Posted by: Reena Ramos

  • 07/19/2017

Color Me Bright, Color Me Orange

Article and photos by Fred Wooley, ACRES member, former Wing Haven caretaker and retired DNR Pokagon State Park naturalist

Every growing season, changes take place in the wildflower world. Although we may not always consciously think about these changes, we may be noting them in our subconscious. They are as subtle as the changes in daylight when spring grows into summer: they happen slowly, daily, and then suddenly — the wildflowers “pop.”

As summer sets in, the canopy thickens, shade darkens the forest floor, and the wildflower show moves to open marshes and meadows. A few beauties continue to bloom on wooded hillsides and deep ravines, for the most part, wildflowers are on display in the open. A prairie in summer sees spring’s once small green emerging leaves grow into bright flowers that attract equally bright butterflies.

The tall-grass prairie at ACRES’ Bock Nature Preserve in Kosciusko County comes alive in colorful wildflowers in the summer. [ACRES archive]

The fact that flower colors are different in summer first struck me long ago when I presented wildflower slideshows. (Do some of you remember Kodachrome slides? I loved their color — still beats digital photo color, I think.) The best slides were of wildflowers, early spring woodland ephemerals in white, light pink, creamy yellow, pale blue, lavender pastels. With longer days and bright sunshine in open fields and prairies, wildflowers change. Summer’s colors are bolder, more robust: deep blues and purples, bright sunshiny yellows, some maroons and reds, and very few—but very bright, oranges.

There’s something special about orange wildflowers: there aren’t many of them!

My standby Peterson’s Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-central America [WorldCat] is 420 pages. How many are devoted to orange wildflowers? Two pages — that’s it, one covering only orange lilies.

The rare Michigan Lily is hard to find. You might spot it in wet, shady preserves. 

You’ll encounter common daylilies along roadsides but need to find a damp, wet meadow or open woodland, preferably along a stream, to spot the much rarer Michigan lily. You might spot it mid to late summer in Bicentennial Woods. Perhaps you’ll be the first to see it on other ACRES preserves. And while you’re in those wet shady areas, watch for the yellow-orange spotted jewelweed (touch-me-not) whose tubular flowers may bring a visiting hummingbird.

Along open grassy trails or fields, you may encounter deep orange hawkweed (devil’s paintbrush), like an orange dandelion with a much taller flower stalk. Neither native nor invasive, it gives rich color to slightly disturbed areas. But nothing says brilliant orange like butterfly weeds. You can’t help but look at these head turners. They also grab the attention of passing butterflies, hence the name. Look closer and you may be treated to an equally bright orange great spangled fritillary.

Butterfly weed lives up to its name. This orange bloom not only attracts your eye, it also grabs the attention of this great spangled fritillary butterfly. Can you see it poised in the cluster of flowers?

Butterfly weed can be found in many prairie-meadow preserves such as the Tom and Jane Dustin Nature Preserve. Pay a summer visit to color your day brightly and orange, and to check for equally beautiful orange butterflies. While the ACRES preserves with their orange flower delights will be there forever, the butterflies might be there for just a moment. You be there too!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t remember the Kodachrome slide colors that Fred thinks “still beat digital photo color“? If you’re using retro filters on Instagram to alter your own photo colors, you’re in essence agreeing with Fred. And, if you know the name Kodachrome, it’s probably because of vocalist-guitarist-composer Paul Simon’s 1973 hit, “Kodachrome” now a classic.

Listen now, with thanks to the Internet Archive:

Sing along on your next trek through ACRES’ forever-protected wild places?

Explore on your own: acreslandtrust.org/preserves

Bock Nature Preserve

Or join ACRES Land Trust volunteers for an upcoming exploration that promises to deliver bright summer wildflowers:
Share the Trails
Saturday, August 5, 10 am

KOSCIUSKO COUNTY | Bock Nature Preserve
11630 S. SR 14, Akron, IN 46910

Enjoy tall-grass prairie plants and a beech/maple forest with tulip, sycamore, black cherry and blue ash. Share the Trails hikes are casual walks through the places ACRES members help protect. You’re invited to share your experience, knowledge and questions with your fellow hikers.

Share the Trails hikes are free and open to the public. Guests are encouraged to consider joining ACRES to help protect land. Happy trails!


Cynthia Powers - July 28, 2017 - 11:28 am

I think you mean Akron, IN instead of Akron, OH!

Lettie Haver - July 28, 2017 - 2:51 pm

Oh! Thanks for catching this, Cynthia! I've made the correction. Happy trails!