Fall Color - Goldenrod
Goldenrod should be one of the classic flowers of fall but it gets a bad rap instead because it blooms at the same time that hayfever sufferers begin sneezing. Ragweed flowers, which are the real culprits, are insignificant so it is the showy goldenrod that gets blamed for the suffering. Ragweed pollen is spread by the wind. Billions of tiny particles are released into the air in search of flowers to pollinate. Goldenrod, on the other hand, has larger, sticky pollen that adheres to visiting insects that fly on to pollinate other goldenrod flowers. The only way to get a noseful of goldenrod pollen is to actually stick your nose into the flowers. Ironically, it is florists who suffer from goldenrod allergies because they handle the pollen-filled flowers indoors when creating fall arrangements.
Goldenrod has an interesting history thanks to the intrepid British plant collectors and breeders. A native wildflower that still blooms in our meadows, it was transported to England where plant breeders took over and converted it from an invasive weed to a more mannerly garden flower with showier flowers and varying heights which lends it versatility in the garden. These “new” plants were then transported back to North America where they are now sold in nurseries and catalogs. Because of the deep-seated bias against goldenrod, it did not become popular here in the US until the 1980s. Prior to that, it was only used in wildflower gardening.
Fun Facts about Goldenrod
- It is the state flower of Kentucky and Nebraska
- It is the state wildflower of South Carolina
- It is the state herb of Delaware
Goldenrod is a perennial that is native to North America. The domesticated plants are hardy in growing zones 4 through 9. The wildflowers are hardy from growing zone 2 in Canada to zone 8 in the southern US. It prefers full-sun but will tolerate some shade. Both the wild and domesticated plants are drought tolerant, preferring well-drained soil. The new cultivars range in height from 1 to 3 feet depending on the variety. The wildflowers range in height from 4 to 5 feet. Regardless of height, all bloom in the fall. The flowers attract both beneficial insects and butterflies. After the plants die back in the fall, you should cut them down to the ground and remove the dead plant material from your garden to prevent insects and disease from overwintering in the debris.
Propagation is by runners, seeds and division. Even the more mannerly domesticated varieties spread rapidly via runners known as underground rhizomes, so you might want to treat them like you treat bamboo and surround them with a 3 feet deep barrier to keep them under control. You should also deadhead the flowers to prevent them from developing prodigious amounts of seed. Their stiff stems make them ideal for flower arrangements. Goldenrod can be divided in either the spring or the fall.
A word of warning
Don’t be tempted to dig up some wild goldenrod and transplant it into your garden. These wildflowers are aggressive spreaders and will crowd out domesticated garden plants.
© 2014 Caren White