Goldenrod

It is early September in Ohio, and meadows are turning a golden yellow color.  This is a big change from summer’s white blanket of Queen Anne’s Lace, the roadside Chicory blue that we’re used to.  This plant has been slowly growing, gradually turning its well-known color as it matures.  It’s been building up since the beginning of August, and will become the standard scenic plant throughout the autumn months.

This field is slowly but surely turning that classic autumn color

This is of course Goldenrod, a widespread North American wildflower family consisting of nearly 100 species, preferring to grow in such sunny locations as fields and roadsides.  It’s actually pleasant to see such a numerous plant that’s a native for a change!  However, that doesn’t stop it from being invasive in other parts of the world, such as Germany and China, where it displaces native plants.  One person’s delight is another’s invader.

A patch of mature Goldenrod

Goldenrod’s color is so distinctive that the name has become synonymous with the bright golden yellow hue of the mature wildflower.  Nebraska and Kentucky have adopted Goldenrod as their state flower.  In some areas, this plant is a sign of good luck.  It is used for ornamental decoration and is prized as a garden plant in Europe.  It can even be made into a tea.  In the Midwest, its blooms are a traditional signal that school is ready to start once again.

Goldenrod is often blamed by hay fever sufferers as being a source of their misery.  Happily, this is not true.  Hay fever is indeed caused by plant pollen, but Goldenrod’s pollen is heavy, requiring insects to spread it.  The frequent allergy culprit is actually Ragweed, which blooms at the same time and in the same locations as Goldenrod.  Ragweed’s pollen is light and easily airborne, much to the misery of those susceptible to hay fever.  Since Goldenrod is much showier than Ragweed, it often gets the blame.  Unfairly so!

On the medicinal front, Goldenrod was often prepared as an infusion to treat kidney ailments.  Native Americans would chew its leaves to relieve a sore throat or a toothache.

Looking at the plant’s blooms close-up, you can see groups of tiny golden flowers clustering together.

Insects fortunately find Goldenrod very attractive, leading to its easy propagation via its pollen hitching a ride on said insects.  Multiple species of bees, flies, beetles, wasps and some butterflies are attracted to the plant.  There is a bug known as the Goldenrod Gall Fly that lays eggs in the stem of the plant that hatch into a larva that creates a spherical gall to live within.  Quite a few moth caterpillars eat the leaves of this plant.  When in high bloom, it can be hard to get a picture of the blooms without seeing insects within.  Animals such as rabbits and deer will occasionally eat this plant.  American Goldfinches love their seeds, and since Goldenrods produce around 3,000 seeds per plant, that’s a lot of potential food.

There are many different varieties of this plant.  Perhaps the most well-known is Canada Goldenrod, a common and rather showy species, with its branching stems.  Another easily noticeable species in Flat-Topped Goldenrod, and there is Stiff Goldenrod, noted for its upturned leaves.  There are numerous others.  Here are some of them that I’ve seen blooming so far this month.  The show will only get better as we head deeper into autumn.  Enjoy!