Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

One alive and flowering and colorful, the other dead and dry

with 20 comments

Goldenrod Flowering by Dry Giant Ragweed Stalks 0239A

Click for greater clarity.

One of the treats of autumn is goldenrod (genus Solidago), a flowering cohort of which you see here. The tall, dried-out stalks are from the previous year’s colony of giant ragweed, Ambrosia trifida.

I took this sunny photograph on October 6th near Naruna Way in northeast Austin. In the three weeks since then, much of the goldenrod in Austin has been fading, but individual plants here and there remain vibrant.

© 2013 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 26, 2013 at 6:00 AM

20 Responses

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  1. Lovely photos !

    Good Food Everyday

    October 26, 2013 at 6:17 AM

  2. I always thought the Ambrosia and Golden rod flower around the same time… isn’t golden rod blamed for allergies that are actually caused by Ambrosia? Hope you can enlighten me!


    October 26, 2013 at 6:31 AM

    • The plants in the genus Solidago (goldenrod) and those in the genus Ambrosia (ragweed) do flower at the same time of year, which is usually from late summer into fall. Ambrosia trifida (giant ragweed) can easily grow to be 10 ft. (3m) tall, and after the plant dries out its stalks often persist from one autumn through the next. That’s what you’re seeing in this photograph, where the goldenrod took hold of this piece of ground and apparently kept new giant ragweed plants from springing up. I can assure you that there was (and is) plenty of fresh giant ragweed in nearby places.

      From what I’ve read, you’re right that people used to blame goldenrod for the allergies caused by ragweed. The fact that the two kinds of plants flower at the same time seems to have caused that confusion, but a look at the flowers shows that the plants have different pollination strategies. A fresh (and even not so fresh) head of goldenrod typically has lots of insects, especially bees, on and around it. In contrast, the flowers of ragweed release lots of pollen into the air, where, though much of it is wasted, a portion of it inevitably lands on receptive ragweed plants somewhere else. Some of the wasted pollen ends up in people’s respiratory system and eyes, where it unfortunately causes allergic reactions.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 26, 2013 at 7:02 AM

      • Thanks Steve! I do think it strange that goldenrod got the upper hand and no ragweed grew there this year. I haven’t seen ragweed near us, although it is apparently a problem in some areas.


        October 26, 2013 at 3:23 PM

  3. I just realized I haven’t seen goldenrod for some miles. The land is flatter, the grasses are shorter and very little is flowering here (Dodge City). I rather miss seeing it – it’s quite a cheerful plant.

    What I did get to know yesterday – intimately – is Bidens bipinnata, also known as Spanish needles or stick-tight. I never saw the plants, and couldn’t find them after the fact, but I came down from Pawnee Rock covered in those needles. Jeans, sweater – even my hair was full of them. How they got in my hair, I haven’t a clue. I must have shaken some plants that were above me.

    In any event, another lesson learned: always have a change of clothes in the car, and save the needle-pulling for night in the motel.


    October 26, 2013 at 6:32 AM

    • Thanks for the introduction to Bidens bipinnata—and I can’t help noticing in online descriptions that its catchy achenes (seeds) have ends that can be tridents or quadridents rather than just bidents. Although this species doesn’t grow in Austin, the USDA map shows it only two counties away to the northeast and to the southeast, so perhaps I’ll encounter it one of these days. If I find long thingies clinging to my clothing, I’ll know I’ve been in contact with it. The website at


      notes that even if the achenes are annoying, the plant serves some useful purposes.

      As for your seeing no goldenrod in Dodge City, I wonder if you’re far enough north now that the season for that plant is already over.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 26, 2013 at 7:27 AM

  4. We have a lot of goldenrod here in eastern IA. Tho, none of the flowering parts remain now. (Latitude latitude latitude) It encroaches on my lawnedge near the woods in back. Very prolific stuff.

    Jim in IA

    October 26, 2013 at 8:29 AM

    • Glad to hear you’ve a wealth of goldenrod in eastern Iowa, and so close to home.

