Glorious Goldenrod

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People continue to blame goldenrod (Solidago) unfairly as the source of fall allergies. In autumn, sneezing and watery eyes abound. You look around and see plants with bright yellow flowers blooming in fields, gardens and roadsides. Logic tells us goldenrod must cause allergies. In reality, goldenrod produces large sticky pollen requiring the help of insects for dispersal. Blame your allergies on ragweed (Ambrosia spp.), which produces fine, dust-like pollen that blows in the wind.

Unfortunately, while we were figuring this out, Americans busily ripped out goldenrod, a native plant, from their gardens and ditches. Fortunately, Europeans actively hybridized shorter cultivars for their cut flower industry at the same time, resulting in more varieties from which to choose now that we’ve rediscovered this late summer/fall bloomer.

History shows us goldenrod played a variety of roles starting with Native Americans, who chewed the leaves to treat sore throats and the roots to treat toothache. Herbal medicine practitioners use a form of Solidago virgaurea to treat kidney stones and infections.

Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and George Washington Carver all experimented with the rubber properties in goldenrod. Edison was able to produce a 12-foot-tall plant containing 12 percent rubber by creating a fertilization and cultivation process that boosted the rubber yield. Ford gave Edison a Model T with tires made from goldenrod.

Carver experimented with sweet potatoes, dandelions and goldenrod during World War II while looking for a synthetic source of rubber because of wartime shortages. Goldenrod worked.

The Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) conducted a five-year study on Solidago because of its growing importance in cultivated gardens. More than 100 species belong to this perennial herb with most of them native to North America. According to CBG, “Twenty-two different species alone are found growing naturally in the Chicago region. While the sunny meadows and former prairie lands carry the majority of the species, there are others quite at home in the partial shade of the woods.” Goldenrod even shows up in bog and fen environments, and salty seaside areas.

Those grown in Europe (S. vigaurea) top out around 2 feet. North American varieties differ wildly from under 12 inches to a towering 6 feet with most blooming from late summer to early fall.

I grow S. rugosa “Fireworks,” so named because of the small yellow flowers borne on arching, threadlike panicles that look just like exploding fireworks. They attract monarch butterflies, and their sturdy 3- to 4-foot stems remain upright. “Baby sun” and “Goldenkind” display many of the same qualities as “Fireworks,” but on a shorter plant. Are you looking for a long bloom time? Try “Golden Fleece.” It starts out slow, but then blooms from August to November.

Why not spice up your fall garden with some glorious goldenrod?

Ask the Expert

Can I save container-grown mums bought in the fall?
Maybe yes, maybe no. Remove them from the pot, tease out the roots and plant them in the ground – the earlier, the better. Leave the plant intact all winter then prune away last season’s growth in spring. The branches will catch blowing leaves, mulching the plant.

Do you prefer bypass or anvil pruners?
I use bypass for deadheading fleshy growth and anvil for woody stems. You sharpen the blades differently, so be careful with your file. Purchase a good pair that offers replacement blades.

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