Autumn is when the trees take over, when we gaze up in awe as leaves blush from green to red and gold.

But look closer to the ground and a final floral flourish is also taking place, as some of our most colourful and adaptable plants put on a secret seasonal spectacular.

The spectacle of the UK’s woods, parks and forests mimicking a colossal and very slowly changing set of traffic lights as their leaves shift from green to red and gold makes autumn our most colourful and charismatic season.

But draw your gaze downwards from the tree tops and another secret, seasonal spectacular is unveiled.

For as much as autumn belongs to the russet and ochre tinges of the changing leaves the season also flares with the pinks, purples and whites of the late bloomers. This belated blossoming represents that last stand of flowering plants, enjoying one final hurrah before the freezing fingers of winter strangle the life and colour from landscape.

There is a surprisingly large number of species that bloom late and these plants act like mini oases for the year’s last butterflies and pollinating insects flocking to the flowers for food.

Western Gorse is the most obvious late bloomer, enlivening the autumn landscape with a blaze of yellow. The plant flowers well into December. Tough and compact, gorse is a key harsh weather refuge for birds such as Linnet, Yellowhammer and Stonechat. It is also unexpectedly associated with romance; an old saying states, ‘When gorse is in bloom, kissing’s in season’.

The fantastically named Devil’s-bit Scabious brings beautiful purple tinges to the damp meadows, heaths and grasslands of autumn. This native wildflower gets its name from the stunted look of its roots. The appearance was believed to have been caused by the devil biting at them in a furious rage caused by the plant’s ability to cure scabies.

More widely known of the late bloomers is Honeysuckle; moths can detect the plant’s sweet-smelling night-flowering scent from a quarter of a mile away. But Honeysuckle is beaten hands down when it comes to sweet odours by the nasal extravaganza that is Meadowsweet. With hints of marzipan and dill, the plant was originally used to flavour meat and its sweet-smelling foliage was strewn onto floors to freshen the air. The fluffy white flower heads will often reappear after the harvest hay cut, bringing an elegant splash of late colour to our meadows.

The quintessential late bloomer is the Michaelmas-daisy. Michaelmas, or the Feast of St Michael, falls at the end of September, so the plants are always associated with autumn. Our native variety is the Sea Aster. Aster, which is Greek for ‘star’ is an apt name for these beauties that arrive late with a late splash of purple and yellow.

But, just what are these late bloomers up to? Why do they choose to flower at this time of year when conditions seem so much harder than in the spring or summer? Dr Trevor Dines from the charity Plantlife explains: “Two things are happening here. Some late bloomers, like Sea Aster, Western Gorse and Devil’s-bit Scabious, are programmed to bloom now. They are what are known as “short day plants” and need shorter days and longer nights to trigger flowering. Secondly, some plants, like Red Campion and Meadowsweet, are more opportunistic. They don’t care what time they flower but tend to have a second flush of flowers in the autumn. If conditions are warm they’ll just keep blooming till the frosts.

“In both cases, it’s all about opportunities for pollination.”