By all accounts, hay fever sufferers in the DFW Metroplex are going to have a tough time this fall. A rainy spring and summer have provided optimum growing conditions for ragweed, the primary culprit responsible for itchy eyes and runny noses this time of year. However, many folks mistake ragweed’s showy neighbor, goldenrod, as the source of their misery.
It’s not hard to understand the confusion. Ragweed (Ambrosia sp) is a pretty nondescript plant. It’s just a bunch of green leaves with spikes of tiny green inconspicuous flowers growing in disturbed fields and ditches. And then there’s goldenrod (Solidago sp) – wands of cheery yellow flowers blooming at just about the same time that everyone starts sneezing and grabbing their antihistamines. Ragweed and goldenrod share the same habitats and are often found together.
The offending part of ragweed is its pollen. It’s microscopic and easily inhaled far into the nasal passages triggering an allergic response in many people. Ragweed plants are wind-pollinated, producing copious amounts of fine pollen that is easily dispersed. Plants with conspicuous flowers, like goldenrod, typically produce bigger pollen that is more easily filtered out by your nasal hairs. This relatively large pollen is sticky and intended to be carried off by pollinators like bees.
Goldenrod flowers are a good source of nectar during the fall migration of many butterflies. However, I don’t recommend digging up roadside goldenrod and putting those plants in your garden. Their aggressive root systems will be very happy to take over your space to the exclusion of everything else! Fortunately, there are a number of clumping varieties that are much more mannerly and suitable for pollinator gardens in urban and suburban landscapes. Goldenrod is perennial and prefers full sun, but isn’t a water hog or picky about soil. Look for ‘Fireworks’ – sprays of arching yellow flower spikes getting about 4’ tall and ‘Golden Fleece’, a dwarf variety to about 16” tall.
If you want to increase pollinators in your autumn garden, consider goldenrod and feel free to leave the tissues behind.