      Dvorak spent June–August of 1893 in Spillville (Iowa), so there’s some chance he saw goldenrod flowering at the end of his stay there. He could also have seen it during his several years in New York. If so, I wonder if any trace of it ever turned up in his music.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 26, 2013 at 8:41 AM

  5. C’est une fleur que j’aime beaucoup car elle attire de nombreux papillons et insectes. On la combat dans certaines régions pour son pouvoir envahissant. Mais qu’est-ce que j’aime les plantes envahissantes!


    October 27, 2013 at 11:37 AM

    • Chantal comments that she likes goldenrod because of all the butterflies and other insects its flowers attract. She also says that some people fight against it because of its invasiveness, and we have to remember that in Europe goldenrod is an alien as well as a potential invasive. When I was in Massachusetts about 5 years ago, a landscaper told me that some of his clients wanted all the goldenrod torn out. What a shame,

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 27, 2013 at 12:00 PM

  6. Mary Beth isn’t too fond of the goldenrod getting in the gardens. Although I like the goldenrod a lot, I have to bow to her wishes as they are her gardens and she does allow me my clumps of Boneset. But there is plenty of it outside the gardens so we do have a bit of a colony. And it is ubiquitous around here so I don’t have to go far to find some beyond the yard.
    Getting a shot of a growth like this is challenging because of the chaotic nature goldenrod stands present. This one works very well, Steve.

    Steve Gingold

    October 27, 2013 at 6:05 PM

    • I’m fond of this picture because of the contrast between new and old, living and dead, rounded and angular. I’m glad you like that chaotic mixture.

      It’s good that there’s plenty of goldenrod for you to revel in not far beyond your yard. Do you know what species of boneset you have? Various ones have gone by that common name.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 27, 2013 at 9:02 PM

      • Eupatorium perfoliatum, Steve/

        Steve Gingold

        October 28, 2013 at 3:31 AM

        • Ah, I see that Eupatorium perfoliatum covers much of eastern North America and even makes it to within two counties of Austin but apparently doesn’t grow here. The pictures that I’ve found online of Eupatorium perfoliatum make it look similar to relatives that we do have here, and that I’ve enjoyed seeing and photographing. Enjoy yours.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 28, 2013 at 7:04 AM

  7. I love goldenrod. My dog likes to chew on the leaves; insects like it; finally, and importantly, it competes fairly well with dog strangling vine: their roots, at least near the surface, have enough similarities that goldenrod is able to hold its own. Btw, here in Toronto most of the goldenrod bloom has now darkened as its seeds get ready to fly. Bonne chance!


    October 29, 2013 at 6:17 PM

    • Even in this much warmer climate, the majority of the goldenrod is fading, but there are still some freshly-flowering plants among them. I’ve seen almost no fluffy tops so far, but they’re on their way, and they’ll provide delight farther into the season.

      I confess I’d never heard of dog strangling vine, but I quickly found an Ontario website that talks about these invasive species (apparently there are two similar ones):


      Bonne chance in avoiding it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 29, 2013 at 7:01 PM

      • Wow, I can’t believe the dsv was imported for gardens…I can’t think of a single thing to recommend it aesthetically speaking. Also, if you pull it with bare hands once it is in seed-forming stages (most of its life), you’ll be rewarded with a rash, not as vicious as from poison ivy, but bad enough. Have heard it was grown on this continent for its fluffy seeds, to be used in parkas during the war (!?!) (not sure which war!). Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. And yes, the goldenrod stands its ground quite well (it’s so majestic, if I may say so!), but it can benefit from human help, too (untangling the dsv from it, helping spread its seeds, etc.) The website you’ve provided is very good, thanks very much 🙂


        November 2, 2013 at 8:49 AM

        • You’re welcome. There are depressingly many instances of alien plants that have been imported into a region for a certain purpose but that then have unanticipated consequences. One classic example is the Japanese plant kudzu, which came to be called “the vine that ate the South” because in the warm climate of the southern United States it spread rapidly and quickly covered trees and buildings.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 2, 2013 at 10:34 AM

  8. […] the same October 6th outing that brought you a picture of a goldenrod colony comes the autumnal yellow of a colony of Maximilian sunflowers, Helianthus maximiliani, at the […]

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