The Late-Summer Lure of Asters and Goldenrods

The Latin name Solidago translates as “becoming whole,” and when Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist, applied it to the genus in 1753, he was acknowledging the plant’s supposed medicinal qualities. If you see a stand of goldenrod buzzing with life today, you could say they were making a lot of creatures whole.

“It’s their time to shine,” Mr. Lorimer said. “They round out the later end of the growing season, and make for the bulk of the floral resources available to wildlife in autumn.”

Many native bees and other insects depend on goldenrod pollen, served up in individual composite flowers “borne on wands, plumes, flat-topped inflorescences and even zigzag ones that make them very accommodating,” he said.

As Douglas W. Tallamy, a professor of entomology and wildlife ecology at the University of Delaware, writes in “Nature’s Best Hope,” his most recent book: “Across the United States, Solidago is the top-ranked genus in terms of hosting the ecologically valuable caterpillars that feed our breeding birds and fall migrants.”

He calls it “a cornerstone plant for meadow and prairies,” noting that winter-resident birds depend on its seed, as do “voles and mice that feed hawks, owls, weasels, coyotes and foxes.”

Gardeners often skip goldenrod because its bloom coincides with that of ragweed (Ambrosia, also in the aster family). Goldenrod is incorrectly blamed for hay fever, although its pollen is not wind-borne. The spreading reputation of another species, Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), also causes hesitation. “It’s a plant with loads of wildlife value, a pioneer species of old fields and open spaces, but often a bad choice for smaller gardens,” said Mr. Lorimer, who recommended goldenrods that are more clump-forming — or at least less rampant.

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