Fall Goldenrod: Appreciating a Roadside Wildflower in Your Garden

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One of the best places to see wildflowers’ diversity are roadsides. North Carolina has more than 80,000 miles of roads, making it easy to appreciate the beauty of these sometimes-overlooked garden treasures. Driving around now, the goldenrods (scientifically in the genus Solidago) are pops of yellow on the roadsides . They are the heralds of the end of summer in the garden, yet they are continually overlooked as roadside weeds. We’re here to make an appeal.

Overview of Goldenrods

The genus Solidago is made up of approximately 100 species native to North America (some in other temperate regions around the world), according to Weakley’s Flora of the Southeastern United States (2022). They are commonly confused with “ragweed” and unfairly accused of causing seasonal allergies, which they do not. They are generally herbaceous perennials, meaning they will comeGoldenrod back year after year, and can be anywhere from a couple inches tall to more than six or seven feet tall. All are known for their golden floral plumage that can either stand up like a torch or hang in tassel-like sprays. The botanists have them classified based on how their flower heads are arranged (called an inflorescence) and by how their flower parts are shaped (ask the Horticulture Agent about involucral bracts sometime!). The horticulturists and gardeners usually keep them (or don’t!) based on their garden manner though.

Garden Cultivation

Goldenrods have been in cultivation for thousands of years and have been used in traditional medicine by Native American tribes across North America. In modern times, they have been brought into the garden or relegated to the roadsides. Discerning horticulturists have a diversity of species to choose from for their gardens and there is a goldenrod for almost every garden condition (e.g. shade, sun, dry, wet, etc.). The challenge is selecting a species that works in the desired location that will not be a bad neighbor to other desirable plants nearby, so make sure to do research on a particular species before planting! Roadside plants can be beautiful, but are best left on the roadside or garden edges, unless the gardener is feeling curious and is willing to keep a diligent eye to make sure it doesn’t get too comfortable. Breeders in recent years have selected for tighter-growing plants and more well-mannered cultivars. Some of the more popular cultivars have been: Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’, Solidago canadensis ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, and Solidago ‘Dansolitlem’ (better known as “Little Lemon” Goldenrod).

Appeal for Pollinators

Pollinator awareness and conservation shouldn’t be new topics to gardeners, but goldenrods fit a unique flowering niche between popular summer and fall nectar plants. These golden beauties are actually made up of hundreds of individual flowers on each plant and they provide nectar and pollen to hundreds of bees, flies and as they prepare for winter. So while the gardener gets an extended color show on their property, wildlife have an open buffet! But food service is not the only benefit planting Solidago has for wildlife. Some flies and wasps lay their eggs inside the stems, causing galls to form, and the plants act as protection as the eggs grow and hatch. Additionally, the standing stems left over the winter are pre-made houses that protect overwintering insects. Who would have thought that a single stem of a goldenrod is actually a year-round insect apartment!

This Fall take some time to appreciate the humble goldenrod as it grows on the roadside and consider adding it to a garden in your community. If you want to learn more about pollinator gardens or plants to add to your garden that support pollinators, please consider joining the Horticulture Agent Amanda Wilkins and the Master Gardeners for the Pollinator Haven Open House on Saturday, September 10, 2022, at 2420 Tramway Rd. Sanford, NC.

More Resources:

Pollinator Haven at Lee County Cooperative Extension Office

NC State Garden Plant Toolbox about Goldenrod

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center Search for Goldenrod

Goldenrod Galls

Weakley’s Flora of the Southeastern United States