COLUMN: Goldenrods herald in fall

Michele Olson
Jones County Naturalist


   Have you noticed the shift from summer to fall? At first it was only slight, but now it’s obvious – a change is afoot! Blooming goldenrods are one of the signals that the seasons are changing.

   Goldenrods are a flower known by many due to its bad rap associated with the peak allergy season. Goldenrods are unfairly and falsely accused of causing allergies simply because they begin flowering at the same time as another stealthier plants blooming period. Ragweed, whose green camouflaged blossoms, and windblown pollen go unnoticed is the true culprit. Goldenrod flowers are insect pollinated with sticky pollen that is meant to attach to visiting pollinators. Ragweed pollen on the other hand is spread through the wind and flies far and wide.

   Although there are up to 13 species of goldenrod (Solidago) plants that can be found in Iowa, many residents might not recognize the differences. Canada and tall goldenrods are two of the most common and widespread species. They are often confused with one another. They collectively represent all goldenrods to most people and are familiar to many due to their abundance and ability to colonize disturbed roadsides and field edges. With their tall stature and wide spreading arches of subdued yellow flowers, they provide a splash of color in an often monotone of green.

   A few of my favorite native goldenrod species include ridged or stiff goldenrod with its flat-topped bright yellow clusters of flowers and showy goldenrod, with its erect plume like bright yellow flowers that seem to be a beacon to migrating monarchs and busy bumble bees. Although most species of goldenrods prefer open sunny areas, you can find some species adapted to shadier habitats including gray goldenrod a species found in open woodlands.

   Goldenrods are a vital pollinator source during the fall season and in many locations might be one of the only flowers available. Ask an apiarist, those who own honeybees, if goldenrods are important. Spend a few minutes to take a close look at a goldenrod flower; I bet you’ll be able to see a variety of insect life busy collecting nectar. Native bumble bees, wasps, flies, and butterflies, including the migrating monarch butterfly, all visit goldenrod flowers regularly.

   If you do your research, you can select several goldenrod species that would fit well in your landscaped flower gardens. Goldenrods are easy to grow, are extremely drought resistant and hardy, have erect stems with many showy yellow flowers ranging from drooping arches to erect plumes, and are a pollinator magnet!

   According to Wikipedia, most of the 120 identified species are native to North America.  With its importance to pollinators many cultivars have been developed to suit gardeners.  A great resource to learn more about native goldenrods is


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