature, fallow farm fields and often grows in great abundance on the roadside near chicory.
Boil the roots of Queen Ann’s Lace to add a bit of texture and freshness to dehydrated backpacking ‘cuisine’. Caution: Novices can confuse this plant with Water Hemlock, which can be a fatal mistake. The United States Department of Agriculture states, “Water Hemlock is the most violently toxic plant that grows in North America.”
Wild Bergamot: The scent of crushed Wild Bergamot is unforgettable, beautiful and pleasantly pungent. The purplish blossoms of bergamot appeared early this summer and some are already approaching four feet tall. Roadside habitat provides a good home for this member of the mint family, if sufficient moisture is in the ground.
St. John’s Wort: To the untrained eye it’s a scroungy plant with tiny yellow five petal flowers, but a close look unveils intricate beauty. And the leaves hold a hidden surprise: Hold a leaf up to the sun and nearly hidden translucent dots became visible. Herbalists literature is rich with stories on how St John’s Wort can be prepared to reduce depression, but a walk along the wildflower rich roadsides of Oakland County can keep one healthy and happy.
Jonathan Schechter is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.