Friday, May 8, 2015

Native Plant Festival (and yes, Goldenrod is your friend!)

The Mountain Maryland Native Plant Festival will be held Saturday, May 9, 10:00 a.m. - 3 p.m., at New Germany State Park.  The Garrett County Master Gardeners will have a booth with a "friend or foe" game for visitors to label local native plants as "friends" and invasives as "foes."

We won't have my favorite native plant on display (Solidago caesia) because it's a late bloomer, but I want to share some facts about it because it is such a good friend to our garden pollinators.  Solidago caesia (Blue-stemmed goldenrod, Blue-stem goldenrod, Bluestem goldenrod, Wreath goldenrod) is a butterfly magnet, a source of nectar and pollen for many other insects including native bees, and an attractant for songbirds.  Best of all, it is deer-resistant! 

This North American native herbaceous perennial is ubiquitous in the meadow, roadside, and woodland landscapes of Garrett County during the late summer / early fall.  Solidago caesia has bluish or purplish stems and dark green lanceolate leaves, with clusters of bright yellow blooms in the upper leaf axils.  Its pollen is heavy and sticky, and is moved from bloom to bloom by bees, butterflies, and other insect pollinators.  A common misconception about Solidago caesia is that it is the scourge of allergy sufferers.  It does not cause hay fever; hay fever is an allergic reaction to airborne pollen.

This plant is especially important in our area for migrating monarch butterflies.  Caroline Blizzard, Director of the Discovery Center at Deep Creek Lake State Park, notes:
Goldenrod species for adult butterflies can be as important as the host plant milkweed is for larval monarch caterpillars.  As a nectar plant for adult butterflies, goldenrod is a late blooming and provides vital food for monarchs on their migration south.  The fat a monarch puts on by nectaring during its migration is the fat that it will live off of while it is overwintering in Mexico. They don't eat during their time there so a plump healthy butterfly is the goal!
                   
Solidago caesia prefers moist, well-drained soils in full sun to shade, but is not fussy about soil or light conditions.  Unlike other goldenrod species, it does not spread aggressively.  In the home garden, Solidago caesia adds beautiful color and is a great source for cut flowers. Try pairing it with fellow butterfly attractants Monarda didyma (Bee balm), Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower), Symphyotrichum laeve var. laeve (Smooth blue aster), and Eurybia divaricata (White wood aster).  It also performs well with Gentiana clausa (Bottle gentian). 

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