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Pollinators are an important part of any landscape, with 90% of flowering plants needing an animal
pollinator. Insect pollinators, like honey bees, wild bees, and butterflies have been
declining in recent years due to a variety of stresses. Loss of habitat is a major factor
in declining honey bee health and declining wild pollinator populations, so planting a
variety of flowers that will provide nectar and pollen throughout the growing season is
important for their health and conservation. Goldenrods are a great late season pollen
and nectar sources for many pollinators and other insects.
Goldenrods are a diverse group of plants, with species that grow in many different habitats
all over Minnesota. Most prefer sunny areas of meadows and prairies, but some species
grow in woodlands or wetlands. The University of Minnesota, Department of Botany described
19 species of goldenrod in 1945, and the Department of Natural Resources says there are at least
a dozen species in Minnesota currently.
In this presentation, we will focus on Showy goldenrod, or Solidago speciosa. Showy goldenrod
has a stout stem, with smooth leaves. It bears a dense pyramidal or club-shaped terminal
cluster of small yellow flower heads.
Unlike many goldenrods, whose flower clusters tend to droop, the flower clusters of showy
goldenrod are erect or upward curving. It’s height ranges from 2 to 7 feet, and it blooms
from August to October.
Showy goldenrod is tolerant of different growing conditions including wet soils and dry soils,
but it does best in average soil moisture conditions with good sun exposure. Its native
habitat is the tall grass prairie and open woods.
It’s thought that goldenrod causes hay fever but the true culprit is ragweed. Both plants
bloom at the same time but ragweed is wind pollinated.
Because Goldenrod pollen is too sticky and heavy to be blown far from the flowers, it
is mainly pollinated by insects.
So, if you don’t appreciate goldenrod for its lovely fall color, you can always make
a cup of goldenrod tea, put in some goldenrod honey, and watch the bees...
Showy goldenrod blooms late in the growing season, providing pollen and nectar for many
insects before the long winter. A 2008 study of bee visitations to native perennials in
Michigan found Solidago speciosa to be one of the most attractive late season plants
to both wild and honey bees. Some of the more common pollinators are honey bees (Apis mellifera),
bumblebees (Bombus species), carpenter bees (Xylocopa species) and sweat bees (Halictidae).
The native bee, Andrena placata is a specialist on goldenrods, so goldenrods are essential
for its survival.
Along with bees showy goldenrod provides nectar for butterflies, and moths and other beneficial
Native gardens are a good way to provide habitat and resources to pollinators in your home
landscape. Showy goldenrod is one of the last major bloomers in your fall garden. Showy
goldenrod works well with other native plants such as brown eyed Susans, Blazing stars,
asters and grasses.
According to The Minnesota Department of Transportation there is roughly 175,000 acres of green space
along roadsides in Minnesota. Through conservation and restoration of prairies along these roadsides
we could potentially provide more habitat and resources for pollinators. Due to showy
goldenrods ability to adapt to a wide range of growing conditions it could ensure pollinator
resources late into the fall in these roadside plantings.
Showy goldenrod not only provides resources for pollinators but also attracts predatory
insects such as predatory wasps, syrphid flies and goldenrod beetles that will help in biological
control. This makes showy goldenrod an ideal plant for conservation planting on farms.
The map on the left shows pre-settlement prairie lands in yellow. The right map shows that
the prairie has been replaced by cultivated land. We as humans have disrupted our natural
habitats, and if we do not learn to share our land with animal pollinators, the ecological
stakes will become very high.