A September inventory.

As September settles into place, some of our favorite natural dyeing plants are popping up, reminding us that the time for traditional harvest is near.

This tender little shade-lover is only just coming into its bloom. It looks like a possible verbena, but we’ll have to do some investating to learn more. Because it could be something else entirely- the best thing to be.


The beautyberry, or Callicarpa americana, keeps its bright purple berries for a long time. This is not a spring purple- its the warm, deep purple of autumn.

Some time after the berries turn purple, the leaves will turn a pale chartreuse before dropping to the ground. Right now, we’ve found the beautyberry all through our yard and the neighborhood in half-sunny spots.

Beautyberry PDF Handout

The golden rod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.
(from “September” by Helen Hunt Jackson)


When the goldenrod’s bright golden blooms flood the plains, we’ll head out to our favorite goldenrod-harvesting place to get a big batch for yellow dye and tea. As you can tell from the still supple curve of this new bloom, the goldenrod has a few days or even weeks before harvest time.

Look closely at the goldenrod- doesn’t it remind you of an elm tree’s branches? At sunset, the goldenrod lining the streets and fields resembles torches, perhaps to guide butterlies and bees back to their September elysium.


The purple thistle lords over the land in a shady portion of our yard like a medieval king- convinced that sword-waving and tooth-gnashing is the most persuasive means of self-preservation. Watching the bees visit the thistle for dinner adds an element of mystery to our thistle friend. Why does he share such an attractive and seductive flower with the bees while scaring others with his swords?

The thistle and the bee have loved each other for as long as we know- the bees take the thistle’s flower dust and spread it across the land. The swords must be for the cattle, which once grazed the fields where thistle likes to spread his kingdoms with the help of the bees.

Once the bees have gone and the thistle’s flower is dried and wilted, the wind carries tiny little balloon baskets made of the finest silk to a yard across the street. The seeds in the tiny little seeds in their tiny little balloon baskets will sleep until spring, when they will suddenly grow flowers and swords of their own.

There is always something new and proximate to discover in the woods and environs. Always a secret eco-web in which to get tangled. September creeps into Tuscaloosa with purple and golden chariots. We watch in wonder as everything changes again.

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