Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Poor little goldenrods

They've been so maligned. Every fall, Americans mistakenly blame the bright yellow flowers of the goldenrods (Solidago sp.) for causing sneezing fits of hayfever. Alas, goldenrods aren't to blame. As plants pollinated by insects, goldenrods can't cause allergies. Ragweed, on the other hand, which blooms at the same time as goldenrods, is open-pollinated; its pollen granules are dispersed wildly by wind, causing terrible allergic reactions in sensitive people. Ragweed happens to bloom at the same time as showy goldenrods, often right alongside them in prairies, savannas, and, most commonly, in disturbed soils and waste places.

There are over 100 species of the genus Solidago in North America. They all belong to the Asteraceae family, a ridiculously large family of plants that includes everything from asters to thistles. The Asteraceae family is showy, colorful, sort of disdained by fans of bryophytes and ferns. (In an interview for a natural history job many moons ago, I announced that I was a huge fan of the Asteraceae, being that they were the first group of plants I learned. The guy across the table scorned, "no one ever says 'the sedges' or 'ferns'...") Nevertheless, there's a goldenrod for just about every habitat: Solidago gattingeri only grows out of dolomitic cliffs in the Ozarks, while Solidago canadense shows up in rights of way, in the parking lot of your local gas station, and on the edges of agricultural fields. Regardless of where goldenrods grow, they always provide an important nectar source for the fall migrating butterflies.

The brilliant flowers can be boiled down and used as a dye (but you have to use a brass kettle and gobs of the flowers); the resulting color is a lovely chartreuse, like absinthe. Goldenrod leaves and flowers have been boiled into a tea to stop bruising and to break up kidney stones. Of course, man's uses of plants are far less important than the natural history or importance of goldenrods in the grand scheme of nature. As fall-blooming wildflowers, goldenrods stand taller than the asters, ready for the monarchs to gorge on their nectar.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

and its earwhig season, just had our first tonight, made me scream as always. you dont get allergies do you? i think dad gave me his, got the homeopath on the case.saw 3 moose on hike today, like 10feet away, scared the bejeesus out of me and book.hey i like the pokeynosed turtle, he looks curious.hey , now you can have pretty nails again with out all the turtle funk lodged in them.yipee! how are the ferns coming? anb