Field Guide: It's not the goldenrod

Sep 17, 2020

Bee on goldenrod.
Credit Cheryl Bartz

Cheryl Gross says a common misconception is “beautiful yellow goldenrod flowers” are the cause seasonal allergies. 

“They’re not,” says the president of Plant it Wild.


Gross says the real culprit is ragweed.  


It blooms at the same time as goldenrod, but isn’t very noticeable. It’s dull green with tiny dull green flowers.  


Ragweed doesn’t need to be flashy because it doesn’t need to attract insects. 


“It’s wind pollinated,” Gross explains. ”So when it ripens and lets its pollen out, the pollen floats through the air and gets into our eyes and our noses and our mouths.” 

Goldenrod, on the other hand, is bright yellow because it needs insects for pollination. Its pollen is heavy and sticky and generally stays in the flower.  

Bees, butterflies and beetles have to visit the plant to get pollen and nectar.


Goldenrod is important because it’s one of the few flowers blooming right now. It provides food for monarch butterflies and other insects getting ready for winter.


“We desperately need goldenrod,” says Gross. "It is so fun to see the bright emergence as the leaves on our trees begin to wilt, everything begins to say, you know, it’s fall. And then we have this bright, glowing goldenrod.”