Americans are finally discovering what European gardeners have known for some time: Goldenrod makes a great garden plant. This native plant is one of the last to bloom in the fall, and goldenrod is a very important food source for butterflies and bees in late fall when little else is blooming. Goldenrod's arching golden sprays light up fall flowerbeds and look stunning in floral arrangements.
Goldenrod is often blamed for seasonal allergies but its showy flowers need to be pollinated by insects and the heavy pollen it produces does not float in the wind. The culprit that causes fall hay fever is ragweed, whose inconspicuous flowers produce pollen that floats on the wind.
Solidago, or goldenrod, has a number of species in North America. They are perennial plants hardy from Zone 4 to Zone 9. Most overwinter as a basal rosette of foliage from which tall spikes of leaves arise, eventually forming flower heads on the ends. Goldenrods range from six inches tall to about 4 feet. The leaves of most goldenrods are green to gray-green, narrow and long. The tiny flowers are shades of yellow, from deep gold to pale yellow, and occur in clusters at the end of stems. They contain nectar and pollen that help butterflies and bees survive the winter. Many other beneficial insects are often found on goldenrod in the fall, such as the Preying Mantis, who is looking for a last meal before winter. A small white or yellow spider, called the Goldenrod spider, is a frequent resident.
The stems of goldenrod often have a swelling or gall on them. There are actually three types of galls that form on goldenrod, but the most familiar is the round swelling, which forms on Solidago altissema, or Tall Goldenrod stems. Tall Goldenrod is common in the Midwest and Eastern United States. These galls contain the larvae of the Goldenrod Gall Fly, which overwinters snug inside the tough-walled sphere. These larvae are an important food source for Downy Woodpeckers and Chickadees in the winter. They also make excellent fishing bait.
Goldenrod produces seed, but most gardeners will want to start with plants. Specialty nurseries carry named, improved varieties of goldenrod species, and wildflower nurseries have the more common species. If you have goldenrod on your own property, or permission to dig it on someone else's property, you can transplant plants into your own garden. Choose the plants when they are in full bloom, since individual plants vary in how pretty they are. If you keep them well-watered after the transplant, they generally do quite well.
Goldenrod prefers full sun. Most species are drought-resistant once established. They are generally not fussy about soil type but don't like wet areas. Be aware that goldenrod reseeds freely and you will need to be alert to keep it from spreading throughout the garden. Some species also spread through rhizomes.
Cultivated varieties of goldenrod include Crown of Rays, tall and deep gold; Goldrush, a compact, bright-golden variety; Fireworks, very tall with arching golden sprays; Laurin, only a foot tall and perfect for containers, and Golden Fleece, a groundcover-style goldenrod. Native species that are good for gardens include Solidago decumbens, which is native to the Rockies and good for alpine and rock gardens. At only six inches tall, it has red stems and golden flowers. Solidago stricta, a native to the western states, has straight, upright wands of golden flowers. There are more than 80 species of goldenrod in the Untied States, many relatively unknown to gardeners, which may eventually become garden classics.
Every butterfly garden should have goldenrod. Bees and butterflies need goldenrod for late-summer and fall feeding. Goldenrod is good in naturalized and wildflower gardens, of course, but also looks good in mixed borders. It is stunning combined with blue asters, Caryopteris, Russian Sage or purple and blue Buddleia. Goldenrod looks good in fall floral arrangements and is long-lasting in a vase. It also dries well.
One almost-unknown fact about goldenrod is that it is a native source of rubber. Thomas Edison experimented with goldenrod rubber, and the tires of a Ford Model T given to him from Henry Ford were made of goldenrod rubber. Edison gave all his promising experimental information to the US government, but they failed to ever develop the product, probably because a way to produce rubber from petroleum was developed.
Now I am sure you are asking, "Why would I want to know about Joe Pye Weeds" Well, it is a wild flower that is also known as a 'Trumpet weed' or 'Queen of the Meadow'. It is North American native perennial herb from southern Canada to Florida and from there west to Texas.