A Nantucket Fall Foray
Nature's best of September
It’s that magical time on Nantucket when fall and summer meet for a brief moment. There are the benefits of summer: the water is warm, the restaurants are still open, and there is great live music to be heard; and the charm of the off-season has begun: there is ample parking, available boat reservations, and cool nights for sleeping. In the natural world, fall on Nantucket is just as magical.
Here are 6 natural wonders this fall on Nantucket:
- Beach plums – while usually a summer resident, the beach plums (Prunus maritima) are ripe right now. You can still pick some well into September. Make a batch of beach plum jelly and have a taste of summer all year long.
- Golden rods – these yellow harbingers of fall are in full force now. I love the sea of yellow you can find at the Linda Loring Nature Foundation, Head of the Plains, or Sanford Farm, among other natural areas. Nantucket has 14-18 species of goldenrod (depending on the list) including seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), sweet goldenrod (Solidago odorata) and grey goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis). A honey bee’s delight!
- Fall migration – it’s not just for the tourists. Early fall is a great time on the island as we are treated to a variety of seabirds, shorebirds, and land birds as they make thier way south. The fall migration features many more birds on Nantucket than during the spring. Bird populations are now at their annual high, a result of all the young birds that fledged this year, so there are just more birds to see! Being 30 miles out to sea has its advantages. It’s a great resting spot for all those birds headed to warmer climates. It’s also a great time to see swarms of migrating butterflies. Check out one of LLNF’s Wednesday morning bird walks to go see for yourself!
- Grapes - the wild fox grapes (Vitis labrusca) are beginning to ripen in September. For those of us that can get past the four big seeds and sometimes tough skin, the juicy fruit is sweet and delicious. While usually ripe a little later in fall, there are some sweet spots right now where the grapes have already taken on the dark purple hue. You may have to fight off birds and other animals, but it’ll be worth it when you open a jar of native grape jelly in the middle of February.
- New England blazing star (Liatris novae-angliae) – this has got to be one of the most beautiful wildflowers on the island. This globally rare, fire-loving perennial is locally abundant and highly visible in the fall. The showy purple spikes of flower heads are in view now through mid-October, but get out there soon. The deer love to eat blazing star just as much as we like to see them. The dirt roads around Miacomet Golf Course and pond are ideal spots.
- Fall foliage – we are in New England after all. While Nantucket may not be known for its fall colors á la Vermont, September on Nantucket brings the notorious reds and yellows that will be in full force come October. Just check out the blueberry and huckleberry bushes on the moors and natural areas along the south coast. The tupelo trees (Nyssa sylvatica) at Squam Swamp will also be changing into their autumnal reds. Let’s not forget the poison ivy. While this is a plant I love to hate, it does take on some beautiful colors come fall. The fiery reds of their fall foliage reminds me of the burning my skin feels when I touch a leaf.
How to enjoy all of this September beauty? Go on a nature walk! The Linda Loring Nature Foundation is offering a guided plant and nature walk to highlight the fall flora and fauna that make the Eel Point Rd. property home. We’ll view fall wildflowers, fruiting shrubs, and other native plants of Nantucket’s unique grasslands and heathlands. This walk is led by LLNF Director of Research and Education, Dr. Sarah Bois (yours truly). Friday, September 12, 9am. Meets at 110 Eel Point Rd. Free for LLNF members, $10 general public.
Even if you don’t go for a guided walk, get out and enjoy September while it lasts. Because only in September can you have the best of both worlds.