Seaside goldenrod might be the power food for fall pollinators
Published October 16, 2021, McAllen Monitor
Story and photos by Anita Westervelt, South Texas Border Chapter Texas Master Naturalist
If I had to designate a flower of the month for October, it would surely be Southern seaside goldenrod.
There are two seaside goldenrod species considered native to eastern coastal areas from Newfoundland to Texas: Northern (Solidago sempervirens) and Southern (Solidago mexicana). A quick way to tell the difference in the two species is in the southern variety the leaves can be nearly seven inches in length at the base of the stalk, becoming shorter on the upper stem.
Last fall, a friend brought me a large Southern seaside goldenrod from her Brownsville garden. I took great pains deciding where to plant it, eventually selecting a spot at the top edge of a small sloping area in one of my butterfly gardens. The wind generally blows from the top of the slope, which I thought might be important to the positioning. All I knew about goldenrod was that it produced mega bunches of glorious golden flowers. I was thinking beyond the blooms to the possible hundreds of millions of seeds perhaps being blown by the wind. At the bottom of the slope is a lower yard of regularly mowed grass that extends to the resaca. Seeds blowing into the resaca shouldn’t be a problem if the plant turns out to be a prolific self-propagator.
To backtrack, this has been a peculiar gardening year. In late January, many spring-flowering plants were already blooming. In February, the unusual and devastating week-long freeze killed much of the Valley’s flora. About six weeks later, most native plants began to recover but the blooming cycle on some has been disrupted. I think that happened to my goldenrod transplant.
After the freeze, I cut it back to soil level. Seemingly, it has taken all summer to grow healthy leafy stalks. Buds finally began appearing in September and then, a few days into October, they burst into bloom and became the go-to plant of that pollinator garden, competing with the usual favorite, fall-blooming mist flower (Chromolaena odorata).
In just a few days, I photographed a dozen species of butterflies on the goldenrod. Mixing with the tiny fiery skippers, whirlabouts, bordered patches, queens and white peacocks have been other pollinators: ants, flies, wasps, bees, scentless plant bugs, banded cucumber beetles and Belotus, a genus of soldier beetles. One morning, I caught a Rambur’s forktail damselfly waiting for the sun to warm it. Another morning, an elegant silver garden orbweaver filled the gap between two branches with its ornate web.
Goldenrods have been recognized in Texas as a major food source for fall migrating monarch butterflies. Along coastal areas, seaside goldenrod has been valuable in dune restoration, stormwater management, and roadside and habitat plantings.
Seaside goldenrod in coastal areas growing in sand with high salt levels generally only grows to a height of three feet. Inland, mine was growing upright at about six feet when the heavy bloom heads arched the stalks toward the ground where they bob and weave in the wind, with stalwart insects riding the blooms like a carnival ride.