Goldenrods come in more than 100 different varieties, many of which are native to northern Illinois. Their fluffy, bright yellow flowers add color to the late-summer garden and attract honeybees, bumblebees, wasps, ants, beetles, moths, and butterflies. And despite a bad reputation for “causing” hayfever, they’re not guilty! The real culprit is ragweed, which blooms at the same time as goldenrod and produces a lightweight pollen easily carried by the wind. Goldenrod pollen is heavy and sticky, requiring pollinators for dispersal.
Goldenrods range from the diminutive one or two feet of the woodland varieties to the sun-loving varieties that stand on erect stems to six or eight feet tall. There is a goldenrod that will thrive in prairie, woodland, or wetland; accordingly their sun and soil requirements vary, but too much water or fertilizer may cause their long stems to flop. Some types, notably the native (despite its name) Canadian goldenrod, can be tall, weedy, and aggressive, but many varieties are more mannerly and better suited to home gardens. Bluestem goldenrod is best grown in partial sun and dry soil with some rocky content. Elm-leaved goldenrod is a shorter variety that prefers shade to semi-shade and medium-moist to dry soil. Showy goldenrod, with blooms that live up to its name, prefers dry soil and full sun. Stiff goldenrod has leaves that turn red in the fall and enjoys full sun and moist to slightly dry conditions; it is not too picky about soil type.
In some parts of the world, goldenrods are considered a sign of good luck. The leaves contain some rubber; Thomas Edison experimented with goldenrod as a material for tires, and during World War II an unsuccessful attempt was made to introduce goldenrod as a commercial rubber source. A species of goldenrod has been used in herbal medicine as a kidney tonic. Native Americans used goldenrod leaves to relieve sore throats and chewed the roots to soothe toothache.
Bluestem goldenrod: Solidago caesia
Elm-leaved goldenrod: Solidago ulmifolia
Showy goldenrod: Solidago speciosa
Stiff goldenrod: Solidago rigida
Butterflies and moths: Lepidoptera
Honeybees: Apis mellifera