Goldenrods and Spotted Joe-pye at the entrance to Harkness Park in Waterford September14, 2015

Goldenrods and Spotted Joe-pye at the entrance to Harkness Park in Waterford September14, 2015

My tent stands in a garden
Of aster and goldenrod,
Tilled by the rain and the sunshine,

And sown by the hand of God, –   Bliss William Carman

Goldenrods, Solidago ssp., form one of the most interesting interrelationships between flora and fauna of the late- season flowering plants in New England.  The name solidago is from two Latin words meaning  “ to make” and “ whole”, referring to its use as herbal remedies in the form of teas or compresses, among other uses. Goldenrods are perennial herbs that are members of the Asteraceae, or aster, family. Flowering in August and September they are often found blooming together with the Joe-pyes and asters. The time of year that they bloom has made them a scapegoat for many allergy sufferers who believe  they are to blame them for symptoms that are actually due to the ragweeds that flower at the same time.

The colorful brown-hooded owlet caterpillar that feed on goldenrod flower buds as well as leaves

The colorful brown-hooded owlet caterpillar that feed on goldenrod flower buds as well as leaves

Goldenrods naturally produce rubber, the Solidago altissima, or Tall Goldenrod being the champ at 6.34.%  rubber content. Thomas Edison experimented with a cultivation process to increase rubber content in these plants. George Washington Carver and Henry Ford devised a process to make a much- needed rubber substitute during World War II using goldenrods.

Goldenrods have a unique type of inflorescence that consists of many tiny flowers that aggregate together in a flower head and form a “ false flower”. The individual flowers are most commonly in the form of ray flowers or disk flowers. Identification of species is often done by observing the hairs on the seeds, which may be visible when the plant is still in flower. Goldenrods vary in height, with the tallest (Solidago altissima) at six feet. Some, such as Solidago odora (Sweet Goldenrod) have pleasant odors.

Honey bee on Downy Goldenrod

Honey bee on Downy Goldenrod

One of the most common goldenrods in New England is the Canada goldenrod, Solidago Canadensis. It is considered alleopathic to sugar maple seedlings, producing chemicals that inhibit their growth. Habitat is disturbed areas- meadows and fields or roadsides. This is a tall plant with hairy stems and a plume flower arrangement. It is associated with the goldenrod  gall fly, Eurosta solidaginis, whose larva feed inside a round gall on the stem which is formed by the reaction of the plant to the larva’s saliva. You can easily find these galls when green or later in the season when stalks turn brown. The larva chew an exit hole before the plant tissue hardens up for the winter. In the spring, the adult fly will exit through this hole. Downy woodpeckers and chickadees will peck at these galls to access the larva, especially in harsh winters.

Goldenrod bunch gall and goldenrod fly gall.

Goldenrod bunch gall and goldenrod fly gall.

Tiger Swallowtail on Canada Goldenrod

Tiger Swallowtail on Canada Goldenrod

Licorice goldenrod, Solidago odora, has a licorice or anise, scent and the leaves were used in a tea by the Cherokee for colds, coughs, and fevers. This plant is found in the southernmost parts of the New England states, but is absent in Maine. Found in woodlands, along roadsides, disturbed sites and old fields, the flowers have been used to make deep yellow dyes and attract beneficial insects such as lady beetles and lacewings.

Solidago bicolor, white goldenrod, is found at the edges of woodlands. It is also sometimes called “ silver rod “ in reference to its white flowers, the only goldenrod with white flowers in the eastern part of the country. The stamens and pollen will give it a slightly yellow look. Sometimes the spectacular brown hooded owlet caterpillar can be found on this plant where it primarily eats the flower buds and flowers. Found more often on goldenrods with longer flower spikes, this caterpillar is a favorite  of many lepidopterists.

Silverrod on woodland edge

Silverrod on woodland edge

Solidago juncea, or early goldenrod, gets its common name from its bloom time, which can be as much as a month prior to many other goldenrod species. This attractive, slender plant has a very delicate appearance, and can be distinguished from other goldenrods by the lack of, or near lack, on the stems and leaves. White-tailed deer, woodchucks, cottontail rabbits and livestock may feed on the plant if less desirable food is available.

Goldenrods provide a source of seeds for Eastern Goldfinch, Tree, Swamp and Song Sparrows as well as some migrating warblers such as the Yellow- rumped warblers.

There are many insects and other arthropods that rely on goldenrods for survival. Bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, flies, cucumber beetles and many others visit flowers for nectar and pollen. Blister beetles are often found on these plants in the late summer and early fall. Butterflies of many species benefit from the long nectar season provided by goldenrods that provide bloom in succession for two months. Migratory butterflies especially depend on this food source as they travel south. Many beneficial insects, such as soldier beetles and assassin bugs use the flowers as either food sources or hideouts, where they wait to ambush other insects. If you see a butterfly hanging upside down without moving, check and see if an ambush bug or crab spider is feeding on it. Caterpillars such as the Asteroid and Brown-hooded Owlet, aphids, tarnished plant bugs, and many other insects feed on flowers, stems and leaves. Wasps, goldenrod and crabr spiders, praying mantids, lacewings, ambush bugs, assassin bugs, spined soldier bugs and birds prey on insects that visit or live on the plants.

