2018-10-12 / Home & Garden

Two Golden Girls at Work Along the Highway

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

Rural roads and highways on the outskirts of the city are lined with seasonal wildflowers throughout the year. In September and October two golden native composite family wildflowers take turns lighting up the highways with the fire of fall.

The state wildflower goldenrod, Solidaga altissima, stands 3-6’ tall with yellow plume-like flower clusters atop arching stems. The composite flowers on goldenrod are made of central disc florets and narrow ray florets. Tall goldenrod forms colonies with stems arising from underground rhizomes.

Of 100 species of goldenrod worldwide, most in North America, 28 species are found in South Carolina. These hardy perennials have few insect pests and diseases. The desire to create habitat for wildlife introduces many to goldenrod. The plant’s sticky pollen attracts bees, wasps, flies, beetles, moths, and butterflies. Goldenrod nectar is an important fall flight fuel for monarchs migrating to Mexico. Home gardeners in the United States became interested in goldenrod as a home garden flower with the introduction of shorter hybrids developed by Europe’s cut flower industry in the 1950s.

Goldenrod, the S.C. state wildflower, brings the fire of fall to roadsides and highways. Goldenrod, the S.C. state wildflower, brings the fire of fall to roadsides and highways. The Chicago Botanic Garden grows one of the largest collections of native goldenrods and cultivars on display in their various gardens to make the public aware of goldenrod fit for the home landscape. ‘Golden Sun’, ‘Baby Sun’, ‘Fireworks’, ‘Goldkind’, and ‘Golden Fleece’ are a few recommended for garden use.

A perennial golden cousin of goldenrod, yellow crownbeard, Verbesina occidentalis, displays its bright flowerheads of circular central yellow discs surrounded by 2-5 yellow rays on 7-9’ tall stems. The sparse ray flowers give the unkempt appearance of having a bad hair day all the time. Some compare the flowerhead to a ragged yellow mop.

Goldenrod nectar is flight fuel for migrating monarchs. Goldenrod nectar is flight fuel for migrating monarchs. The plant is prolific and grows in great masses along roadsides and fencerows. Many pollinators probe for pollen and nectar. Crownbeard is used in the home garden for biological pest control. Soldier beetles, a beneficial insect, appear on crownbeard consuming small pests like aphids, grasshopper eggs, caterpillars, and mites.

Yellow crownbeard is a bioindicator for ozone pollution. The plant’s leaf is being observed to detect ground level ozone levels at schools in Charlotte. Clean Air Carolina helps organizations and schools plant Ozone Gardens (yellow crownbeard, common milkweed, and cutleaf coneflower) to raise awareness of the effects of ozone on plants and people. Over time the leaves of ozone sensitive plants show purple and black stippling on the upper epidermis from exposure to high levels of ozone. Ultimately, leaves turn yellow, die, and drop off.

Flowerheads of crownbeard look unkempt. Flowerheads of crownbeard look unkempt. Take a road trip out of town along country roads and be escorted by two golden girls working for you along the highway in October.

Crownbeard grows in great abundance along highways. Crownbeard grows in great abundance along highways.

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