Nature Bulletin No. 237-A September 24, 1966
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
This year's parade of wildflowers will soon be over. Bringing up the
rear with massed colors of gold and blue, we see the goldenrods and
their close relatives, the asters. Since the first of August, in northern
Illinois, the goldenrods have been blooming in profusion along the
roadsides, in abandoned fields, in the prairies and in swampy ground.
Basking in the hot sun or tossing and waving in the autumn winds, the
golden plumes of these prolific weeds have transformed the wastelands
into places of beauty.
If we were to choose a national flower, the leading contender would
probably be the goldenrod. Everybody knows it. It is typically North
American. Of 100 or more species, there are only two or three in
Europe and very few in Mexico and South America. About 30 kinds
have been found in the Chicago region of which 13 are common. There
is hardly a part of the United States without one or more kinds. The
goldenrod is the state flower of Alabama, Kentucky and Nebraska.
Everybody knows the goldenrod but only the expert botanists know
them all and can identify or describe them according to where they
grow and the differences in their stems, leaves and flowers. They are all
perennials and belong to the great family of composites. The flower,
usually a plume, is really made up of numerous flower heads with many
little flowers in each head. These flowers last a long time and are cross-
fertilized by the many insects they attract: chiefly butterflies and the
There are some goldenrods that bloom as early as June, and some that
bloom very late; some are short and some are tall; some are graceful
and beautiful but some are rather coarse and unattractive. There is one,
found on the hammocks about Fort Meade, Florida, which grows 18 1/2
feet tall. There is a dwarf form, which only grows to be 3 to 12 inches
tall, found on the tops of mountains in Maine, New Hampshire, New
York and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
There is one species which grows in salt marshes along the Atlantic
coast; another which gives off a heavy odor of anise when crushed; one
species has orange-colored flowers; and one kind actually has white
flowers! Not all goldenrods grow in open places. In dark rich woods
there live several species very different from the others: with small
heads of flowers in small groups where the leaves grow out from the
stem, instead of masses or plumes at the top.
Contrary to popular belief, very little if any hayfever can be attributed
to the goldenrods. Their pollen is so heavy and sticky that it is not
carried by the wind. Most hayfever is caused by the fine light dry pollen
produced in great quantities by the ragweeds and possibly some of the
grasses -- airborne and frequently carried many miles. The Goldenrod is
a harmless weed, valuable for erosion control and as food and cover for
winter birds, Many years ago, certain species had a reputation for
healing wounds; and another was one of the principle ingredients of a
patent medicine called "Blue Mountain Tea" for colic and intestinal
pains. The Potawatomi and Ojibwe Indians made tea from the flowers
of three kinds, for treating fevers and other maladies. They used the
turnip-like root of the Bog Goldenrod to make a poultice for "ripening"
White goldenrod; green violets; mammals that lay eggs -- Dame Nature
has some queer children.
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Update: June 2012