Late summer is the start of allergy season for me. Waking up with goopy eyes and stuffed sinuses is the norm. I would look out the front window and curse the yellow flowers growing in the field. As I went about my gardening chores, I noticed monarchs and bees enjoying late-season nectar from the goldenrod flowers and figured the plant wasn't all bad.
I started to do some research on goldenrod and learned that this native plant is not the cause of my cursed allergies. Ragweed is the culprit.
For allergy sufferers, wind-pollinated plants are the bane of our existence (in spring and autumn at least) and ragweed is wind-pollinated. Using the wind to fertilize its flowers is not very efficient so each ragweed plant can produce a billion grains of pollen a season that can remain airborne for many days and travel many miles. This helps ensure the some of the pollen grains find their way to a female flower and produce seed.
Goldenrod, on the other hand, is insect pollinated. The first time I ever thought of goldenrod in a positive way was when I was on the shores of Lake Erie in late summer. A single goldenrod plant was covered with Monarchs as they stopped and fed after a flight across the late. Ranchers use goldenrod as an indictor that their pastures are being overgrazed since goldenrod is common in heavily grazed areas.
In addition to butterflies, goldenrod flowers feed bees, wasps, moths, and flies. Predator (beneficial) insects, like Praying Mantis, lay their eggs on Goldenrod so their babies can feed on visiting insects when they hatch.
There are 17 animals that use goldenrod as a food source from Monarchs to white-tailed deer to Carolina Chickadee. Fifteen animals use Goldenrod as shelter including the Goldenrod Gall Fly, Goldenrod Spider, Northern Cardinal, and White-footed Mouse.
Goldenrod plays a necessary role in native ecosystems as summer turns into autumn. It feeds many migratory species as they make their way south. It also provides much needed nectar for native hibernating bees. The next time you are taking a walk, take time to stop and smell the goldenrod.