Mashomack Musings: Goldenrod, found in abundance on Shelter Island, deserves its due

Got hayfever? For years allergy sufferers blamed goldenrod, that ubiquitous bright yellow late season flower which seems to have started blooming overnight. 

However, ragweed, found in similar habitats as goldenrod, produces inconspicuous small green flowers and copious amounts of airborne pollen at this time of year. Like an older brother or sister who is blamed for the antics of a younger sibling, the flamboyant goldenrod is mislabeled as the culprit for runny noses, sneezes and other allergy symptoms. Ragweed is the key offender in your seasonal allergy misery.

There are over 100 species of goldenrod. Here on Shelter Island you can find them on roadsides, in meadows and along the shore. Characterized as “short day” plants, they often are found alongside their daisy-like cousins, the asters. 

This abundant yellow flower is sometimes decried as a weed, but it is important for late season bees and other insects. Unlike ragweed, goldenrod’s pollen is too heavy to get airborne and instead depends on insects to carry it from flower to flower. Luckily, goldenrod is a prime source of late season nectar for bees and butterflies and helps extend the honey season.

Goldenrod has been used in traditional medicines for centuries. Some species are used as a traditional kidney tonic. The flowers can also be used in a fabric dye. After dumping their favorite beverage into the harbor, rebellious American colonists discovered that goldenrod leaves make a nice tea. Liberty Tea became quite popular. 

Goldenrod will be blooming for the next month or so. As the seasons continue to roll on, the plant will provide seeds for many birds and small mammals, and their dried stalks provide shelter from cold winds. Take time to appreciate these icons of autumn before they fade away.