The Good Side of Goldenrod

Goldenrod Plant Facts and Pictures

November 5, 2020
Butterfly on Goldenrod

If you sneeze up a storm from autumn allergies, don’t blame the goldenrod! It’s a common misperception that goldenrod is the cause of hay fever when it’s actually wind-pollinated plants, notably ragweeds, that are the source. Learn more about the good side of goldenrod.

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The Goldenrod Allergy Myth

The major culprit, ragweed, produces pollen in great abundance and just happens to share the same flowering period as goldenrod, so labeled guilty by association.

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Ragweed’s drab flowers often go unnoticed; it has no need to be attractive to insects because the wind does the work of spreading its pollen. Seen under a microscope, these tiny granules are studded with hooks. No wonder they cause us so much discomfort!

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Goldenrod has pollen that is too large, heavy and sticky to become airborne—which is why 1. it needs to put on a show to attract pollinating insects and 2) it’s not floating in the air towards your nose and eyes. Conversely, ragweed’s pollen tends to be small and buoyant so it can be carried airborne by the gentlest breeze,

But since it’s often goldenrod’s flowers that we see through our watery eyes, in between sneezes, they get the blame. Many allergy-prone gardeners go to great lengths to avoid goldenrod unnecessarily. What a shame. Goldenrod is a native plant beloved by pollinators and very beneficial to the garden and wildlife.

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Growing Goldenrod, a Native Wildflower

Goldenrod (Solidago ) is a member of the Composite family like daisies and sunflowers. If you look at the flower up close you can see that they resemble tiny yellow daisies.

This beautiful native wildflower is an underappreciated asset to the late summer garden. It blooms from July through frost, carrying the garden from summer to fall.

It is a treasure to be enjoyed, like finding buried gold. In fact, the stiff stems of goldenrod were once used as divining rods to locate not only water but, according to legend, deposits of silver and gold.

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They are tough, drought tolerant plants that thrive in a wide range of soil, moisture, and pH conditions. Most appreciate full sun to light shade but woodland natives like blue-stemmed goldenrod (S. caesia) and zigzag goldenrod (S. flexicaulis) will bloom in fairly deep shade.

Goldenrods grow from clumping or spreading rhizomes and can be propagated by division, seeds, or cuttings. They are excellent additions to any garden border, wildflower meadow, or butterfly garden. There is a goldenrod for almost any situation and that is nothing to sneeze at!

I’ve been told that over 25 species of goldenrod live in my area and I have several different kinds in my yard. If you look at them carefully you can see the subtle differences. Some have lance-shaped leaves while others are more elliptical. Some of the leaves are hairy while others are smooth. The flowers can be on only one side of the stem or completely surrounding it.

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Most often the flowers are in arching sprays but some are arranged in flat-topped clusters or like upright candles.

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Goldenrod’s Benefits

Goldenrod is an important source of nectar for butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects. (See plants that attract butterflies.) It has long been valued as a garden plant in Europe where they hybridize many of our wildflowers to suit their growing conditions, popularize them, and then sell them back to us. Many plant catalogs offer hybrid goldenrods for sale.

For good fall color that reflects the late summer sun, add some goldenrod to your garden. The brilliant yellows combine well with other late summer bloomers such as white boltonia, purple liatris, pink coneflowers, blue asters, or rosy joe-pye weed. They also blend well with their composite cousins including coreopsis, gaillardia, and helenium.

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In the language of flowers goldenrod symbolizes treasure and good fortune and it is thought that planting goldenrod beside the door to your house will bring unexpected good fortune your way. It’s worth a try—you just might strike it rich!

Learn about plants that cause allergies.

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser’s backyard gardening tips and tricks. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer’s Market.