Depending on who you ask, goldenrod is either a beautiful, shimmering sight growing in waves across a field, or an unholy menace that chokes out other plants and causes rampant allergies when it blooms, which is often and for a long time.
This is certainly one of the more divisive wild plants out there, and precious few people who know anything about it lack an opinion on it.
But what is the real story on goldenrod? Is it a weed or what?
Yes, goldenrod is a weed and a wildflower. Like all plants, it’s only considered a weed anywhere it is not wanted since it is so aggressive and persistent.
No matter what your opinion of goldenrod, there is probably a fair bit about it you don’t know.
For instance, it is not the perpetrator of allergy-related issues that it is commonly thought to be, and it can be a powerful ally when it comes to attracting pollinators to your garden and elsewhere on your property. Keep reading and you’ll learn all this and more.
Goldenrod is Really a Wildflower
Whatever else you might think of it, botanically goldenrod is a wildflower. Actually it is several species in the sunflower family Asteraceae.
Goldenrod, of one species or another, grows across much of the world and in fact has many beneficial qualities.
In North America, common indigenous varieties include the great multitudes belonging to the genus Solidago, and also Genera Bigelowia and Euthamia.
In most examples it is known for its small, bright yellow blooms that grow in dense clusters and for its typical height.
Its tall stalks make it noticeable from a long way off, and it often towers over other nearby plants, outcompeting them.
It is also its propensity for extreme growth and persistence that has led to so many people classifying it as a weed, owing to its destructive effects on other nearby plants. But does goldenrod deserve the label?
What is a Weed, Exactly?
We need to answer one fundamental question before we go further: what defines a weed, exactly? And why do so many people call goldenrod a weed?
The answer is not as straightforward as you might think; many factors go into whether or not a plant is considered to be a weed.
Generally, though, if it crowds out other plants in an area and uses resources that should belong to them- sunlight, nutrients, etc. – it tends to get labeled a weed.
Sometimes, a weed is simply defined as any plant growing where it is unwanted. There is not some strict taxonomic definition for “weed” as plants.
What is a useful or beautiful plant to one person in one place may be a weed to another person in another place.
But back to our definitions above: can goldenrod act as a weed? Definitely!
Goldenrod is Persistent, Hardy and Aggressive
All the qualities of goldenrod that make it so attractive to some people – its tall stature, bright yellow blooms, persistence, and quick growth – also make it a weed in areas where it is unwelcome and unwanted.
Goldenrod is very hardy once it has even a toehold, adapting itself to less-than-ideal conditions like poor soil and dryness where it quickly develops a tolerance for drought and even some shade.
It is also incredibly persistent: if you pull out one plant, another will almost certainly take its place in short order.
This means that once goldenrod has established itself somewhere, it’s likely to stay there for a while unless actively removed again and again.
This is because goldenrod grows from rhizomes, which are underground stems that can spread rapidly and send up new shoots even after the main plant (or what we see as the main plant) has been removed from the soil or destroyed in place.
Goldenrod is also very prolific once it gets going, spreading rapidly and producing many seeds, which compounds the issue of its rhizomatic spread.
In short, goldenrod will run rampant unless caught early and controlled with prejudice. If it is allowed to establish itself, even for a season, you might wind up dealing with it for the foreseeable future.
Goldenrod Can Easily Take Over a Garden, or Block Other Plants
As any gardener knows, aggressive plants like goldenrod spell bad news for most crops, ornamentals, and other plant life we have placed and tend to with care.
If it’s not contained, goldenrod can easily take over a garden with its vast root system and thick foliage.
This root network can wind up robbing other plants of nutrients they need to prosper or even choke them out.
In addition to this, its tall stalks can shade plants nearby, depriving them of light.
As the other plants grow increasingly beleaguered from the ever-spreading, ever-growing goldenrod (which can thrive in less than ideal conditions, mind you) they will start to struggle, and then die off completely much of the time.
In fact, goldenrod can grow so large and so heavy that it can topple over and crush smaller plants beneath it, killing them entirely. But the goldenrod will come back, and then have the patch all to itself…
But, as bad as this sounds, know that goldenrod is not all bad.
Goldenrod is Also Loved by Bees and Butterflies
Goldenrod is famous, or perhaps infamous, for those rows of magnificent, yellow flowers. Even hardened goldenrod haters cannot deny they look wonderful waving in the breeze!
Do you know who else thinks they are wonderful? Bees, butterflies, and all kinds of pollinator insects! In fact, there is hardly any flowering plant they seem to like more.
For this reason, goldenrod can be an important asset to a pollinator garden, or to any property where you want to see the things you plant grow and grow.
Once established and blooming, goldenrod will attract bees and butterflies in droves, which will then work the other plants in your garden, helping them prosper.
If you’re looking to entice more of these beneficial insects to your outdoor space, you might want to consider making room for some goldenrod. Just be prepared to manage it!
Goldenrod Can Significantly Increase Nitrogen Levels in Soil
Another unique quirk of goldenrod that has some serious implications for gardening and farming alike is its tendency to significantly increase the nitrogen levels in the soil where it grows.
Nitrogen, of course, is essential to plant growth and health. Unfortunately, it is usually in short supply in many soils.
This also means that goldenrod can potentially help keep other plants healthy when planted nearby (again, if judiciously managed).
Probably the most interesting use for this characteristic is as a wide-area planting in nitrogen-deficient soils.
Used with an eye toward permaculture in areas where a given species is native, it could prove to be a huge asset in soil restoration and fertility without the need for chemical fertilizers.
Goldenrod Is Not Particularly Allergenic
Lastly, and this is a big one, it turns out that if you have allergies goldenrod is in fact not responsible for all of your woes. How can this be?
Everyone already knows how bad goldenrod is for allergy sufferers! I’ll tell you: it’s because it is most likely ragweed that is hurting you, not goldenrod.
Goldenrod has taken the fall for ragweed in many places, though. That’s because it’s often confused by the ignorant, and it usually grows in the same places and blooms at about the same time.
But goldenrod doesn’t produce the fine, dust-like pollen that ragweed does, producing instead heavy pollen that is dependent on insects to carry away.
And so, goldenrod is only a minor allergy concern, but it has gotten a bad rap thanks to that damned ragweed!
If you have allergies and have positively identified goldenrod growing on or around your property you don’t need to remove it, most likely.
If You Want to Plant It, Consider a Less Aggressive Variety
All in all, goldenrod is an interesting plant with many quirks, both good and bad.
But, if you understand its potential strengths, as well as its dangers, goldenrod can be a useful addition to any garden or outdoor space.
Just know that you’ll need to manage it in order to reap the benefits, and to ease your task consider seeking out a less aggressive variety to plant.
Varieties such as the Leraft, Early Bird, or Goldkind, all of which are known for more manageable growth habits, are ideal for at-home cultivation.
By splitting the plant every two years or so the rate of expansion can be moderated, and none typically grows so massive as to be a problem.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.