WILD GEORGIA: Blooming goldenrods herald fall’s arrival

No other wildflower announces the arrival of late summer and early fall in Georgia better than goldenrod — or, I should say goldenrods, since the state is home to more than 30 species of the plant that sports the bright, yellow flowers.

Goldenrod’s brilliant, plumelike blooms are appearing now in old fields, roadsides, fencerows and other sunny spaces around Georgia — and will become absolutely spectacular over the next month or so as the plant forms large colonies from spreading underground stems. That’s particularly true of Georgia’s most common goldenrod species, the tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima), which occurs all over the state.

Enjoy the beauty. Despite a widespread belief, showy goldenrod blooms rarely, if ever, cause stuffy noses and watery eyes among allergy sufferers.

Deserving most of the blame for the allergy misery is another fall blooming plant, the ragweed, a drab plant with tiny, green, inconspicuous flowers. The ragweed’s powdery pollen is carried by the wind, whereas the goldenrod’s heavier, stickier pollen is spread primarily by insects, making it far less likely to affect noses and eyes.

All of Georgia’s goldenrod species belong to the genus Solidago, which in Latin means “to make whole,” a phrase that reflects goldenrod’s therapeutic qualities. From goldenrod, Native Americans and early European settlers made a tea to treat sore throats and a poultice for wounds and skin ulcers.

While the stunning beauty of blooming goldenrods alone is enough to take one’s breath away, perhaps the most astounding thing to me is the variety and amazing number of bees, wasps, flies, aphids, butterflies, beetles, spiders and other invertebrates — some 200 species — that are lured to the blooms.

Some, like the bees, are nectar and pollen foragers. Some, though, are predators, such as the spiders and the ambush bug, which lie in wait to snatch a nectar eater. One predator, the goldenrod crab spider, is so-named because it’s almost always found on the blooms.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be new on Monday. Mercury and Venus are low in the west just after sunset. Mercury will appear near the moon on Wednesday; Venus will do so on Thursday. Jupiter and Saturn are in the south at dark.

Charles Seabrook can be reached at charles.seabrook@yahoo.com.