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We Have Goldenrod, One Of The Most Valuable Native Wildflowers

Helen Hunt Jackson

"September’s Goldenrod Hours"
 
The golden-rod is yellow;
The corn is turning brown;
The trees in apple orchards
With fruit are bending down.
 
The poem “September” by Helen Hunt Jackson captures this golden month and was required memorization in my fourth grade class in the 1950s.
     This teacher also described the loss of the chestnut trees, which were wiped out by a blight a few decades before I was born. She spoke with a catch in her voice that made me realize maybe not everything lasts forever.
     For now, we do have goldenrod—one of the most valuable native wildflowers. In his book “Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard,” research entomologist, Douglas W. Tallamy counts 181 species of caterpillars that use this plant. That’s food for breeding and migrating birds. Fifteen species of native bees can use only this plant’s pollen to rear their young.
     Monarch butterflies, whose numbers dropped to a low of one percent of their historical populations a few years ago, use milkweed to feed their caterpillars. But at this time of year, they need goldenrod to help fuel the journey back to their winter home in Mexico.
     Goldenrod seeds provide food for “winter birds, mice and voles, which feed hawks, owls, weasels, coyotes, and foxes.” And its pithy stems provide winter housing for other invertebrates.
     Many pollinators, other insects, and the birds that depend on them have lost 40 percent of their populations since I first learned to recite this poem.
     Goldenrod is drought resistant, and its intertwining roots allow rainwater to replenish slowly our aquifers instead of running off to pollute waterways. And combined with the equally valuable fall- blooming native purple asters and Joe-Pye weed it can present a field of beauty.
     It can take over a small garden. But finding a place somewhere for this plant ensures many eco-services.
There are more than 20 species of goldenrod in New England, which can provide blooms from July to October in a variety of micro-habitats. And it’s not goldenrod that causes fall allergies. Its pollen is too big and sticky to be floating in the air, and rile up the sinuses. That culprit is the unshowy ragweed, which often grows in the same spots.
 
Mary J Metzger
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