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  • Michelle

Goldenrod Proven Innocent!

Updated: Mar 12, 2022

Goldenrod on sale. Ragweed sentenced to 40 years for being horrible.

Goldenrod causing seasonal allergies is a myth. That's right - you heard me. It's a myth. A myth so deeply rooted (plant pun!) that many people shy away from growing this incredibly beautiful and beneficial plant in their gardens. The real allergy culprit is ragweed, a plant so boring, few people even notice it exists. Let's look at the difference, so you can join me and the bees in the goldenrod fan club.

People often ask me what they can plant for bees and butterflies, and I always include goldenrod in my recommendations. Its clusters of sunny yellow florets are perfect, providing a lot of food in one location so energy isn't wasted flying to many different flowers, especially for late season feeding when bees and butterflies are preparing for winter or migration. Often, I am met with "oh no, I have allergies." But those pollen allergies, horrible as they are, are almost certainly not related to goldenrod. Over 90% of pollen allergy symptoms are caused by ragweed. So why are people so absolutely certain that they are allergic to goldenrod?

When people (including me) start choking on pollen in August, it's natural to look around for something to blame. Goldenrod flowers are large and brightly obvious in the late-summer landscape. But they are innocent. The real culprit is ragweed, an unobtrusive little plant with boring, small, green flowers that attract no attention whatsoever. Ragweed flowers at the same time as goldenrod, but it is so boring, no one notices.

Ragweed is unobtrusive but churns out loads of light pollen, while innocent beneficial goldenrod takes the blame.
Nothing to see here

Ragweed is wind pollinated. That means it spends absolutely no energy looking pretty. It offers no nectar and wastes no effort on showy flowers. Its sole purpose in life is to shed loads and loads of light pollen. The pollen needs to be light to travel on every breeze, and there needs to be lots of it to make sure at least some hits another ragweed plant across the yard, or possibly across the state. Ragweed's light and copious pollen can travel for miles and miles on a good breeze. The small size and enormous quantity means that it is easy to inhale, and ragweed makes so much pollen that it doesn't care that some is sucked in by hapless mammals.