Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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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 bee-like flies.

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" a boil.

White goldenrod; green violets; mammals that lay eggs -- Dame Nature has some queer children.

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