The Goldenrod Allergy Myth
Goldenrod blooms are an autumn delight—both for human admirers and wildlife visitors. I can’t help but smile when I see the sunny blossoms, teeming with pollinators. That’s what makes hearing the native plants (Solidago spp.) regarded as the main cause of hay fever so disheartening: Sharing the same flowering period as the culprits, they are labeled guilty by association.
On two recent nature walks, peers have identified goldenrods as the trigger for seasonal suffering—a seemingly common misconception. Most species of flowering plants depend on either animals, notably insects, or wind to disperse their pollen. It’s the latter group of wind-pollinated plants, notably ragweeds, that are primarily responsible for late summer and fall hay fever in much of the United States. “Their pollen tends to be small and buoyant so it can be carried airborne by the gentlest breeze,” writes Janet Marinelli in a National Wildlife article about allergy-friendly gardening. Fortunately for gardeners and wildlife lovers, she adds, goldenrods and other plants pollinated by animals “have not only brightly colored blooms but also large, heavy pollen that is less likely to be allergenic.”
According to Doug Tallamy, author of Bringing Nature Home, goldenrods support more than 100 species of butterfly and moth in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic alone—a mere sampling of the wildlife drawn to the plants for both food and shelter. Birds benefit when the wildflowers are allowed to go to seed. Left standing in the winter, these faded goldenrods provide welcome nourishment to avian passers-by.