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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Spare the Goldenrod, Spoil the Garden

Jessica Walliser
Hobby Farms Contributor

Unfairly blamed for hay fever, goldenrod should actually be encouraged around the farm, as it plays habitat to a number of beneficial insects. Photo courtesy Rachael Brugger (HobbyFarms.com)
Courtesy Rachael Brugger

Goldenrod was once undeservedly shunned from gardens. This sunny North American native plant was (and sadly still is) considered a weed in much of the country and is often blamed for causing hay fever, though its pollen is too heavy to be carried on the wind. (Ragweed is the true culprit.) There are more than seventy-five species of this beautiful, underused plant, and many of those species have numerous varieties and cultivars. Goldenrod is hardy from USDA zones 4 to 9 and ranges in height from 1 to 4 feet, depending on the species. All goldenrods are in the genus Solidago.

Goldenrods bear golden-yellow flowers on slender stems in late summer, and it’s often difficult to differentiate one species from another. The many tiny flowers of this late-bloomer are organized into inflorescences that range from spike-like clusters to plumes, balls and even firework-like bursts, depending on the species, variety or cultivar. All goldenrods prefer full sun and average to moist garden soil, and some do have a tendency to spread aggressively via their underground rhizomes.

In other parts of the world, where goldenrod was introduced as a garden specimen, the plant has escaped and displaced native plants, causing problem. Here in North America, though, goldenrods provide pollen, nectar and much needed habitat to soldier beetles, ladybugs, parasitic wasps, damsel bugs, assassin bugs and many other beneficial insects.

Although there are many selections to pick from, here are three goldenrod species with a broad native range and an easy nature. I grow all three of these selections in my own garden and am thrilled late every summer when they come into flower.

  • Solidago canadensis, or Canada goldenrod, is native to nearly all of North America with the exception of the extreme Southeast. It has a loosely arranged, inverted cone-shaped infloresence. It reaches 2 to 4 feet in height and spreads fairly quickly. It can be distinguished from other common goldenrods by the small hairs on its foliage and stems.

  • Solidago altissima, aka tall goldenrod, late goldenrod or Canada goldenrod, is indigenous to everywhere but the Pacific Northwest and a few other states. Its flowers occur as loose, feather-like plumes, and the plant reaches 3 to 4 feet in height.

  • Solidago missouriensis, Missouri goldenrod, produces a dense plume of bright yellow flowers and is native west of the Mississippi River. It reaches 1 to 3 feet in height. Missouri goldenrod's stem can be pink, green or even dark red, and both the stems and leaves are hairless. It is one of the earliest goldenrods to bloom. 

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