Goldenrod gets a bad rap. Sniffles, runny eyes and sneezes are a sure sign that Fall allergy season has arrived. And the first one to get the blame is the most obvious flower of the season, Goldenrod. The trouble is, Goldenrod is not the culprit, Ragweed is.
Now, there is actual Goldenrod and then there are all the other yellow fall flowers that get lumped into the same category. “Those weeds that make my nose run”. Those weeds, are very important to the way the world works
Fall is the second great flower season. There are hundreds of wildflowers adapted to a fall bloom period. These plants have a life cycle that allows the plant to grow all season and generate enough energy to make an abundance of flowers late in the summer. The seeds from these flowers need a short time to accumulate the energy they need to carry through the winter to begin the next growing season. Some of these flowers are perennials that use a long summers growth to supply their needs and a surplus of energy to flower and set seed.
This mass of fall flowers is very important to honeybees. This is the bloom that can cap off a honey supply to carry a weak hive through the long cold winter. It can also supply any hive with that late summer bounty of honey and pollen stored for the spring push of new brood. Honeybees work almost all of these fall flowers including Ragweed for its abundant pollen.
The shame is this, the real culprit, Ragweed, is so bland in its flowering that most people wouldn’t recognize its flowers as flowers. We tend to think of all flowers as bright and showy. Ragweed flowers are the same drab green that the Ragweed plant is. At times it takes on a yellowish green when it is really pumping out the pollen, but otherwise it is just a background of summer green. Often the mowers miss the ragweed in their zeal to cut those yellow flowers.
Goldenrod and the other showy fall flowers are pollinated by insects, many hundreds of species depend on these flowers to finish their life cycles before the onset of cold winter weather. Ragweed on the other hand is wind pollinated. Wind being the key here. Ragweed pollen it very light and it must blow on the gentlest of breezes to the other ragweed flowers to complete pollination. Its strategy is pollination by saturation. It releases vast quantities of pollen into the warm late summer air. It is this tremendous volume of pollen that causes so much allergic discomfort.
Some fall honey, especially Goldenrod and Aster honey, is considered by some to be less pleasant tasting than spring and summer honeys. The bees don’t seem to mind so, leave it for them and they will use most of it by spring.
We must end the war on wildflowers. The way to end it is to show that these “weeds” are actually good for us and the world around us. These flowers add to the brilliance of our fall landscapes. They are the signs that the seasons are turning.