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Plant Spotlight: Goldenrod

September 24th, 2011

Baroness Matilda and all the children showed me over the whole estate on their first free afternoon. When we passed by a large bed of tall yellow flowers, Rupert said proudly:

“This is echte amerikanische Goldrute (genuine American Goldenrod). Papa says it is quite expensive, and we are not supposed to pick it. Pepi, our gardener, takes special care of it with a special kind of manure mixture”.

I admired wholeheartedly this noble guest from America, whose golden blossoms attracted all the bees of the neighborhood.

– Maria Augusta Trapp The Story of the Trapp Family Singers

Goldenrod is a truly beautiful plant, especially at this time of year when most other flowers are waning here in the Northern parts. It provides a bright pop of color and blends beautifully with the colors of fall, blooming just before the leaves start the change. Most people consider it a weed, but it’s really a native wildflower, actually an herb. Goldenrod is a beneficial plant, playing host to butterfly larvae and repelling other insects considered pests. Being a vital source of both nectar and pollen for pollinators, it’s allowed a place in the gardens of Chiot’s Run.

Goldenrod is a member of the aster family, along with joe pye weed, chicory, black-eyed susan, liatris and many others. It produces food for a wide variety of insects: monarch, clouded sulfur, American small copper and gray hairstreak butterflies as well as a wide variety of other pollinators like: bumblebees, wasps, soldier beetles, honeybees, syrphid flies and others. Lucky for the the monarchs it’s blooming everywhere during their migration through Ohio so they have a plentiful source of food for their journey.

Goldenrod is under appreciated and even vilified by many people. Those will fall allergies often blame goldenrod for their sniffling, but ragweed is actually the plant they should be cursing. As with many “weeds”, goldenrod is actually an herb. Traditionally it was used medicinally for it’s anti-inflammatory and diuretic effects. It was also used because on wounds because it helps promote healing.

Interestingly enough, while researching for this post, I found out that goldenrod contains rubber. Inventor Thomas Edison tested a number of plants looking for a source of rubber after being asked to find a native source by his friend Henry Ford. He finally settled on goldenrod because it contained the most and through his experiments was able to produce a 12-foot-tall plant that could contained as much as 12% rubber. The rubber produced was long-lasting resilient, examples of it can still be found in his laboratory, elastic and rot free after more than 50 years. In fact, the tires on the Model T given to him by Ford were made from goldenrod. Edison turned his research over to the U.S. government a year before his death, goldenrod rubber never went beyond the experimental stage. Which is quite a shame since the synthetic rubber based on petroleum became the material of choice for car tires.

Many people shudder when they think of goldenrod blooming in their gardens, but I welcome them. They can become invasive since they spread by both seeds and underground rhizomes, but I find that they’re easily pulled out when the need arises. I don’t let them grow in my cultivated foundation gardens, at least not in large numbers, or in the vegetable garden. They do however, spread freely along the edges of the woods and in the more naturalized garden areas. We actually have a couple of the 125 different species, it’s quite interesting to note the differences between them.

Do you incorporate any native wildflowers in your gardens? Any goldenrod?

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This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.