Other Cycles: Plants, Pollinators, and Pesticides

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Give a Nod to Goldenrod:

This article is inspired in part by a recent trip to a local drugstore, and the observation that they are STILL selling an antihistamine with an image of goldenrod on the front of the box. It was a reminder of how pervasive the idea is that goldenrod (Solidago spp.) is the cause of late summer and fall allergies. However, this is a misconception— the true hay fever culprit is ragweed (Ambrosia spp.), another native plant that flowers at the same time as goldenrod and often grows alongside it in roadsides and fields.

Ragweed often goes unnoticed in the landscape because its drab green flowers are not very eye-catching compared to goldenrod. But these flowers offer a clue as to why ragweed triggers allergies. It is wind-pollinated, so it does not need showy flowers to attract insect pollinators. When ragweed blooms, its antigen-heavy pollen is released into the air, where it travels to reach other ragweed plants and can easily be inhaled by humans.

In contrast, the spectacular yellow flowers of goldenrod evolved to attract insect pollinators, who transport its pollen from plant to plant. Since goldenrod pollen is not airborne, it would only affect an allergy sufferer if that person stuck her nose into the flower and took a big sniff.

We want to correct this misunderstanding because the goldenrods comprise a diverse genus with tremendous horticultural potential. There are more than 20 species of Solidago native to New England, and they are adapted to grow in a wide range of soil and sun conditions, from sand dunes to moist, open woodlands. It is also one of the very best native perennials for biodiversity. According to Doug Tallamy's research, the genus Solidago supports over 100 species of moths and butterflies, and the Xerces Society rates it as having high pollinator value, attracting many native bees, wasps, beetles, ants, and flies. So we encourage you to give a nod to goldenrod— add it to your pollinator gardens, and let people know that it is a friend, not a foe.


Russell's Garden Center | Wayland
Were you inspired to add goldenrod to your garden by our article above? Russell's has a wide array of later summer and fall blooming perennials in stock, including goldenrod (Solidago spp.), and other favorites of ours like New York ironweed (Vernonia novaboracensis), and Culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum). You can download the full list here (part 1) and here (part 2). The species that are checked off are in stock. Call 508-358-2283 or visit their website for more information.



Credit: Meredith Gallogly/ Grow Native Massachusetts