Why Goldenrod doesn’t deserve his bad rap, by Bonnie Jean Feldkamp

Cooler weather has finally arrived here in the Midwest. It’s time to head to your favorite pumpkin patch, your U-pick apple orchard, and your corn maze. Outdoor activities are glorious in a pair of jeans and a comfy sweatshirt. It’s my favorite time of year, and yet I can’t help but sneeze.

“It’s goldenrod,” I hear time and time again from well-meaning people when I mention my allergies in the fall. Although goldenrod blooms in all its glory, it doesn’t deserve the blame for fall allergies. Goldenrod does not cause hay fever. It turns out that the goldenrod blooms at the same time as the ragweed. Now that’s a plant name that my congested angst can hide behind. Ambrosia. It even seems guilty.

Ragweed is wind pollinated and, according to the National Wildlife Federation, “a single plant can propel up to 1 billion irritating pollen grains.”

Ambrosia and goldenrod are members of the daisy family and look somewhat alike, but ambrosia is green and goldenrod is one that has bright yellow flowers. It’s understandable when you look at the plants side by side why one would think of blaming the goldenrod. Such abundant flowers must produce enough pollen to thwart the immune system. What most people don’t realize, however, is that goldenrod is entirely dependent on animal pollinators. Their pollen is too heavy to be carried by the wind. So it’s not goldenrod pollen in your eyes and nose that are itchy. Unless you have a bee in there too.

I bet you can guess where I’m going with this. Yes, with over 100 species of goldenrod native to North America, that makes them very important to our pollinators during the fall. Goldenrod flowers attract pollinators with their sweet and nutritious nectar. While they sip delicious nectar, they get dirty with the pollen to transfer to other flowers nearby. That’s the whole point. Ragweed, on the other hand, does not produce nectar. Its pollen is high in protein and is always beneficial to bees, but the wind does a good job pollinating the plant on its own.

Although it is a native plant, scientists believe ragweed spread rapidly westward as colonizers migrated, breaking up the earth as it went. The abundant pollen lands in bogs and sinks into the sediment. Palynologists (those who study pollen and spores) test sediment and can actually use the abundance of ragweed pollen to accurately understand colonizing behaviors of settlers.

Meanwhile, benign goldenrod is what University of Delaware entomologist Doug Tallamy calls a “key plant” for your landscape. Goldenrod is one such plant that helps “form the backbone of local ecosystems, especially in terms of producing food that feeds insects.”

Over 100 species of butterflies and moths as well as native bee species feed specifically on goldenrod. Additionally, the beloved monarch butterfly needs its nectar to fuel its long journeys south. Birds also love goldenrod seeds after flowering is over.

Gardeners and allergy sufferers need to put the blame where it belongs – squarely with ragweed and the colonizers who helped it take hold. The goldenrod is, well … golden. Plant it; feed him; and enjoy its beautiful flowers all fall.

Check out Bonnie’s weekly YouTube videos at https://www.youtube.com/bonniejeanfeldkamp. To learn more about Bonnie Jean Feldkamp and read articles from other Creators Syndicate authors and designers, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: manfredrichter at Pixabay

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