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 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.
Goldenrod, on the other hand, relies on insect pollination. In order for insect pollination to happen, insects need to visit the plant, hence the large showy flowers and the rewarding nectar buffet. Also, the pollen needs to stay put, not blow around willy nilly on the breeze. Goldenrod makes relatively large, sticky pollen granules designed to get all over bees and be personally bee-delivered to all the other goldenrod in the neighborhood. Any grain of pollen that gets blown away or inhaled is wasted effort by the plant. Goldenrod pollen is designed to stay put, where it can't be inhaled.
The myth that goldenrod causes allergies is so prevalent, some people even think ragweed is another name for goldenrod, or any other yellow fall flower. My daughter once had a middle school science teacher identify common tansy, another yellow fall flower, as ragweed to the class. Ragweed is unobtrusive, but once you start looking for it, you will see that it is everywhere - in lawns and fields, along driveways and roadsides, and on ditches and hillsides. It looks a bit like a marigold, but instead of a marigold's pretty flower, ragweed sends up spike after spike of tiny green flowers, each one loaded with pollen primed to launch with the next breeze. Remember - flowers are designed to attract insects. If a flower is noticeable, colorful, or pretty, it is probably insect pollinated and unlikely to cause seasonal allergies. It's the little, boring, green flowers that fill the end of summer with scratchy eyes and sneezing.
Goldenrod is innocent. It does not cause seasonal allergies, so welcome it freely into your garden. To celebrate this wrongly-accused flower, we are offering goldenrod and some companion plants with a buy 4, get one free coupon. Enter the code Golden at checkout. Our four favorite goldenrods are:
1. Bluestem Goldenrod
Most goldenrods like full sun, but this one does shade like a champ, even the significant shade of a forest floor. Many woodland flowers are white. Once leaf cover shades the forest floor, yellow is a rarity. The sunny flowers of Bluestem Goldenrod are strikingly colorful in the shade.
2. Stiff Goldenrod
Not the most attractive name, but the flower more than makes up for it. The large flat-ish flower clusters of Stiff Goldenrod are perfect for bees, and the tall, stiff stems hold the seed-heads up above the snow for winter bird feeding.
3. Hairy Goldenrod
I'm going to tag this one next because of its sheer endurance. Hairy Goldenrod will grow in hot, dry, sandy spots that thwart other flowers. With a low-growing habit and cute flower spikes, there aren't many gardens that couldn't benefit from this plant.
4. Showy Goldenrod
Like the name says, it's showy. Showy Goldenrod is like the popular kid at school. People like it. Bees and butterflies like it. It grows to a nice medium height. What's not to like?
Visit our website to shop our Goldenrod & Friends - Innocent Beauty collection. Mix and match, then enter the code "Golden" at checkout to take advantage of the buy 4, get the 5th free deal from now through July 1.