Glorious Goldenrod

I love this time of year when the roadsides and gardens become full of gold. Goldenrod is everywhere! It brightens the landscape and lifts my mood. Goldenrod comes in all different shapes, sizes, and even colors (Solidago ptarmicoides, for example, has white, daisy-like flowers). A search for goldenrod on the extremely useful and informative website returned 61 taxa in the Carolinas and Georgia, a solidago for almost every garden situation. Zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) is an easy-care woodland goldenrod. Unsurprisingly, southern bog goldenrod (Solidago austrina) thrives in sunny, boggy areas. As its scientific name indicates, Solidago odora has fragrant, anise-scented leaves when crushed. Finally, South Carolina’s state wildflower, Solidago altissima (tall goldenrod), is a plant of drier, disturbed soil.

Walk down the Natural Heritage Garden Trail in the South Carolina Botanical Garden to see many goldenrods flowering this fall.

Fireworks Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa).

Fireworks Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa).
Allison Kelly, ©2023, Clemson Extension

This one, a rough-stemmed or wrinkled-leaf goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), is an excellent choice for the home landscape. It is a clumping, low-maintenance perennial, happy in moist, well-drained soils in full sun to partial shade. It stands between two and a half to three feet high, with a similar spread. This goldenrod cultivar earns its name “fireworks” from the explosion of golden flower panicles it produces during late September and well into October. This goldenrod was placed first in goldenrod trials at the Chicago Botanic Garden. A side note: goldenrod is often wrongly blamed for fall sneezing. Learn more about this fallacy here.

A Wildlife Powerhouse!

Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) is a pollinator magnet! As a member of the Aster family, it has hundreds of nectar-rich flowers which attract many native bees, honey bees, wasps, and butterflies. Several moth species rely on the leaves to feed their caterpillars. Doug Tallamy, the author of Bringing Nature Home and Nature’s Best Hope, reports that goldenrod provides food and shelter for over 115 butterfly and moth species, and more than 11 native bees sip the nectar. The late-season flowers of goldenrod are a significant food source for migrating monarchs and critical to native bees preparing for the winter.

Goldenrod also helps with garden pest control. It functions as a biological control in the garden by attracting predatory or parasitoid insects that prey upon insect pests.

Goldenrod beetles.

Goldenrod beetles.
Sue Watts, ©2023, SC Botanical Gardens, Clemson University

Pictured is a soldier beetle on a goldenrod. They dine on pollen, nectar, and soft-bodied insects (aphids, caterpillars, and more). And there’s more! The seeds are attractive to many songbirds who flock to them. Look for American goldfinch, black-capped chickadee, Carolina wren, dark-eyed junco, indigo bunting, pine siskin, tufted titmouse, and white-throated sparrow feasting on them. The bounty of insects attracted to goldenrod means insectivorous birds also visit the buffet.

One such insect leaves a physical imprint on the plant. Have you ever noticed strange swellings on goldenrod stems

Galls of a fly on goldenrod stems.

Galls of a fly on goldenrod stems.
Sue Watts, ©2023, SC Botanical Gardens, Clemson University

These are the galls of a fly that produce a hormone to transform the plants’ cells into a safe home for them to grow, over-winter and pupate in. In the fall, while still a larva with chewing mouthparts, the juvenile chews an escape tunnel to the outside world and tops it with a thin cover. The adults need to leave in the spring but do not have mouth parts! Instead, they push through this escape hatch with an inflatable structure between their eyes. As larvae, these tiny flies attract chickadees and downy woodpeckers who break open the galls for a snack. These little flies also provide for parasitic wasps and beetles (but I digress). Nature is genuinely fascinating!



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