Mia Schillace Nelson
On a sunny weekend in September, I couldn't help but notice the sheer abundance of bright yellow flower clusters at the end of long green plant stems. They filled the ditches along the roadside, grew in stands throughout tall, heady grasses that signal the end of one season, and the beginning of another. I began to wonder why they were showing themselves in such volume, how it came to be that their time is so late in the season. Could there be a compelling need for such splendor? It turns out, there is.
Goldenrod plants (Solidago spp) are a fundamental source of pollen and nectar for insects of all kinds. They help prepare monarch butterflies for their long migration south to overwintering grounds, and are so important to bees that many hives depend upon their abundance to make it through a long, cold winter. In fact, they are among the most important late season pollinator plants.
Humans appreciate goldenrod too. Its herbal healing powers can help relieve skin irritation, fight infections, and even lower blood pressure. It is also interesting to note that goldenrod is not a source of late summer allergies, contrary to what is commonly believed. That distinction belongs to plants in the ragweed family. And while the two groups of plants may seem similar, a closer look will reveal that they are in fact quite different. Keep your eye out for those bright, yellow clusters of flowers covered in your favorite pollinator friends to identify the glorious goldenrod plants. Ragweed is pollinated by the wind, and has nothing to offer them as they prepare for their winter journeys.