Beautiful By-goners

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Queen Anne’s lace gone to seed

It’s October.

rag weed gone to seed

Ragweed, ironically called Ambrosia – “food of the gods”  has done its best to fly into sneezes and water people’s eyes and is now, at last, a shadow of its former self.   Most other wild plants have likewise gone to seed. Yet how very beautiful this stage of life is!

Mind you, most ferns, so lovely in the spring do not age gracefully. They crumple and turn ever more brown, more wizened.

Old ferns 2-1
sensitive ferns

Then one day they’re gone.

cropped bracken fern
bracken ferns

Wait, I spoke too soon.  The burnt umber of bracken ferns has a definite flare.

Luminous goldenrods (Solidago canadensis) aren’t very glamorous in decrepitude. Their once blazing plumes shrivel into nondescript clusters of ashy grey.  Though occasionally those cloudy stems resemble trees frosted by moonlight; mostly goldenrod are homely this time of year.

But many plants, though they themselves are dwindling, produce seeds in a spectacular way.

Dandelion seed puff-1

Take dandelion’s (Taraxacum officionale) seed puff, for example.   What a gossamer little white sphere this flower becomes, one that will dissolve at the first breath of wind. Goatsbeard (Tragopogon dubius), with its complicated geometry, is likewise held together only by stillness.

goat's beard
goat’s beard

And note the gorgeous crown of Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) in her dotage. Each germ speck within this pale gold crown is rayed with tiny hairs. Queen Anne’s crown is like a hand holding a Milky Way of stars. Queen anne's lace crown-1  The seeds are said to be medicinal and are also used as flavouring. But utilitarian purposes aside, it is enough simply to behold such heraldic eleventh hour beauty.


What about milkweed’s   milk weed pod with fluff(Asclepius) pod,   each half, a sultan’s slipper bursting with silk-shrouded seeds that will sail down the wind, lighter even than the Monarch butterflies  monarch butterfly in flight  who preceded them.   I love the tear drop shape of the pod with its pointed end and the nest of fluff inside.


Fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) too produces streamers. Those exuberant spikes of pink and purple become thin arms by September. Then comes a cobwebby miasma to float the seeds out, and finally, after the pips have left, a swirl of brilliant gold, coils around the once colourful stem.

Fireweed golden rings


On a more prosaic level there are Lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album)

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lamb’s quarters in seed

aka “poor man’s spinach.” It was so prolific in our weedy garden this summer it was like a throw-out, a nobody. Yet it’s full of vitamins and minerals when young, and as pleasant-tasting as any other new green.   At first I didn’t recognize the gem-studded plant I encountered the other day.  But it was lamb’s quarters in a new dress, positively coated in seeds.


rose hip and roseGleaming rose hips surely rival soft-petaled roses for beauty. The hips are bright balls of hairy nuggets. If you are willing to take the trouble to extract the umpteen million hard little seeds from each hip, you can make a vitamin C rich tea or even a jam. Moreover, if you bite carefully into one of those rosy globes before it withers, you will encounter a delicious fruit – though there’s only a small burst of tart-sweet softness before you hit the seeds.

Most of the above mentioned are air travelers. Though some, like rose hips, fall to the ground. Then there are those, like jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) that explode!

exploding Jewel weed.jpg
jewel weed pods

Just last week, or the week before, jewelweed trembled with dangling pods that grew fatter with each passing hour. At last, all that was needed was a feather touch, and pow!  the case snapped back like a spring and spat its seeds out into this uncertain world.

Witch-hazel (Hamamelis), likewise, fires its offspring out into the world. I’d love to witness this. All I’ve ever seen is the empty shell in the fall, still holding a faint tinging memory of the explosive energy that blew it apart.

Seeds drop or drift, catch on a passing creature, or shoot into the air – millions on millions of them. Each one is a potential universe gathering energy into a knot of unbearable pressure until the sudden bang of creation implodes it into life. Now in October, when life gives way to death, I look at the fragile parents who offer their progeny to the dying living world. Their job is done.

But like an empty house collapsing in the grass, they are beautiful in their demise.old house collapse.jpg

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8 thoughts on “Beautiful By-goners”

  1. Oh Louise! Thank you for this. I am pondering, ruminating on this season of change in my own life these days – and am grateful for the wisdom of nature that you lift up in this post – this “dying, living world”, and for the reminder that nature has so much to teach us. I love learning from you some of the plants that display that “heraldic eleventh hour beauty” in their transition.


  2. Lovely writing and i know the plants are grateful that you notice this aspect of their seasonality that so many disparage. (Course i’m one who also tends to leave bouquets till all the petals have long since fallen off!) Besides loving the wild, I keep some things in my garden just because they are so beautiful as they dry and last all winter. An oregano i have that’s tall and stays a dark red. The yellow dock that stands up in even darker red branches. The burdock that is quite spectacularly tall – almost like a shrub – with round burrs all over it. I so appreciated them all last winter when i was craving color. I recently bought a marvelous 16 inch plastic Virgin of Guadalupe to add bright color this winter. We rarely get snow on the Oregon Coast so browns and grays tend to the order of those days.


    1. I would love to see that “spectacularly tall” burdock of yours, lanedemoll. Aren’t they great looking creatures! –Although digging burdock burrs out of a dog’s coat can be a nuisance! I’m on the hunt for burdock roots as they have great medicinal properties.


  3. Love the idea of beauty at this stage of life. And such beautiful writing…”held together by stillness”, “hand holding a Milky Way”, sultan’s slipper, cobwebby miasma…


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