This time of year, many people notice how abundant goldenrods are in our open areas. Since this coincides with many people getting hay fever allergies, they wrongfully blame the goldenrods they notice, rather than the ragweed and other real culprits that they don’t. Showy flowers such as goldenrods have larger and heavier pollen that is transferred by pollinators such as insects. Wind pollinated plants do not need showy flowers since they need not attract any pollinators, but need to produce an abundance of lightweight pollen in the hopes some of it is carried onto another flower. Those plants, especially ragweeds, are what cause the issues this time of year.
Goldenrods are an important and abundant Fall flower. Many animals depend on them. We have close to 50 species in Virginia alone, so they’re adapted to many growing conditions, but most favor open sunny locations. Due to their adaptability and showiness, many goldenrods are garden staples, both here and in other countries. In some parts of the world however, due to their adaptability, North American goldenrods have the potential to become invasive. They have some allelopathic traits, exuding chemicals that inhibit the growth of certain plants (such as maples) that also help them compete.
The Genus name “Solidago” translates to “making whole” and points to worldwide use of this plant group for many medical and other uses. In North America, famed ethnobotanist Daniel Moerman listed too many uses by native peoples to cover here. Thomas Edison was a big believer in goldenrod use. He experimented and succeeded in making rubber from certain Solidagos. He even bred his own type that grew to twelve feet tall to maximize the rubber compounds. Henry Ford even gave him a Model T with tires made from his goldenrod rubber.
Of course, it is wildlife that have the most uses for goldenrods. In addition to feeding on the many insects that use Solidagos (see below), birds such as goldfinches, juncos, pine siskins, trukey, indigo buntings, and various sparrows all feed on the seeds. Despite the chemicals in them that made them such sought after medicinal plants, mammals such as rabbits, voles, mice, beaver, muskrat, groundhogs and deer (although others consider it deer resistant) all make use of it.
As you can see, goldenrods are extremely valuable plants and deserve to be included in our gardens and landscapes, not simply because of their beauty and adaptability, but for the wonderful wildlife value they have.