One of my personal education missions each fall is to help people learn that goldenrods are a) not the source of fall allergies and b) are essential fuel for late season pollinators like bees and butterflies (including migrating Monarch butterflies).
Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) are perennial plants in the Asteraceae family that bloom in the fall. Numerous tiny yellow flowers are arranged on equally tiny flowerheads, offering a rich buffet of pollen and nectar to pollinators. The bright colors of their ray flowers are specifically designed to attract pollinators, proof that these plants rely on insects to move their pollen, not the wind. (Note: Plants that distribute their pollen via wind don’t have bright petals because they don’t need to attract insects; ragweed (Ambrosia sp.) flowers are barely noticeable for this reason.)
Even people who know that goldenrod is not a source of pollen-induced allergy symptoms are still hesitant to add it to the garden. The rambunctious tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) on the side of the road and in fields looks aggressive, yet most of the other species are well-behaved and perfectly wonderful in residential and designed landscapes. Here are a few of the species that I like to recommend and which can be found in fall native plant sales:
|Solidago arguta||Atlantic goldenrod||Early bloomer, tall|
|Solidago caesia||Blue-stem goldenrod||Late bloomer, shade tolerant|
|Solidago erecta||Showy goldenrod||Drought tolerant, nice foliage|
|Solidago nemoralis||Gray goldenrod||Drought tolerant, nice form|
|Solidago odora||Anise-scented goldenrod||Early bloomer, tall|
|Solidago petiolaris||Downy goldenrod||Late bloomer, tall, larger flowers|
|Solidago rugosa||Wrinkle-leaf goldenrod||Often sold as ‘Fireworks’|
|Solidago sempervirens||Seaside goldenrod||Coastal species|
|Solidago speciosa||Showy goldenrod||Tall with numerous flowers|
|Solidago sphacelata||Autumn goldenrod||Groundcover foliage, often sold as ‘Golden Fleece’|
In addition, look for plants that were separated out from Solidago several years ago but which still have great flowers for pollinators: goldentop (Euthamia spp.) and stiff goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum).
So check out these plants the next time you’re shopping for pollinator-friendly plants and things for your fall garden. I guarantee you’ll be glad you did when you see how the pollinators flock to them. I dream of a day when people who support Monarch butterflies eagerly seek out goldenrod for their gardens the same way they seek out milkweed (Asclepias spp.).