April 2010 – Goldenrod Part 1 – Find out more about G. Rod

Goldenrod – Solidago canadensis – it can be notorious; it can be obnoxious, but definitely not noxious. Find out more about G. Rod who is the L. Rod or lightning rod of government angst directed against the Whole Weed World.
He is blind indeed who does not know goldenrod,
but he is a taxonomist if he knows all the goldenrods.

Edwin Rollin Spencer,All About Weeds

Introductions are necessary

Goldenrod has a large extended family, Asteraceae, and lots of close relatives in the local area. Could you imagine if they had a family reunion? Just think the NANPS Annual Plant Sale in May in Markham (Mayhem in Markham)! Well, we had to get an early plug in somewhere.
Family names of Plants must be very important as they are italicized. The Scoop noticed that while Federal and Provincial Statutes of Law are also italicized when quoted; municipal bylaws are not – sort of like products and by-products (waste). Enough said!
Goldenrod synopsis: 6 genera in North America; 2 genera in Ont.: Oligoneuron – 4 species; 2 crosses; Solidago – 26 species, 15 of which have more than one variety, also includes 2 subspecies, 3 crosses (those previously with Euthamia have been absorbed into Solidago). 75 species of Solidago in North America: 37 species (49%) which are either threatened or endangered (USDA plant database).
USDA plant database site lists two species of local goldenrod as weedy or invasive: Solidago altissima L. (late goldenrod) and S. canadensis L. (Canada goldenrod) with five varieties in Ontario. The alert covers their buds if another country accuses them of not warning of the danger of spreading invasives. Canadians typically downplay the threat. None of us…er… them are considered invasive according to the Weed Act of Ontario or CBCN (Canadian Botanical Conservation Network through RBG). Toronto says…wait, who cares? Why bother asking? Toronto is in the dogweed (Adenophyllum spp.) house. The City has made itself clear on its bias against goldenrod and is not allowed to comment.
G. Rod’s profile
Goldenrods are easily recognized by their golden inflorescence with hundreds of small capitula or dense clusters of flowers. They can grow to a height between 60 cm and 1.5 m. Their alternate leaves are linear to lanceolate with margins finely to sharply serrate. Propagation is by wind-disseminated seed or by underground rhizomes. They like crowds, and form patches that are actually vegetative clones of a single plant. So they like to keep to themselves, too.
As a mogul – ubiquitous (meadows, pastures, along roads, ditches and waste areas), well-travelled here and abroad, Goldenrod is a very important native weed. He/she has a bit of a bad boy/girl reputation. Forever implicated in the Ragweed Scandal. It is really a poster plant for the wild movement. But it has some other good qualities, and as they say, opposites attract. Goldenrod is a known hyperaccumulator of aluminium in phytoremediation processes in soils (S. hispida). Goldenrod is very magnetic and has zing, but is a little stiff, while aluminium is non-magnetic and non-sparking, soft, durable and lightweight. A match made in heaven (don’t tell the Fire Marshall). Who knew? And can you believe sidekick, ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), is into heavy metal? Apparently, it is a hyperaccumulator of lead.
Goldie’s got the looks, got the talent and got the pizzazz. This magnate is tall and handsome, has an electric personality, is going places, and is a weed for all seasons. Doesn’t it look great even in winter through to spring? Goldenrod is definitely one of our success stories. British gardeners adopted goldenrod long before Americans. There was an exchange program about 250 years ago. Goldenrod only began to gain some acceptance in American gardening (other than wildflower gardening) during the 1980s. A putative hybrid with aster, known as x Solidaster is less unruly, with pale yellow flowers, equally suitable for dried arrangements. But there’s no denying the power of raw, unadulterated goldenrod, as a bold statement. The big showy flowers are attractive and get a lot of attention, but the wrong attention from the aesthetic police. Apparently, in some places goldenrod is held as a sign of good luck or good fortune. But good luck if you happen to have it in your yard in Toronto!
It’s so Canadian to denigrate our home-grown success stories. Is this why everyone hates G. Rod? As usual, we take them for granted while they grow in relative obscurity, but when they gain in standing and make their ‘overnight’ success oversees; it’s instant validation. Then they become very popular here at home, we clamour and can’t get enough of them. We grow them and they become way too popular with ML&S and Parks people who are envious and want to take them for themselves.
The Scoop’s choice for Spokesplant
We had to choose a plant that was well known to represent our interests. Goldenrod fits the bill:
Solidago comes from the Latin word solido meaning “to strengthen; to make solid”. The flower originates from North America, South America and Europe. The name is derived from two Latin words ‘solido’, meaning “to strengthen or make whole,” and ‘ago’, meaning “to make.” The name refers to the medicinal characteristics the flower possesses.
Thus, Golden Rod is a most worthy Spokesplant for The Local Scoop. It represents our resolve to bring you the dirt (the whole story), makes you think strongly about native plants while we have your attention (however short the span), and hopefully provides some measure of relief from modern day ills, whether you need to laugh or cry or both.
