Tag Archive: bees


Okay, okay, I won’t do another one on a common fruit this month- I thought I might try instead, an uncommon vegetable- Goldenrod.

Goldenrod? Seriously?  I see you looking at the screen in bafflement…Goldenrod or Solidago has been saddled with a bad name, and one I think it doesn’t really deserve as it is an extremely useful plant in the ornamental and veggie garden, and it’s pretty smack-you-in-the-eye gorgeous when in full bloom.

Goldenrod in Fountain County Indiana

I both love and rue the Goldenrod in my garden- there’s a big patch of it that had become entangled with an azalea sometime before I took possession of the yard.  I’d sure like to see what colour that azalea is- but the goldenrod hogs all the nutrients and it has never bloomed.  Every year, I swear I’m going to dig out the entire plot, remove all the underground stems of solidago and let the azalea be what it should. And yet- when it blooms, glorious and gold in late summer, six feet high, it’s just so damn regal I just can’t bring myself to root it out.

Goldenrod is native to North America, with a sprinkling of species in Eurasia and South America, and one cannot peruse any text on ethnobotany without coming across the traditional uses of goldenrod in herbal treatments for colds, liver and kidney troubles, fever, skin ailments, nausea and as a general tonic tea. It was also included in some smoking mixtures or used as a smudge. To the Omaha tribe, it was an indicator plant that bloomed when the corn was ripening and harvest nearing.

Solidago canadensis

There haven’t been a lot of good studies on solidago, but it’s almost universally used by native Americans and Europeans alike for very similar reasons- I think there has to be some properties that haven’t been fully explored yet. The few studies that have been done reveal it to be anti-inflammatory, relieve muscle spasms, fight infections, and lower blood pressure.  It does seem to have diuretic properties, and is used in Europe to treat urinary tract inflammation and to prevent or treat kidney stones. In fact, goldenrod is commonly found in teas to help “flush out” kidney stones and stop inflammatory diseases of the urinary tract.  But herbal uses are just the beginning!

The young greens can be eaten as a vegetable, steamed and buttered in spring when still tender. The leaves, flowers and stems can be collected to make herbal infusions and teas. The flowers and seeds are edible raw.  And here’s another kicker-it makes rubber! Well, to be specific, it makes latex, but that can be converted into rubber quite easily.  Thomas Edison managed to breed a variety of solidago that yielded as high as 12% rubber.  (Incidentally, this is not the only plant to produce lots of latex.  Common dandelion is a great latex producer, too.)

AND- yes, there’s more to this multifunctional plant- it makes an unbeatable companion plant for the gardener- attracting massive amounts of predatory insects, butterflies and bees.  This plant produces a LOT of nectar and may just be the most popular plant in the garden in August, buzzing with activity.  It’s a must for butterfly gardens, many species find it highly attractive. Now- this is a bit icky, but if you’re an organic gardener you’ll appreciate it- this plant attracts hordes of aphids that are plant-specific, meaning they won’t touch the plants next to it. Mine’s always coated in grey aphids come late spring, but then the ladybugs arrive and begin to breed- there could not be a better nursery for ladybugs and other predatory insects. Simply put, if you want predators, you need prey- and you’ll have that in spades. And the goldenrod doesn’t even seem to CARE that it’s coated in bugs-it does just fine despite the annual infestation.

Carnica bee on Solidago

If all this wasn’t enough to encourage you to plant a little patch of goldenrod, the thing that makes it a pest also makes it a boon to amateur gardeners and people faced with a harsh spot where little else will thrive- Goldenrod will grow almost anywhere.  It prefers full sun but will make do with light shade, enjoys poor, rocky soils that horrify delicate perennials but will also grow in good garden soil (a cautionary note- it may go INSANE in good garden soil so don’t plant it where you’ll never be able to dig it out when it spreads. Or put it in a pot.) It is extremely hardy: Solidago canadensis is good to zone 3 and there are even hardier ones available. This is a plant that needs to be treated badly, in short.  Plant it in a pocket surrounded by packed, gritty soil- do not fertilize.  Cut back to the ground when the stems have died.  It will be well behaved and a valued addition to the garden- but give it good, rich garden soil and lovingly ladle compost on the plant as if it needed cosseting and it may become a rapacious monster, bullying less vigorous plants into submission.

Getting Some

Almost needless to say, goldenrod grows easily from seed that has been stratified (chilled in an artificial winter,) and can also be cloned from divisions of the original clump.  It should not be too hard to find a specimen in a nursery, but the consensus is still split between it being a weed or an ornamental plant, so it’s not carried in large numbers like fall asters, although they belong to the same family and bloom at the same time.  Purple asters, by the way, look fantastic paired with goldenrod! If you’re desperate for a plant and cannot find any in your local nurseries, you can probably find some walking in open areas in late summer, early fall- they are a native plant. Of course, I would never recommend digging up plants from the wild- but they can spare a root clod or two and there’s always collecting the seed.

