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Carl Wernicke: Fall Means Wildflowers


Those of you living in manicured neighborhoods, especially among the emerald green bio-deserts we call lawns, might not have noticed. But the fall wildflower season is upon us.

Out in the country, unkempt roadsides and fallow fields are bursting with a mad profusion of color.

At our Garcon Point homestead, this always creates a dilemma. Our driveway is about a quarter of a mile long, and winds through what most people would consider thick woods. Right now the roadsides are bursting with beggar’s tick, golden rod, rudbeckia – better known as blacked-eye susans – and a host of other wildflowers I’d need my master gardener wife to name for me.

Coupled with the rampant broom sedge, beauty berry and other of our fall favorites, this vegetative explosion is spilling into the driveway, leaning over with the weight of blossoms and seeds. At some point the driveway becomes less of a road and more of a hard-to-follow path through encroaching woods.

The art in all this lies in deciding when to mow.

So, earlier this week I went for walk to evaluate the situation. Now, I have to confess that this is one of the things I love about living amidst untamed woods. There are all sorts of fun things disguised as chores. If there are unpleasant tasks I should be doing, I can always assuage the guilt by grabbing a bucket to go look for lighter knot scattered around the property, secure in the knowledge that this is useful work that will pay off in my fireplace this winter.

So it wasn’t just coincidence that I decided to evaluate the driveway situation in the cool of a lovely early morning as the first sunlight in days pushed through holes in the overcast.

What I found was a really busy world. Butterflies and moths were crisscrossing the driveway along with wasps, flies and other insects busily working the flowers. I found lizards working the same turf, hoping to grab an early lunch from the insect menu. Birds come for the insects and seeds.

But the most fun came in watching the bumblebees. I never tire of watching these tireless workers pursue their jobs with such single-minded focus. They just want to work the flowers, one to the next, and if you leave them alone they leave you alone. You can put your face right up to a working bumblebee and he couldn’t care less; I once watched a daughter-in-law lightly stroke the furry abdomen of a bumblebee with her finger, and it didn’t bother it a bit. I think bumblebees offer us a sound working model for society: they do their work and they leave you alone to do yours. Push them too hard, and they can deliver a nasty sting. But unless you obviously mean them harm, you can work alongside them all day with no worry.

Human insensitivity to the natural world is the biggest existential threat to the pollinators who quietly ensure that our food crops actually produce food. With wild habitat disappearing, it’s increasingly important that we create room for even insects to thrive.

Anyway, I decided to hold off on mowing for now. There’s always tomorrow.

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.