At this time of the year, the engrained response to catching a bright yellow bloom (goldenrod) in the corner of your eye as you drive down the road with windows rolled down, is an impending itchy nose and watery eyes. This fear of an allergic response is causing a worthy native perennial to receive less credit than it is due. Goldenrod of the Solidago genus, flaunts its showy, bright yellow flowers, while common ragweed of the Ambrosia genus flourishes discretely among the weeds and roadside rubbish. Unfair! Due to this occurrence, goldenrod is often blamed for allergies and hay fever. Here's how you can spot the difference:
Let's start with the leaves: goldenrod has a simple elongated upswept leaf in an alternate arrangement on its stem. Ragweed has a more complex leaf structure with deep lobes that are somewhat fernlike in appearance. In terms of the flowers, goldenrod has attractive and bold, yellow inflorescences, some plumelike and some in more delicate sprays. Ragweed blooms are green, tiny, and are virtually invisible. So you can easily SEE goldenrod but not ragweed. Hence the blame.
Interestingly enough, if you are allergic to ragweed you are most likely also allergic to goldenrod. But, the difference lies in their pollen dispersal methods. Ragweed produces millions of lightweight pollen grains designed to be carried by the wind across long distances, very commonplace for an annual and very bad news for those who suffer an allergic reaction to these granules. The perennial herb goldenrod, alternatively, has heavy, sticky pollen granules designed to adhere to the insects they rely on for pollination and reproduction. When disturbed by wind or wildlife, these pollen grains fall directly to the ground or a very near proximity. They are not carried by the wind!
In your garden, and in open fields, goldenrod and tall ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) make a lovely pair with their contrasting yellow and purple hues. Paired with a native grass like a bluestem or switch grass, you can easily create a low maintenance feature on your property that is additionally a habitat for local entomology and wildlife. Most importantly, they will reliably resurface next spring.
So let’s give goldenrod the credit it’s due and enjoy its late summer and fall color. It’s a great perennial for low maintenance and drought resistance.
Ragweed looking ragged!
Close up of ragweed flowers