Goldenrod has a bad reputation. Every autumn, millions of allergy sufferers blame this innocent plant for their sniffles and itchy, watery eyes. Little do they know that it is another plant causing their problems and the goldenrod is in fact, innocent. It blooms at the same time that the evil ragweed (Ambrosia sp.) does and unlike ragweed, goldenrod's pollen isn't wind-borne. Goldenrod's pollen is far too heavy and sticky to float on the breezes, but ragweed can, and does.
This beautiful late-blooming plant belongs to the Solidago genus, which are mostly native to North and South America. There are a few Eurasian native species, but the vast majority of these plants are from the New World. At one time, it was an important plant used by native peoples and pioneers alike. Goldenrod's Latin name Solidago can be broken down like this: solidus (whole) and -ago (being or becoming). This is probably indicating the plant's medicinal uses, as Solidago species were used at one time to treat ailments ranging from sore throats to kidney issues. It also produces a lovely and permanent yellow dye that crafts people consider exceptional. Another interesting note is that that goldenrod produces a rubber-like sap that can be commercially harvested and in fact, at one time Henry Ford was leading the research. The first Model-T cars had tires made from goldenrod rubber.
Europeans have embraced goldenrod and it is often seen in their gardens, but those of us on this side of the Pond have not been as quick to accept it. Our native Solidagos are somewhat thuggish and can easily take over a garden bed via the underground stolons that creep outward from the parent plant. However, plant breeders have developed varieties that are much more polite and less likely to wear out their welcome.
Goldenrod is an important source of nectar and pollen for late season insects. Since it withstands drought conditions well, many insects depend on it during a time of year when food sources may be scarce. Even honeybees like its pollen and it is said that goldenrod honey is exceptional. It is a host plant for several butterfly species, especially the Checkerspots (Euphydryas sp.) and the blooms are often covered in a number of various insect and spider predators laying in wait for a potential victim. Some gardeners have noted that insects and pollinators prefer the native, wild species to the more cultivated commercial offerings, indicating that the pollen or nectar may not be as plentiful in the hybrid varieties.
Solidagos are pretty tough, so if you're concerned about unwanted spread, try planting it in a container. This would combat its aggressive tenancies like one would do for plants in the mint family. Deadhead the blossoms after blooming to prevent unwanted seedlings, because the Solidago genus is part of the larger Asteraceae family and like its cousins, goldenrod produces vast quantities of seed, each with its own little floating parachute. This bright native pairs well with other autumn bloomers and makes a stunning backdrop for plants like Asters and Eutrochiums (Joe Pye Weed.) If you have a sunny, well-drained spot and like native plants, try some goldenrod. Your bees and butterflies will thank you.