The court of public opinion delivered its verdict long ago: goldenrod is just a weed. This beleaguered plant is blamed for seasonal allergies, condemned for it’s raggedy appearance and accused of possessing an aggressive habit. True goldenrods are all members of the Solidago genus. What many people don’t realize is that this is a genus of numerous species, many of which have garden-positive traits that make them both attractive and valuable in your garden.
Goldenrods are erroneously blamed for seasonal allergies because their showy blooms appear right as the real culprit, giant ragweed, begins to disperse its small grains of pollen into the air. Goldenrod pollen is not airborne; it relies on insect pollinators to move it from plant to plant. This pollen does not affect your sensitive nose, and it is in fact an indispensable food source in fall for hungry bees, butterflies and other pollinators.
At the mention of goldenrod, what likely comes to mind is the common Canada goldenrod, Solidago canadensis. This species thrives in urban areas like vacant lots and roadsides, where its seeds quickly occupy disturbed soils. Despite it’s sometimes raggedy appearance and weedy reputation, each fall it offers up attractive golden plumes-rich with nectar and pollen.
There are several Solidago species however, that offer these valuable resources to pollinators while still maintaining an attractive appearance and good manners in the garden. I have included below descriptions of a few favorite goldenrod species that are just about to burst into bloom in my yard. They are well suited for the garden and will soon be abuzz with a myriad of butterflies and bees. I hope you will find some spots in your yard for these beautiful and beneficial native wildflowers.
- Seaside Goldenrod, Solidago sempervirens – salt-tolerant, adapts to many soils types and is tolerant of wet or dry conditions once established. Very showy stalks of blooms reach 3-6 feet tall. The plant forms a clump and will reseed, but not aggressively. Prefers full sun to part sun.
- Sweet Goldenrod, Solidago odora – pretty pyramidal clusters of yellow blooms atop stalks 3-4 foot tall. Grows in average garden soil and is adaptable to clayey soils. Anise-scented foliage makes a tasty tea. “Liberty Tea” was used by colonists after the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Clump grower, reseeds. Full to part sun.
- Wand Goldenrod, Solidago stricta – sends up tall, thin ‘wands’ 2-4 foot tall topped with bright, clear yellow blooms. Very easy to grow and adaptable to many soil types. Prefers full to part sun.
- Downy Goldenrod, Solidago petiolaris – one of the most uniform and compact goldenrods, forms a clump, which grows wider but is not agressive. Spikes of canary yellow flowers 2-4 feet tall. Average soil and water needs. Full sun.
- Wreath Goldenrod, Solidago caesia- arching branches of blooms on low, 2ft tall stalks. Reseeds and spreads by root, but not aggressive. Grows in full sun, but is also tolerant of dappled shade.