On our journey back to Missouri today, bright fields of golden flowers adorned the landscape, providing the only colorful relief from the expanding greenery of May. Covering fields from the Appalachian Plateau of Northeast Ohio to the floodplains of the Mississippi Valley, the flowers surely caught the eye of every traveler.
This wildflower is butterweed, a member of the aster family that propagates from windblown seed. The seeds germinate in the winter and form small rosettes in open fields; in late April or early May, a central stalk develops, topped by clusters of bright yellow flowers. The latter are pollinated by a variety of insects (bees, flies, butterflies and moths) and fluffy seed heads appear by late spring.
Butterweed grows in full sun or partial shade and is especially fond of moist soil, explaining its widespread abundance during this wet spring. It is native to North America and can be found from the Atlantic Coast to the Great Plains; unfortunately, these attractive wildflowers are toxic to many mammals and can be fatal to livestock if consumed in large amounts.