Nectar for butterflies in fall

Goldenrods: Unfairly maligned

Ragweed  ©Janet AllenRagweed in foreground, goldenrod in background

One thing that everyone "knows" is that goldenrods cause allergies—just like some centuries ago people "knew" that the sun revolved around the earth and that the earth was flat.

Unfortunately for goldenrods, they often grow in the company of ragweed, which does indeed cause allergies and sneezing. Ragweed, however, isn't nearly as noticeable as goldenrod: ragweed has nondescript greenish flowers while goldenrod has spectacular golden flowers.

When people sneeze, they look about and what do they see? Goldenrods!

Even more surprising is that some people call goldenrod ragweed. Goldenrod is NOT ragweed! Ragweed is a different plant altogether.

Wind- vs. insect-pollination

Bee covered in pollen(Enlarge)  ©Janet Allen
Bee covered in pollen

Consider that goldenrod is insect-pollinated and like other insect-pollinated plants, its pollen is heavy and not as plentiful as the pollen for wind-pollinated plants. Bee-pollinated plants like goldenrods have willing pollinators so the plant doesn't need to produce so much pollen.

Another important point is that goldenrods are insect-pollinated, which means that the pollen is less prolific since the plant has a reliable pollinator and also that it's heavier and stickier and thus less likely to be traveling through the air on a windy day.

Wind-pollinated plants like ragweed, on the other hand, rely on chance to get pollinated, so the plants create LOTS of VERY LIGHT pollen—pollen that is plentiful and blowing in the wind, eventually finding your nose. (And unfortunately, the higher CO2; and higher temperatures coming with climate change intensify its allergenic effects.)

Goldenrods in the garden

goldenrod en masse  ©Janet Allen
Goldenrod en masse providing spectacular color in the fall

The myths about goldenrod are doubly unfortunate. First, it's a disaster for monarchs that people don't plant goldenrods in their flower gardens. They often may even eradicate any goldenrods they find. Goldenrods have plentiful nectar, and it helps monarchs pack on those fat reserves that help them make the journey to Mexico and survive through the winter.

Second, this is unfortunate for gardeners since they're missing out on a beautiful group of easy-care plants.

Canada goldenrod ©Janet AllenCanada goldenrod

Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is what you're most likely to see in vast fields in the fall. These huge fields, often combined with native asters, are crucial for monarchs on their journey south. In a home garden, Canada goldenrod, sometimes called common goldenrod, can be problematic since they spread by underground runners. I don't (at least intentionally) grow these in my garden.

Fortunately, there are many other kinds of goldenrods.

Showy goldenrod  ©Janet AllenShowy goldenrod

Showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) is a particularly nice goldenrod. It's not short, but it's somewhat shorter than some other kinds of goldenrod.

Blue-stemmed goldenrod ©Janet AllenBlue-stemmed or wreath goldenrod

Blue-stemmed or wreath goldenrod (Solidago caesia) is a handy plant to have to brighten up a shady area. Unlike most goldenrods, blue-stemmed goldenrod isn't very tall, spreading out horizontally instead.

Zigzag goldenrod ©Janet AllenZigzag goldenrod

Zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) has a zigzaggy stem and beautiful foliage. Another one that's suitable for woodlands.

Rough-stemmed goldenrod ©Janet AllenRough-stemmed goldenrod

Rough-stemmed goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) is probably seen most often as the cultivar 'Fireworks.' I have both the species and Fireworks. Fireworks is perhaps a tad more refined looking, but there's not that much difference.

The cultivar's popularity is probably due more to marketing and the fact that growers can charge more for a cultivar —and the fact that it's harder to find S. rugosa since nurseries would prefer to offer the more profitable (to them) cultivar.

Short's goldenrod  ©Janet AllenShort's goldenrod

This is our newest goldenrod, the endangered species Short's goldenrod (Solidago shortii 'Solar Cascade'). (Of course, this is a purchased cultivar, not a plant taken from the wild.)

Besides providing food for butterflies and other pollinators and besides its golden flowers, its foliage is especially beautiful.

Stiff goldenrod ©Janet AllenStiff goldenrod

I like all of the goldenrods, but stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida) is one of my favorites. It not only has beautiful flat-topped flowers in the fall, but its foliage is beautiful all season long.

It does get quite tall, so I cut some of the plants back in June.