Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Canada goldenrod: harbinger of winter

Our most conspicuous member of the Asteraceae, bar none, is now thoroughly coloring the meadows golden. Canada goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, is sometimes maligned as a "weed", but only by those who don't know its charms. Or its ecological value. Few of our native plants produce the abundant contributions to the food web that this goldenrod does.

A classic fall scene in Ohio. Old fields gilded in yellow, punctuated with the white bursts of boneset and shocking bolts of purple courtesy of New England aster, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae. Insect enthusiasts know to enter the goldenrod fields and search the panicles of showy lemon blooms to find all manner of six-legged wonders. More importantly, myriad predators also hunt goldenrod patches, contributing to an ever upwards spiraling web of life.

One downside, at least for the winter-phobic, is that the golden fields of Solidago will soon give way to frosty nights and Old Man Winter. Goldenrods are the growing season's last hurrah.

But even in winter, the senescent sprays of goldenrod are rich with nutritious seeds. While the plants themselves may not overly beautify an old fencerow, the flocks of Tree Sparrows, filling the wintry air with melodious tinkling calls that suggest icicles delicately crashing to earth, certainly add life to winter's drabness as they feast on the fruit. Even in death, goldenrods foster plenty of life.

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5 comments:

Lori Sorth said...

Love goldenrod! We were in Chestnut Ridge Metro Park on Sunday and saw lots of Monarchs feeding on goldenrod. Are they migrating through on their way to Mexico??

Gaia Gardener: said...

I love goldenrod and have several species here on our property. I've been able to I.D. Missouri goldenrod and stiff goldenrod for sure. I think I have canadensis too, but I need to do more work on learning how to tell the different species apart. It's a tough genus for me.

I've also planted stiff goldenrod, elm-leaved goldenrod and Wichita Mountains goldenrod in my flower beds, all of which are doing very well...despite the horrible heat and drought we've suffered the last 2 summers.

Thanks for a great write-up!

Jim McCormac said...

Hi Lori - absolutely, the monarchs are Mexico bound!

Sounds like you've got quite a goldenrod menageria, Gaia G. They're beautiful, insectiferous, and thrive during droughts as few if any nonnative plants can!

Dianne Griffin said...

On Sunday I witnessed many monarch butterflies in a large field of Canada goldenrod at Infirmary Mound Park. There were also hundreds of dragonflies, looked like several species, darting about the monarchs. What a surprise when I saw a green darner snatch a monarch in flight!

The dragonfly symposium was very informative! Thanks for including the snowberry clearwing larva photo on your blog. I showed my students your blog and they loved the photos.

Jim McCormac said...

Neat observation Dianne- thanks for sharing it! And I'm glad that you enjoyed the dragonfly symposium!