Goldenrod racks up the awards
State Flower Emblem of Nebraska – 1895 (Solidago serotina or S. gigantea)
Official State Flower of Kentucky – 1926 (Solidago patula or S. gigantea)
Official State Flower of Alabama – 1927 (no specific species mentioned)
…but then revoked and given to pretty-boy Camellia in 1959 (and C. japonica in 1999). What the hell? Camellia spp. is non-native! Many years earlier, school children had selected the goldenrod flower as the state’s floral emblem because “… it blooms everywhere and brightens the fall months with its liberal plume-like flowers.” The ladies of Butler County were not fond of goldenrod, however, and considered it undeserving in its role as state flower. It was a wildflower after all, little more than a weed, they pooh-poohed. They were hoity-toity back then too, for sure. Sigh…no respect. The State had a chance to rectify the situation but instead chose the oak-leaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, designated and named it as the Official state wildflower of Alabama in 1999. Goldenrod has not regained its title, since.
Official State Wildflower of S. Carolina – 2003 (Solidago altissima)
Official Spokesplant of The Local Scoop – 2010 (Solidago canadensis)
Mayor of Toronto – 2010?
…and more controversy
This is the only record pertaining to Goldenrod that The Scoop could find in the online archives for the City of Toronto: The Township of North York on May 4th, 1942 declared golden rod (two words) as a noxious weed. Who knows what the rules entailed or if they followed the rules back then? Did they identify goldenrod correctly? It could have been ragweed. Unfortunately, many citizens and City agencies still hang on to and perpetuate the belief that goldenrod is noxious and the culprit in the ragweed scandal (see Scoop issue – October 2009). The Town of Richmond Hill has noted that goldenrod is not considered noxious under the Weed Control Act; therefore complaints regarding this species cannot be accepted. “Rag weed is a noxious weed but Goldenrod a similar looking weed is not. Goldenrod flowers during the early summer months while Ragweed only flowers from August through September.” Either Richmond Hill is home of Scotts Canada or Scotts has been feeding them the usual suspect information. The ragweed part is correct; the rest is bunk. Ragweed and Goldenrod are in the same family, but don’t look similar, so one of them was obviously adopted. Goldenrods have different flowering periods from early summer to fall and overlapping into “rageweed season” (the time of major discomfort for a sufferer of hayfever). Note to Scotts: Including this one, that’s three references to your company, and we expect some payback (only good things, though).
Goldenrod hob knobs with industry – brief flirt with fame
It’s not surprising with goldenrod’s electrical personality that it would team up with Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric light bulb. Edison took road trips with Henry Ford, automobile magnate, Harvey Firestone who supplied Ford with tires, and naturalist John Burroughs. To Edison, these idylls in remote rural areas were a chance to experiment in “Nature’s laboratory,” away from “fictitious civilization.” Rubber was a commodity that was produced off-shore making it subject to the vagaries of war or other disruptions. Encouraged and financed by Ford and Firestone, Edison pursued another of his bright ideas which culminated into extracting rubber from local plants at the Edison Botanic Research Company.
Edison had been busily “ransacking the world,” as his associates reported, gathering and dissecting every class of weed, vine, shrub, and bush that grew. In less than a year Edison reported to Henry Ford that he had collected 3,227 wild plants and shrubs from points ranging from New Jersey to Key West. After flirting with honeysuckle and milkweed, he fixed on the domestic goldenrod as the most promising plant of all, which yielded about five per cent latex. Edison selected the varieties that seemed to have the most potential, divided the roots, planted them separately, divided them again, and crossbred. It was time-consuming; but a giant goldenrod about fourteen feet tall yielding about twelve per cent latex was ultimately developed.
However, even though Edison turned his research over to the U.S. government a year before his death in 1931, it was another ten years before the U.S. federal government scientists thoroughly explored the alternate possibilities of using organic materials, such as Edison’s variety of goldenrod. They reached the conclusion that processing such plants would be more difficult and costly than making a synthetic, and would yield a product inferior to natural India rubber or the new synthetics. Hence, goldenrod rubber never went beyond the experimental stage … slated for the scrap heap with the incandescent bulb (many years later). Yet, it still endures – the tires on the Model T given to Edison by his friend Henry Ford were made from goldenrod. Examples of the rubber can still be found in his laboratory, elastic and rot free after more than 50 years.
Goldenrod as healer
Goldenrod has astringent, diuretic, antiseptic and other properties. It is used to treat kidney problems and everything from sore throat to snakebite, measles, and asthma. The Scoop advises not to use it as relief from a natural garden exemption. In that case, it will only cost you grief, not relief. We’re not saying that it’s an absolute contraindication but more of a relative one…relative to how much risk you want to take and attention that you will attract. The administration of goldenrod could put you at a higher risk of complications, such as more attention from City agents, but these risks may be out-weighed by other considerations, such as your enjoyment in seeing bees, butterflies, and other insects visit your goldenrod flowers, or mitigated by other measures, such as education in convincing others that goldenrod is a natural part of the landscape. We advise you to continue with the treatment anyway.
