Getting a Bad Rap

Almost everyone is familiar with goldenrod—the late summer wildflower considered by some to be a noxious weed. The vivid yellow bloom gets a bad rap from allergy sufferers as well, who blame the plant for sneezes, sniffles, and watery eyes—when it’s actually the ragweed plant that’s really to blame. In fact, goldenrod even has some medicinal uses.

There are more than 100 species of goldenrod in North America but the most common in the Finger Lakes Region is the S. Canadensis or “Canada” goldenrod strain. This vibrant member of the aster family is an herbaceous perennial that grows in mostly open places like meadows, pastures, and along rural roadsides. It is often the first wild plant to take over a fallow farm field and because it spreads so quickly and densely, it is sometimes considered to be an invasive plant as well, even though it is truly a native species.

Goldenrod has often been inaccurately accused of causing hay fever when the pollen that really causes this allergic reaction comes from the ragweed plant, which blooms at the same time. While ragweed pollen is easily spread by the wind, goldenrod pollen is too heavy and sticky to be blown very far. Instead, goldenrod plants are mostly pollinated by insects like butterflies and honeybees. The honey produced from goldenrod blooms is mildly pungent and somewhat spicy. Goldenrod propagation can occur from windblown seeds or by the spread of underground rhizomes.

Goldenrod flowers bloom in tufts by early September and the plant itself can grow to more than four feet tall in the Finger Lakes Region. Many gardeners intentionally plant domesticated strains of goldenrod in their wildflower gardens because they have such pretty flowers. The plant performs best in full to partial sun and will tolerate a variety of soils, even heavy clay. Wild strains, however, can be more aggressive and take over the space in which they are planted. Since all goldenrods have stiff stems, they can be easily used in floral arrangements.

Is the goldenrod plant really a wildflower or a weed? In this case, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is only attractive when it’s in bloom; otherwise its stalk and leaves resemble more of a weed. In these parts, it blooms from late summer until the first frost. One of the species that is known to be attracted to goldenrod is the Monarch butterfly.


Story and Photo by John Adamski