Late boneset: A fragrant late-summer pollinator favorite

by | Aug 1, 2017 | Outdoors

The flower in all of these photos is late boneset. It goes by a few other names — lateflowering thoroughwort, white boneset, and late-flowering boneset. It’s scientific name is Eupatorium serotinum and it’s a member of the aster family.
Late boneset is a native plant, common in pastures, forest openings and along roadsides throughout the east and westward as far as Kansas. If you’ve ever done any bush hogging, you’ve mown tons of it. Most people consider it just another weed.
But, like so many things we know only from a distance, there is much more to late boneset. Native Americans and early settlers used it for medicinal purposes, hence the name. Late boneset also has the intrinsic value of simply being native to the land. It’s part of a system that formed millennia before humans arrived in North America.
Late boneset is a pollinator bar. The rotating number of species that find this plant is astounding. These photos include buckeyes, hairstreaks, skippers, three types of wasps, an ailanthus webworm moth, beetles, honeybees and a chartreuse crab spider waiting in ambush. This particular plant in the photographs is a component in one of my many native wildflower beds. It’s the stopgap, along with frostweed, as cone flowers and butterfly weed wane along with the summer sun and golden rod is just thinking about a bloom. The late boneset in my yard will have at least a dozen different species on it at any given time. That nectar must taste really good, and nectar sweetened pollinators are probably like candy to the crab spider.
To be completely honest, I’ve often wondered if the bees are really onto something and have considered chewing on a flower myself to see if it tastes as sweet and intoxicating as its perfume. Flowers of late boneset have one of the most pleasing and potent scents of any native wildflower in my region. I can smell it within 50 yards downwind so given the heightened olfactory powers of insects, it’s detectable to any pollinator flying through the neighborhood.
With the office door open, late boneset’s lacy fragrance wafts through the room as I work. It’s a signature scent of late summer/early autumn and a welcome distraction. It pulls at me to me get outside and enjoy these glorious days as the cloak of autumn draws ever tighter.
And if you see pollen in my beard later this afternoon, you’ll know that I tried a nibble and learned that the bees and butterflies and wasps were right.
{Note: You should never, ever ingest any plant unless you are absolutely 100 percent sure it’s safe.} 

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