Golden native plant

The Nature of PEI by Gary Schneider

Seaside goldenrod [photo by Macphail Woods]

The value of having pollinator plants that attract a variety of creatures is becoming increasingly understood. Pollinator plants that bloom early in the year are critically important for bees, wasps, midges, and even hummingbirds. Red maple flowers support large numbers of bees and wasps.  Serviceberry and willow flowers are incredibly valuable for many types of bees gathering pollen. And the hanging, tube-shaped flowers of the American fly honeysuckle provide the first nectar for hummingbirds.

At this time of year, I’m always intrigued by the plants that seem to march to a different drummer. Witch hazel, one of our rarest native shrubs, produces beautiful yellow ribbon-like flowers in September and October. A host of flies, wasps and even beetles help to pollinate this plant, though this subject seems to be remarkably understudied.

A recent trip to East Point reminded me of the importance of fall flowering plants. Sunny areas along the north shore—and many other Island locales—are awash in a sea of yellow, the flowers of seaside goldenrod. While we may think of winter starting to close in, the seaside goldenrods are shining and full of life.

Goldenrods as a family get little to no respect from horticulturists and gardeners. They’re often maligned as a cause of problems for those suffering from allergies, when in fact it is ragweed that is usually the culprit. Many varieties can cause problems in gardens, as their tough and spreading root system makes it hard to get rid of existing plants, and each plant can produce thousands of seeds.

Seaside goldenrod is a particularly tough native plant, thriving in harsh conditions that include severe wind, saltspray, dryness, and sandy soil lacking in nutrients. Yet this stocky wildflower—which can grow up to two feet (.6 metres) tall—not only survives but thrives in these conditions.  The leaves are long and elliptical, and the flowers are produced in dense, showy clusters of the most beautiful yellow that you can imagine.

The Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre has recorded thirteen species of goldenrods in the province. The zig-zag goldenrod found in forests is like the shy sibling, hiding in the shade of forests and not nearly as aggressive as some of the other species. There is nothing shy about the seaside goldenrod, though. In those conditions where few other plants can compete, it stands out bold and proud.

Fortunately, more and more people are recognizing this beauty and are using it in native plant landscaping. Mass plantings of seaside goldenrod are impressive for their foliage alone, but they really shine in September and October. When the blue flag iris and swamp milkweed have long lost their flowers, seaside goldenrod bursts into bloom, almost demanding attention.

Goldenrods are easily grown from seed. Collect the flower heads once they start to turn brown and place in a paper bag in a warm place. Once dry, a gentle shaking will loosen the seeds and these can be planted directly into a garden bed and mulched, or stored in a cool, dry place and planted in the spring. Like most other small seeds, these should be lightly covered with soil and kept moist.

While generally found growing in harsh conditions, seaside goldenrod does quite well when given a little extra care in a garden. It doesn’t crave harsh conditions, it just tolerates them. Think about trying something new in your garden to give you fall colours and compliment your red and sugar maple, white ash, and staghorn sumac. You won’t regret it.