Along with the growing awareness of the many benefits of planting more native plants around our homes, a natural question arises: which native plants should we plant?
Naturally, we want to use species of plants that are genuinely native to our region. Just as naturally, we want to use plants that are beautiful and which are well suited for the particular conditions of our yards. Woodland plants generally do best in shaded spots, for example, while meadow plants generally do best in sunnier locations.
Another important factor, and one which I encourage my clients to consider, is ecological value. You should never forget that having a diverse array of plant species is important, but when space or money is a constraint there are some species worth focusing on.
There are many excellent trees and shrubs that fit the bill, of course, but there is also an excellent but sometimes overlooked group of perennials: our native goldenrods.
Goldenrods are beautiful garden plants, with their dramatic yellow and gold fall flowers, and they also have tremendous wildlife value. Not only are their flowers very important to pollinators active in the fall, but they also are a host plant for more species of butterflies and moths than any other perennial plant: more than 115 species.
With more than three dozen species of goldenrods native to the Chesapeake Bay region (many of them are readily available from independent garden centers and native nurseries), there are goldenrods for nearly every planting condition: wet or dry soil, full sun or shade.
Solidago rugosa, or Fireworks, is an especially common variety. It is relatively compact, compared to some species, and flowers heavily providing a great fall pollen source. Fireworks does well in full sun or light shade.
Solidago caesia, or Bluestem goldenrod, is also commercially available and is an excellent choice for a shadier spot. Bluestem goldenrod even does well in dry shade once established but moist shade is okay, too.
Solidago speciosa, or Showy goldenrod, lives up to its name. This is one of the more dramatic of the goldenrods and a particular favorite of butterflies and bumblebees. Showy goldenrod is versatile, too, happy in sunny or shady spots.
Stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida), Anise-scented goldenrod (Solidago odora), and Seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) are three more among the many wonderful choices worth seeking out.
Despite a common misperception, goldenrod does NOT tend to trigger fall allergies. Ragweed, which blooms at the same time, is the culprit instead. Goldenrods deserve a prominent place in our gardens. Visitors, both human and wildlife, will be happier for it.
Pictured above is Solidago rugosa, or Fireworks. Photo courtesy of American Beauties Native Plants.
Vincent Vizachero is a native plant advocate and consultant in Baltimore. His focus is on lecturing, environmental education, social media management for environmental nonprofits, and grant writing. You might think the fact that studied economics at the College of William & Mary in Virginia and finance at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business would make him a bit of a geek. You'd be right.