September and October are yellow months as the goldenrods turn fields and road ditches brilliant yellow. While much of the attention goes to the leaves as they change color, the colorful fields are a hub of activity. Goldenrods attract a huge variety of insects, including many honeybees and native bees; the flowers provide the last meals before winter arrives.
While bees are common on the goldenrod flowers, the plant is important to a host of others, including moths and butterflies, flies, caterpillars, ambush bugs, lacewings and an assortment of beetles. One of the more popular insects to be seen around the goldenrod is the praying mantis.
The Praying Mantis will lay eggs on the goldenrod so that when they hatch, the young will have plenty eat. Much the same is true with the Gall Fly. Gall Flies live entirely on the goldenrod plant and the female injects her eggs into the stem forming what is called the gall, a round ball seen on the stem. At times, woodpeckers can be seen on the gall, knocking though to get a meal of the developing larvae.
There is even a unique crab spider called the Goldenrod Spider. While it is not harmful to humans, it does strike it’s prey, often much larger, with a powerful venom. The Goldenrod Spider does not make a web to catch it’s prey but rather waits in the yellow flowers for a meal. This spider is also unusual in that it can change it’s color, shifting back and forth between white and yellow.
There are over dozens of known species of goldenrod in North America which often bloom with the wild and regal purple asters. Together, along with other brilliant wildflowers in bloom, the display is one of the best, free flower shows available. While the vast majority of goldenrod flowers are shades yellows and golds, there is one species with white flowers,Solidago bicolor.
Goldenrods are abundant throughout much of North America and Europe. While they are often blamed for fall allergies, it is most likely the ragweed, with a lighter, wind blown, pollen, which is the likely culprit.
In folk medicine, the common goldenrod is most used to brew a tea. It is reputed to help urinary tract infections, kidney stones and to heal wounds. It’s Latin name, solidago, means to make whole. Or to strengthen.
In many regions of Appalachia, a tea brewed from the leaves, called “Blue Mountain Tea”, is used to alleviate exhaustion and to help treat cold and flu symptoms. The tea made from the leaves has a somewhat anise flavor. The medicinal aspects of the goldenrod were also known to many Native American peoples, some who called it sun medicine.
The goldenrod flower has long been associated with good fortune in folklore. It was believed that wearing flower would result in meeting a true love the following day. Another folklore claims, that a baby bathed in goldenrod leaves would grow up to have a sunny disposition.
Thomas Edison was thinking about more than a sunny disposition when he was experimenting with the plant. Edison believed the goldenrod could be a good source for domestic rubber. Edison, along with Henry Ford and Henry Firestone, tested 17,000 plants and found the goldenrod plant to be the best suited for home grown rubber production. The testing was done at the Edison Botanic Research Corporation located in Fort Myers, Florida. A crossbred goldenrod plant developed there grew to an amazing 12 feet tall and was believed to contain 12 percent rubber. Some test tires, made from rubber extracted from the goldenrod plant, were made for the Model T Fords. The goldenrod rubber project was discontinued when synthetic rubber was discovered.
Those yellow fields in the early autumn countryside have a lot of history, both commercial and medicinal; they are an ancient ritual vital to the environment, and one of the best flower show around.