The Glory of Goldenrod

With fall almost here, now is the perfect time to enjoy the brilliant goldenrods and discover the array of interesting insects that visit them. There are many different kinds of goldenrod, but most are late-bloomers that don’t come into full bloom until late summer and fall.

Goldenrod continues blooming until the frost, which in New York ranges from late September to October, depending on location. As one of the few groups of wildflowers in peak flower at this time, many insects depend on these plants for food, feasting on the nectar and pollen.

There are more than two dozen species of goldenrod native to New York State. They are a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and most are in the Genus Solidago, but a few are in the Genus Euthamia and Oligoneuron. All but one species are deep golden yellow (silverrod, Solidago bicolor is white), with hundreds of tiny flowers making up the “inflorescence” or flower head.

If you are interested in learning more about insects, this is one of the easiest ways to get an up-close look at all different kinds.

Giant or swamp goldenrod (Solidago gigantea) is very showy and grows up to seven feet tall. Common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens, shown here) is the most common bumble bee in New York State and the species you are most likely to see feeding on the tiny golden flowers.

You can find goldenrods in a variety of habitats from roadsides, fields, alongside open trails and bike paths, in the dunes of the ocean and Great Lakes shores, and on rocky summits. In almost every State Park you can find goldenrods, and perhaps you will discover you have some in your backyard, neighborhood garden or vacant lots.

State Park’s pollinator habitat initiative has also helped create areas for goldenrods, asters, milkweeds and native grasses by reducing mowing along some roadsides and fields


Common flat-topped goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia) growing with boneset (Eupatorium sp.) in a coastal grassland at Heckscher State Park.

Many insects are attracted to the goldenrod flowers. Take a close look and be patient. You may find a variety of bees from bumble bees, carpenter bees, tiny mason bees and sweat bees. On a cool morning, the insects are often a bit sluggish which means they are less likely to fly away while you get in close. In fact, in morning or evenings, look for bumblebees sleeping upside-down under the goldenrod flower branches!

Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is among the species with a tidy cone-shaped top, this one complete with sleeping bumble bees.

Beetles are another common visitor, like the ladybugs, lightening and flower beetles. Perhaps you will find an inch-worm or another kind of caterpillar.

A close-up look at the goldenrod flowers and one of a species of long-horned flower beetles.

On sunny days, goldenrod patches are a good place to watch for butterflies like painted lady, monarch and viceroy across the state. On the coast, large numbers of monarch butterflies follow the path of the seaside goldenrod that grows in abundance on the dunes and upper edges of the beach. Without this vast food supply, many of those monarchs would not survive their long journey of up to 3,000 miles.

A Monarch butterfly feeding on seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens).
Seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), common at state parks like Orient Point, Jones Beach, Napeague and Hither Hills in Long Island, is a key food source for Monarch butterflies migrating south along the Atlantic coast on the way to wintering grounds in Mexico.

In addition to protecting the habitats where goldenrod thrives in the wild, this hardy perennial can also be a beautiful and important part of a pollinator garden or habitat, where birds and small mammals also benefit from the seeds. If you want to add some to your garden or landscape, some plant nurseries carry them, but check the New York Flora Atlas to make sure that the species is native to New York state and not listed as rare or invasive in New York.

Learning to appreciate goldenrods is a great way to support a whole suite of native flora and fauna.


Resources:

NY Flora Atlas http://newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu  (search for Solidago or Euthamia)

GoBotany (a good source plant identification) https://gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org

Check out the other pollinator blogs at NY State Parks Blog too.

Post and photos by Julie Lundgren, New York Natural Heritage Program (nynhp.org)

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