By Cheryl Harrison, Master Gardener
I was recently at a market where a local garden group was selling some plants including many native plants. I noticed a striking goldenrod. I remarked to one of the vendors that it still seems odd to me to see goldenrod for sale when it is so common in rural Ontario. The vendor rightly chastised me because this goldenrod was not your very common goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), it was Gray Goldenrod (S. nemoralis) . The vendor went on to describe some of the positive attributes of this plant. I have to say that the bright yellow, fluffy flowers were beautiful!
This market interaction set me thinking more about the native varieties of goldenrod, or Solidago, species. There are over 100 species of this perennial native with over 25 being found in Ontario. This plant often gets bad press as being a plant whose pollen causes allergies but the likely culprit is ragweed (Ambrosia species). Ragweed and goldenrod bloom at the same time and are often found growing in the same areas. Goldenrod’s lovely yellow flowers (note that there are a couple of Ontario species with white flowers) are attractive to bees and butterflies. They serve as a good source of nectar in the fall and their heavy pollen grains attach easily to the bodies of pollinators. Ragweed flowers are green, do not produce nectar and produce large amounts of light pollen that easily becomes airborne … hence your sneezing and your itchy eyes.
Goldenrod is an easy keeper in the garden. It can grow in a variety of soils, many prefer sun but some grow well in part shade or shade and most prefer average moisture but some can grow well in very moist soil. Goldenrod spreads via seed and through rhizomes (horizontal underground stems). Some species (Tall goldenrod (S. altissima), Canada goldenrod (S. canadensis), and Giant goldenrod (S. gigantea) can quickly take over a small garden. These may be grown in a pot , in a bordered area or in that hot dry area of the garden where not many other plants will grow. This will help to keep them in check.
Goldenrod can be quite a tall plant and is very pretty in drifts in the garden, as a background plant or even as a focal point. I started a woodland garden this year and planted a zigzag goldenrod (S. flexicaulis) which grows in full shade. Goldenrod is great for adding colour to the fall garden and when grown alongside beautiful purple asters (for example, New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), the display is stunning!
Goldenrod has many positive attributes from its beautiful, bright yellow flowers and its tall upright growth habit to the many species that will grow in a variety of conditions including that hot, dry spot in your garden.
Goldenrod may be purchased at most native plant nurseries or grown from seed. For more information on the different species of goldenrod, please check here. For more information on growing golden rod, please check here.