Goldenrod is one of those plants that everyone knows, but no one can identify—or so it seems. The genus Solidago—to which all the goldenrods belong—is extremely variable. The flowers, the leaves, even the general silhouette of the plant can vary markedly depending on where you live. The ones here on the west coast have baffled me for years.
But there is one thing you can be sure of: the bees love it. The one small patch I have is absolutely loaded with bees—mostly bumble bees, but also small native bees and butterflies. I’ve seen each inflorescence heavy with five or six large bumble bees at once. I never get tired of watching them.
Goldenrod belongs to the Asteraceae family—the very large plant family that includes dandelions and daisies, tansy and thistles, artichokes and sunflowers—along with about 22,750 other species. Although most are herbaceous plants, some are shrubs, vines, and even trees.
About 100 species of goldenrod are native to North America. Since they flower late in the summer, they are an important source of both nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, and some wasps. Nectar is most plentiful in years when there is abundant moisture before bloom time, and when bloom time remains warm and sunny. The honey is said to be light to medium amber with a spicy taste.
If you want to attract a variety of bees to your pollinator garden, goldenrod is a perfect choice. Use a tall species as a back border or a shorter species mixed in with Russian sage, purple agastache, or blue asters. Goldenrod likes full sun but is not picky about the soil as long as it drains freely and does not remain wet.