Goldenrod: Not to be Confused with Ragweed

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Goldenrod produces the rich golden yellow plumes that sprinkle the Illinois landscape this time of year.

Throughout the Illinois prairies and woodlands, we have Canada goldenrod (like the goose, it’s not “Canadian”), early goldenrod, Missouri goldenrod, stiff goldenrod, zigzag, elm-leaved, blue-stemmed, dune, and showy goldenrods. I am growing showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) which I purchased at Wild Ones’ native plant sale. I placed hydrangea and Caryopteris around it to give it support, but it grew faster, so there are a few blooms laying on the ground. The bees do not mind. And the flowering stems that have remained standing are glowing.

Some gardeners pinch the tips of the shoots in May or cut back the stems by half in June to create a more compact plant in the fall that will have no issues holding up the large flowers. The blooms will last for at least a month, providing winter interest. However, they reseed and I don’t have a large garden so the flower heads will be removed before seeding. Dividing the plant every four years keep its rhizomes under control.

Every morning, this plant that has enlivened my front yard has what looks like bumble bees taking power naps in the flowers, during which their antennae stop moving and their wings rest on their bodies. Anyone who has checked out a squash plant in bloom has seen a male squash bee mid slumber.

In addition to sleeping bumble bees, my goldenrod has attracted numerous other pollinators. My husband recently asked me why there were wasps on the flowers. Because they are hard workers, and the goldenrod flowers provide them copious amounts of nectar and pollen, I replied. They are not as hairy as a bee, but pollinators in their own right.

We also see beetles, flies, monarchs, buckeyes, hairstreaks, silver spotted skippers, leaf cutter bees, hover flies (AKA sweat bees, though they’re not bees at all), small carpenter bees, mining bees, paper wasps, yellow jackets, potter wasps, and hornets. Suffice it to say, goldenrod is a rock star in the pollinator garden.

Many people have the misidentified goldenrod as the trigger for their allergies. Goldenrod’s heavy, sticky pollen is only carried by insects. Ragweed’s fine yellow pollen, however, blows in the wind, and is the likely cause of your seasonal misery.

If you are the type to love fall blossoms with bees buzzing, then goldenrod is the plant for you. Other great fall bloomers that attract pollinators are blue beard (Caryopteris x clandonensis), Common Bonset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Aster (Aster spp.), and blazing star (Liatris).