Yellow time

By Tom Seymour | Aug 02, 2019
Photo by: Tom Seymour Coreopsis is one of a number of yellow wildflowers that let us know summer has reached its height.

Ever notice the preponderance of yellow flowers this time of year? Yellow and, to a lesser extent, orange, are the order of the day, not only for garden flowers, but also wildflowers.

Canada goldenrod, our most plentiful goldenrod species, St. Johnswort, hawkweed, pineapple-weed, wild parsnip, hop clover, buttercup and my favorite, birdfoot trefoil, to name just a few wildflowers, populate our roadsides, fields and lawns this time of year.

Orange comes in next, with such common wildflowers as day-lily, tiger lily and orange hawkweed complementing the broad swath of yellows. And in the garden, evening primrose, coreopsis and many cultivated daylilies, glow in shades of yellow. For those who choose yellow as their favorite color, this stands as an exciting time.

Let’s examine a few of the above-named flowering plants in more detail.

Bird-foot trefoil

Gravelly roadsides shine with the bright-yellow flowers of bird-foot trefoil. Like so many wildflowers that adorn our roadsides, bird-foot trefoil is a non-native, probably brought here along with hay for animals on sailing ships.

The plant, while capable of reaching a height of 24 inches, more often stands around 12 inches tall. The flowers are in clusters of three to six on stem ends. The leaves are five-parted, with three clover-like leaflets and two more leaflets below, separated by a blank space. Bird-foot trefoil, a legume, belongs in the pea family.

But it is the overall look of stands of this pretty plant that impresses me. They really are brilliant in the extreme. Besides that, the flowers are long-lasting when placed in a water-filled vase. A small bouquet of these on a kitchen table just cries out, “It’s summer.”

The goldenrods

I view the emergence of the various goldenrods with a bit of melancholy, since goldenrod signals the beginning of the end of summer. Nonetheless, goldenrod, particularly the plume-style early goldenrod and Canada goldenrod, have become crossover plants. That is, florists use goldenrod in their arrangements. Also, Europeans have taken a liking to goldenrod and purposely cultivate it.

But here in Maine we needn’t cultivate goldenrod. All we need do is go outside and enjoy it. When the goldenrods reach full bloom, they present an astounding sight, so it’s easy to see why our European neighbors have taken such a liking to it.

Another goldenrod, this one not as common but locally abundant, is zig-zag goldenrod. It has a striking appearance, with its clusters of yellow flowers and zig-zag stem. I have seen lots of this striking plant along Sandy Stream in Unity, as well as at other scattered locations.

I have considered transplanting zig-zag goldenrod to my place, but haven’t yet gotten around to it. Perhaps this will be the year.

Wild parsnip

Immense stands of wild parsnip, with their open clusters of light-yellow flowers, line roadsides and populate countless fields. With a height of up to 3 feet, people sometimes mistake wild parsnip for the toxic giant hogweed, to which it has no relation whatever.

Wild parsnip, in fact, is nothing but cultivated parsnips that have gone feral. A gardener who fails to harvest parsnips and allows them to go to seed will eventually find parsnips growing all over. These plants grow from setting seed and, with the abundance of seed produced by each plant, it’s easy to see how this formerly cultivated plant can spread so readily.

The town of Brooks is inundated with wild parsnip. Both sides of the road, especially in the village, are thickly lined with wild parsnip.

While wild parsnip is edible, the same as the cultivated variety; some people are sensitive to it and develop a serious rash after coming in contact with it. Besides that, growing in compacted, roadside soil means the roots are misshapen and spindly, not worth digging for food. But the overall aspect of huge stands of wild parsnip, like goldenrod, signals that we have reached summer’s height.


Coreopsis, or “tickseed,” illuminates gardens with a near-fluorescent yellow. A common, old-fashioned garden flower, coreopsis brightens gardens from midsummer through fall. The plants grow from either creeping rhizomes or fibrous crowns.

The various forms of coreopsis are perennial, with some species being hardy down to zones 3 and 4. This makes coreopsis a perfect plant for the Maine perennial bed.

Long-lived and extremely hardy, coreopsis brings yellow to the forefront in summer and ranks as a must-have for any garden.

Zig-zag goldenrod, though unusual elsewhere, is common in Maine. (Photo by: Tom Seymour)
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