Goldenrod is so in.
Our relationship with this bright fall icon has grown and we couldn’t be more tickled. You may remember our blog post titled “A Love Letter from the Birds” where we share how the birds are communicating with us through their BFF, goldenrod. We feel like the birds want us to talk about autumn’s floral glory, so we decided to make it our focus for the fall season. Hey, we’re just the messengers!
Part of the Asteraceae family, goldenrod is bright and showy, throwing around “notice me” vibes like a flirtatious bird of paradise. They can grow up to seven feet tall and produce clusters of pointed yellow flower heads. When goldenrod is in bloom, you can crush a leaf up and give it a sniff. Leave a comment below and tell us how your native goldenrod smells!
Goldenrod loves to be alive, so it takes every opportunity to grow. Wide swaths of this fluorescent inflorescence (wow! Seems like we have a play on words. An “inflorescent” is a cluster of flowers on a branch) can be found in most types of habitats; along roads, on mountainsides, in swamps, in woods, or in fields. There are around 150 different species in the goldenrod (Solidago) flower family and most are native to North America. The majority of the species are golden yellow while a few sport blossoms of white. These bursts of sunshine are hardy and their flowers last from mid-summer to mid-fall.
Because plants like goldenrod are so commonplace, we tend to forget how beautiful they are and that there are so many ways that we can weave them into our lifestyles. Let’s not take them for granted! Can we switch our mindsets to what true beauty is? Isn’t it in the garden, watching the wildlife gather their strength for the fall journey? Beauty is found in simply watching the cycle of life play out before our eyes. We get to see how certain parts of the food web are interconnected, such as aphids attracting ladybugs. These both happen to be an important food source for the birds. The birds also love to feed on the nutrient-rich seedheads of goldenrod and other falltime plant structures. Our bird friends are particularly good at flying to the areas of our neighborhood that need a spark of sunshine, depositing seeds and spreading their joy.
Over the years, we have begun to tune out the voices of our ancestors and the valuable lessons they learned from nature. We are a smaller piece of the puzzle than we like to think. Yet, in the same breath, we can affect great change. It’s important to study what was learned before and make sure we are carrying the knowledge of how to make this world a healthier, kinder place into the future. If we choose not to practice using these resources and stop talking about their benefits, we begin to lose our first loves. Goldenrod’s piney-tasting leaves and flowers offer many medicinal uses. They can be helpful for our respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems. Goldenrod seems to wear many hats! And speaking of hats, if you would like a yellow one, you can use goldenrod flowers to dye it the most vibrant yellow ever. If you aren’t looking for fashion advice, you can stick to making tea, tinctures, and topical infusions from goldenrod.
Many believe that goldenrod is responsible for seasonal allergies, but we are pointing the finger of blame at ragweed (Ambrosia spp.). This smaller, fairly non-descript plant with greenish-yellow flowers (shown below) blooms around the same time that goldenrod does. Since goldenrod is so showy, it tends to get blamed for our sniffles. Wildly enough, one ragweed plant can produce up to a billion pollen grains in one season. The wind blows it around and – achoo! It makes us sneeze. On the other hand, our fair goldenrod is pollinated by insects, meaning that it doesn’t release its pollen into the air and into our noses.
Attention, attention! Goldenrod is one of the most important plants for North American pollinator biodiversity. Butterflies (including Monarchs), bees, birds, flies, wasps, moths, spiders, beetles, and more flock to this golden workhorse to snack on its pollen and nectar. In the fall, goldenrod blossoms are still rockin’, meaning that they can feed their dependents until the weather turns cold. They can head into hibernation or migration with fat bellies and big smiles.
We can help our pollinator friends find food and habitat by planting late-season bloomers, including goldenrod, asters, coneflowers, and sedums. It is important to choose a goldenrod species for your garden that is native to your zone so that you attract and support native pollinators and butterflies. Call Jen for help deciding which species is right for your space.
In the cold months, most goldenrod stems can stand strong, even with the weight of frost and snow. Don’t cut them back when tidying your garden in the fall; otherwise, it’s like you’re cutting down entire apartment complexes. Many tiny creatures benefit from this winter resource, including spideys, beetles, and songbirds. When the stems finally succumb to the weight of death, they fall into the soil and break down into nourishment for the decomposers below the surface.
I encourage you to look again at this sunny beauty and see all she has to offer you, the pollinators, and other critters. Can we as a collective learn to love her again? Find a small place in your garden to invite her and her friends to thrive. See into the magical world they want to introduce us to!
Until next thyme,
My Thyme Gardens