Northland Nature: Patches of goldenrods abound
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.”
Late August is a remarkable time in the Northland. The days are filled with various seasonal happenings. Bird migration can be seen with raptors at Hawk Ridge, geese in the lakes and warblers in the woods. With ample rainfall, lawns and forest floors respond with a plethora of mushrooms of many kinds, sizes and colors.
Also, there is probably no better time to observe the abundance of spider webs in the roadsides, fields and wetlands. All our types of webs — cobwebs, sheet webs, funnel webs and orb webs — abound now, but the orbs hold the droplets of dew and fog on these cooling mornings. For anyone willing to get wet, trekking here is well worth the effort to be able to see and photograph dozens of these snares created by our eight-legged neighbors at this time.
As with the roadside botany of the whole summer, the ones in bloom now reveal quite a bouquet of colors and species. Walking by, I see several kinds flowering, including Joe Pye weed, bergamot, thistle, sweetclover, bindweed, hyssop and white clematis. But most common are the late-season trio of asters, sunflowers and goldenrods. A diligent search may turn up about a dozen kinds of each of these in the region, nearly all of which are native.
During a recent bit of local driving, I noted an almost continuous yellow along the roadsides. These included the ubiquitous tansy and sow thistles. Both are non-native and not always appreciated, but produce yellow colors, often with fluffy seeds. In addition to these yellows, there were glowing sunflowers, some high above the others, and large uniform patches of goldenrods. These yellows were mixed with some whites and purples of asters.
While walking among goldenrods at this time, I pause to look and listen. Buzzing sounds tell of insects as well as their movements, very active among these flowers. Goldenrods are a terrific source for anyone wanting to see the activities of bees, wasps, flies, crickets, grasshoppers, locusts, beetles, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, damselflies and spiders. These critters remain active all day and often into the nights.
Though most grow in the open locations of fields and roadsides, goldenrods can also be found in rocky sites, swamps and woods. They range in size from about 2 feet tall to nearly 8 feet. Their season begins with the flowering of early goldenrods at about mid-July and continues throughout the following weeks, with late and showy goldenrods not flowering until well into September.
Plants have leafy stems and branches with numerous small yellow composites florets. Many grow alone, but others form large clumps of clones. Nearly all are yellow, but a white goldenrod grows along the shores of Lake Superior. And all are native.
Perhaps the two species that stand out the most now are the Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) and tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima). Each of these flowers form thick cloning patches of blooming plants. Maybe 3-5 feet tall, it is hard to not see these hundreds of yellow flowers as we pass by. And it seems like nearly every plant holds a variety of insects with its present flora.
Goldenrods are often blamed for causing hay fever. Pollen from these yellow flowers is too heavy to drift in the wind and needs to be carried by insects, not likely to be breathed in. The real culprit is ragweed.
Don’t let this time of late summer pass without pausing to look and listen passing a patch of goldenrods.