Goldenrod the paradox – it’s ironic that goldenrod is both a source of and a solution for angst. You can’t blame children for having a fear of goldenrod. They probably associate the ubiquitous goldenrod being in bloom with going back to school after the summer holidays. Those transition times are often just as hard for the teachers and administrators, who yearn for their freedom too, as do most adults who return to work. They don’t call it Labour Day for nothing – it’s back to school and back to work. No wonder goldenrod gets a bad rap.
Thankfully, there are flower remedies that can make these transition times easier for all concerned. Goldenrod Essences are used for emotional and spiritual well-being. Apparently, the essence is used to establish a strong and secure sense of individuality but is balanced with group or social consciousness. Supposedly, it puts a positive spin on the bleakest of situations, so it makes it perfect to combat the resistance to go back to school or the workplace. We need to send a truck load to City Hall every Monday morning.
Some bad medicine: Canada goldenrod was first introduced in China, in Shanghai and Nanjing in the 1930s. (Could Norman Bethune have introduced it for medicinal purposes…no…we won’t start a rumour…who else was over there in the 1930s?) It really wasn’t good medicine. Goldenrod, with its strong reproductive ability, has spread quickly along China’s east coast, destroying native vegetation along the way. Over time, the goldenrod has become one of the most insidious weeds in Shanghai and has wiped out more than 30 local plants. It has also encroached upon farmlands and orchards, degrading arable lands and causing huge losses to fruit, cotton, maize, soybean, and rice production. Hey – we never painted goldenrod as a saint, so maybe political office is an option.
Newsflash
G. Rod has entered the race for Mayor in Toronto. The platform – “The Tall Grass & Weed Campaign 2010: The Right to Grow”. Goldenrod is billed as the first hermaphrodite in the running. Watch out this summer! The Scoop predicts that the weeds will become restless and take matters in their own hands…er…blades, leaves, flower essences, whatever, and infiltrate the inner sanctum of City Hall during the June Long Grass and Weed campaign and in a coup, take City Hall. To avoid the embarrassment, Mayor Miller will be forced to prorogue government. Then, in a bait and switch operation, G. Rod will replace the current Mayor. Why not?! They’re both blonde and they’re both tall (above 20 cm). Nobody will notice the difference. Though G. Rod has more capitula which gives it an advantage. Try wrapping your single head around the workings of City Hall. With many heads, you can be pulled in different directions but still devote your full attention to each and every one of the pesky councillors or divisions. Besides, you may never have to capitulate to any union. Or just branch off – think of the multiple photo-ops, simultaneously. By the time anyone realizes, NANPS will have our ‘in’ at City Hall and get all the bad bylaws amended, appealed, or quashed. It’s either that or a rare earth-shattering revelation (bigger than the earlier sex-in-the-city scandal) to get any movement in the entrenchment referred to as Silly Hall.
Yes, we can get just as nonsensical. If the City is going to be utterly ridiculous and declare hedges and shrubs as fences, and misinterpret the Weed Control Act (Ont.), it makes just as much sense to assume they will try to stick Goldenrod in the Lightning Rods Act, R.S.O. 1990, CHAPTER L.14. Whaaaat?! You didn’t know there was such a law? Why there’s a law for everything. Municipal, provincial or federal law – like Murphy’s – everything is covered. Shrubs and hedges were stuck in the fences bylaw, so why not stick G. Rod as the vegetative choice in the L. Rods Act, since the City insists on having vegetation included in every bylaw (just like your mother tried to slip vegetables into every meal when you were a kid). Watch out if your name is Elrod or Rodney, as you just might be included, already.
Face it – it’s only a matter of time before native plant gardeners will be forced to licence their goldenrod under this Act. It will give ML&S another reason, besides declaring a fire hazard under Property Standards, to ask the Fire Marshall to visit your land. With that extra latex content, could goldenrod produce a toxic smoke? Great! You’ll be cited by polluting the air, too.
To draw attention to our plight, The Scoop might have to rewrite part of the Lightning Rods Act and submit it secretly to the province. We need to get the word out to the provincial government to the peril faced by the residents of Toronto and our ongoing struggle to get respect for vegetation. Maybe when the province clues in it will take back the control of the Weed Act and write the municipalities (or at least Toronto) out of the Law. Hopefully, it will go under the radar of the Weed Whackers and their ilk. Sometimes it takes a novel approach or extraordinary measures to get the attention of the province, but if we cloak it in government-speak and allude to the possibility that it might help the cash-strapped provincial government in some way, they’ll take the bait. We don’t have the time to do it all, but maybe if all the affiliates and friends pull together and run a lottery to choose which laws or bylaws to rewrite, we could get the job done. Definitely we should grab the pertinent chapters we really are interested in like Chapter 447 (1), 489, and parts of 629 and 918.
Alternatively, since OMAFRA has the power to effect changes in the regulations, they also could use this power to exempt persons and land from the Act; namely us.
Better yet, we’ll ask for permission from the Feds to secede from City Hall.