At this time of year, the brilliant yellow plumes of goldenrod are appearing in meadows and road ditches, bringing color to the browning landscape. The native golden rod- Solidago Canadensis, aka S. gigantean and S. lepida- is found all across the northern US. A member of the aster family – those big golden sprays are made up of lots of tiny little daisy flowers- the local goldenrod can grow anywhere from two to five feet tall and at least three feet wide, making it a real attention getter in late summer and fall.
Hardy through zone 3, goldenrod is a fast grower that can be found in most sunny areas (it is NOT shade tolerant at all) that are not boggy or a desert, although it likes dry-ish soils. It can be one of the first plants to grow in an area that has been burned, and then dies out as shrubs and trees grow and shade it out. Deer will eat it, although it’s not one of their preferred food plants. Cattle and horses can eat it without problems. It spreads by creeping rhizomes, and can turn into quite a large thicket in the right conditions. In fact, in parts of Europe and China, it’s considered an invasive weed and they are trying hard to control it. It behaves best in well drained, fairly dry soils. Do NOT fertilize it- not only will it spread faster but it will flop over when it blooms. It’s only problem seems to be the occasional case of powdery mildew in late summer.
The species Solidago Canadensis is generally not recommended for home gardens because of its size and spread when treated as the usual garden perennial- lots of water. I have one close to the house that the birds planted three years ago, and it’s time for it to be moved out. Goldenrod is, however, great for low water, xeriscape gardens, and there are named varieties that stay dwarf for garden use.
Goldenrod gets swarmed by bees, wasps, beetles and butterflies when in bloom (a good thing), and the larva of many moths feed on the foliage. Sparrows and finches eat the seed in fall and winter. It’s a good plant to have around if you have a roadside or long driveway that needs something colorful and beneficial.
‘Solidago’ is from the Latin for ‘to make whole’, indicating the plants herbal use as a wound healer. It is astringent, which means it slows bleeding. There is some evidence that the saponins it contains act as an antifungal, particularly against the Candida fungus that plagues humans.
Contrary to popular belief, goldenrod is usually NOT the cause of late summer allergies. Ragwort, an inconspicuous plant, blooms at the same time and is highly allergenic. This plant is the culprit in almost all cases of August-September hayfever. Goldenrod is safe to enjoy for almost all of us!