Asteroid Caterpillar- named for the family of plants it feeds on.

Asteroid Caterpillar- named for the family of plants it feeds on.

Chinese mantids also hang out around goldenrods, and often lay their egg masses on its stems. Look for these in the winter if heavy snows haven’t mashed the plants into the ground. I sometimes take a stem with the mantid egg case and stick it in my garden. The mantids usually emerge by mid- May.

There is a great interconnection between goldenrods, vertebrates and invertebrates, and nature reveals such things to the careful observer. If you happen upon some goldenrod, or seek it out on purpose, just a few moments of careful observation will be rewarded with a peek into the drama that is on display in a simple stand of yellow flowers.

Pamm Cooper                               All photos © 2015 Pamm Cooper

Bee collecting pollen

Bee with pollen sacks full on legs. photo by etsu.edu

Bees are extremely important and responsibly for 75% of the foods we eat every day. There are more than 4,000 species of bees in North America, and about 350 in the Northeast. They include honey bees, bumble bees, mason bees, carpenter bees, sweat bees, orchard bees, and the list goes on! Some are programmed to visit only a certain species of plants while others are cosmopolitan feeders, going to a wide variety of flowers to seek out nectar and pollen. They all pollinate flowers that then produce a fruit or vegetable. Leaf crops are the exception, but it could be said that without pollination, fruiting and the resulting seed production, there would not be seed for future leaf crops. So we need bees, all kinds of bees, not just honey bees. Other insects, animals and even some birds also pollinate certain crops. Hummingbirds come to mind for one.

Bees of the Eastern U.S., by osu.edu, Alex Surcica,

Bees of the Eastern U.S., by osu.edu, Alex Surcica,

How do we keep our bee pollinators happy and alive to do the job? I have listed the highlights of ways we humans can assist this important tasks on which we depend.

white willow in bloom, hort.uconn.edu

white willow in bloom, hort.uconn.edu

Food for bees. Plant flowers. Trees and shrubs are important flowering plants in addition to the perennials, annuals and vegetables that we normally think of when taking bees into consideration. Trees and shrubs typically flower very early in the spring, some in late winter, providing nectar sources for the very early bees that emerge from their winter hiding places and nests. Willows and witchhazels are bloomers bees count on. Think continued blooming to feed from early season until will into the fall. Also plant en masse. Bees flying overhead are more likely to find larger groupings of plants in flower than just one or two plants spaced apart.

Types of plants that provide a heavy nectar source are best. Single flowered plants produce more nectar and pollen than plants bred for double flowers. An example is cosmos; the original single petal variety is better for bees than the flower with a double row of petals. Same goes for double petunias. Think single flowers. Plants in the mint and aster families are huge nectar producers beloved by bees. Asters and golden rod bloom late when there is not much else out. It goes without saying that native plants will be a benefit to native bees, aligned to bloom and provide sustenance at just the right time it is needed most.

The Xerces Society has a great native plant list for the northeast at the link below.

http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/NortheastPlantList_web.pdf

Bee drinking, ucanr.edu

Bee drinking, ucanr.edu, Kathy Keatley Garvey photo

Water for bees. All life needs water. Bees do not swim, nor can they ‘stand’ on water. Bird baths are great, just keep them shallow and place a rock with the top exposed into the center of the water. This gives the bees a place to drink from without drowning. In the wild, bee drink from damp edges of streams and ponds, and wet soil. Place shallow plates of water among your plants.

http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=1450

Bee housing, uvm.edu

Bee housing, uvm.edu

Bee keeper and hive, tufts.edu

Housing for bees. Honey bees can live in hives, managed by humans, but they don’t need our help. In nature, they will find a protected hole in a tree, a cavity or wall void in which to live. There are many other bee species that are not honey bees. Two thirds of these bees live in than soil. Some solitary, others in communities. Beware of soil tillage. Digging up the ground can and will disturb bee nests. Observe an area before disturbing the soil. If bees are present, if you see them entering the ground, coming and going, you have an active bee pollinator area. Bees like to live in a sunny area where the soil is warmer, and especially on the edge of woods. Dead trees and broken branches, piles of brush and undisturbed grassy areas provide protection and cover for many bee living quarters. Some bees make their homes in hollow stems of plants, others will hollow out dead twigs. As gardeners, we usually clean up these areas, but leave some as bee habitat.

Ground dwelling bee, entomology.osu.edu

Ground dwelling bee, entomology.osu.edu

Don’t use pesticides. To protect the bees, never spray any insecticide or fungicide when flowers are open and bees are present. Bees are active during daylight hours, so for growers and others that must spray as a last resort for certain pests and crops, it should be applied during the dark of morning, i.e. 4 a.m. to avoid hitting the bees and so that the pesticide dries before the bees become active. Systemic insecticides, ones that are applied to the soil then taken up by the plant, will move to all parts of the plant, including the pollen, nectar and even gutation water formed as tiny droplets expressed on leaf edges. Bees will take in the pesticide through these sources, and while it may not be enough to kill them outright, the toxins will weaken the bees and build up in the colony.

-Carol Quish