Oh, and if you haven’t already found out- Goldenrod does not cause seasonal allergies! It has a heavy, sticky pollen that is carried from flower to flower by insects, not the wind. Something else is making you sneeze.

May your August be Golden;-)

Advertisements

Columbine with bumblebee

Aquilegia

The plant that earns first post in May is the humble Columbine, or if you want to be elitist and speak a little Latin, Aquilegia.  Most of the varieties available to purchase in nurseries or as seed are hybrids, but there are species Aquilegias available in some nurseries.  Chances are, you have some growing wild in your region since they are widespread in meadows, forest edges, clearings and higher elevations in the Northern hemisphere.  The Pacific Northwest’s native columbine is Aquilegia formosa, a handsome red and yellow specimen that seems to favour seeping rock walls and vernally moist areas with sharp drainage.

Columbines come in every colour you could desire except true blue- but I think the deep royal purples and almost-blue lilac shades make up for it.  Heights range from short dwarves about 6 inches tall, to giants that reach 4 ft. in good soil with the blossoms tinkling high in the air like coloured bells.  Flowers come in singles, doubles, and even more full blooms. ( No class for triples plus, but columbines have them!)  Plants can be grown easily from seed, but there’s a catch: it takes two years to get a bloom from seed.  The first year you only have foliage.  Once you have them blooming, however, it’s easy to spread the shiny black seed around from the dried capsules and thus be assured of continuous annual flowering.  Columbines are perennial and bloom for several years, but they are short lived and generally last around 5 years, depending on conditions. Columbines hybridize easily, so if you have more than one colour in the garden, the ones that come from seed will be a surprise! They do self-seed, but are easy to uproot and the leaf is fairly distinctive when you are weeding.

As if you needed more reasons to have columbines in the garden, they are great weed suppressors when not in bloom.  The slightly glaucus, shapely foliage heavily shades out plants beneath.  They act like a living mulch in drier areas, shading and cooling the soil. Columbines can be very adaptable, growing in poor soils, shady areas and other tricky spots. Hybrids tend to be more adaptable than species columbines, and plants grown from seed will ‘take’ better in difficult areas.  Another advantage is it’s cold hardiness-most varieties are extremely hardy, some to zone 3.  Bees love columbines!  It’s an excellent flower if you enjoy bees or want to attract pollinators, bumblebees seem to particularly enjoy them.  The best colours to attract them are deep purples, blue and bright yellows.  Hummingbirds will often favor the red and yellow varieties, especially the tall ones. (Plant our native Aquilegia formosa for a super hummingbird treat!) Columbines make excellent cut flowers, too, so grow a few for the cutting garden at least. In a cool place with plenty of water (they suck it up fast!) they can last up to two weeks.

Columbines have been a notable flower for millennia, and have mention in many stories and myths in many cultural traditions. The name columbine comes from the Latin columba for dove, for the blossom was thought to resemble a flock of doves facing inward, and in later centuries the flower came to represent the holy dove of the Christian church. The Latin name Aquilegia comes from another bird, aquila, the eagle, from the resemblance of the spurs to a hooked beak. In the Victorian language of flowers, the columbine represented primarily ‘desertion’ or ‘folly’, with a purple columbine meaning ‘resolved to win’ and red meaning ‘anxious’.  Somehow, a far cry from the image of a gentle dove, isn’t it?  Such a complex and lovely flower cannot help but be the subject of tales of fairies, gods and spirits, I think.  Other fanciful common names include Granny’s Bonnet and  European Crowfoot.

Aquilegia contains toxic alkaloids, some species more than others, particularly in the seed and root, but the extreme bitterness of toxic portions generally prevents accidental poisonings.  The flowers are edible and can be used in salads (I pull off the spurs and discard the hard core with stamens)- I have done this myself and suffered no ill effects, though some websites will say never eat the plant just to be safe.  Of course, never eat any flower that has been sprayed.  The nicest bit is the little bulb at the end of the spurs that contains the nectar- I was introduced to this as a child and plucked more than my share of flower heads just to nibble off the little honeyed drops contained within.

Aquilegia, like all garden ornamentals, sometimes is ‘in’ and sometimes hard to find in sufficient variety.  Virtually any colour or shape can be ordered online by seed if you’re hankering for something special.  Also check in the spring bulbs section of your local nursery (Feb-May), they often have it packaged in bags of dry peat, bare-root. It will be less expensive to get a lot of flowering plants the first year than buying them when in flower, but more expensive than sowing a packet of seeds.  Of course, the cheapest option means looking around at other gardens and asking nicely if you could please have some seed when the gorgeous specimen you have your eye on finishes flowering.  Chances are, they’ll hand you a bagful of seed capsules in late summer.

Happy Planting!

LeilaBee