Autumn is a time when the northeast forests are ablaze with color from the changing foliage. Most of the summer wildflowers have disappeared and signs of dormancy begin to appear in the dominant vegetation.
But there still are bright flowers to be seen and one grows right next to the ocean’s edge. Seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) exhibits its bright yellow flowerheads on the coastal sand dunes right up to November. Growing on a tall stem of three to six feet, the flowers of seaside goldenrod are conspicuous and clustered. The alternate leaves are evergreen and larger toward the base of the plant. This native wildflower is perennial and grows in the sandy soil where it is also resistant to coastal wind and salt spray.
Seaside goldenrod is a member of the very diverse family called the Asteraceae. Only the orchid family has more species than this group. And there are many familiar relatives of goldenrod including daisies, dandelions, and asters. The Asteraceae, which is also called the sunflower family, used to be named the Compositae. That is because the “flower” in this group really consists of a composite of two kinds of flowers. Inside the inflorescence are tiny disk flowers and these are surrounded by petal-like ray flowers. So the “flower” on goldenrod is, in fact, a head of several small ray and disk flowers. The fruit is called an achene and contains a single seed which is distributed by the wind.
Seaside goldenrod is an ecologically important plant also. It is a common member of the assemblage of dune plant species which collectively reduce erosion of the dune from wind and storms. This is a noninvasive species so it can be planted in these fragile areas. All goldenrods are often mistakenly accused of causing hayfever and other allergies. But look closely at the plant. They are often visited by large numbers of pollinating bees. With insect vectors as pollinators, the pollen is not blowing around in the wind. The real culprit is most likely ragweed (Ambrosia) that is flowering around the same time as goldenrod and is wind pollinated.
Goldenrods are not the easiest plants to identify to species. There are over 100 species and many of them hybridize. On the other hand seaside goldenrod is noted for its habitat preferences. It can grow along the edges of salt marshes and sand dunes. It grows closer to the ocean than any of the other common goldenrod species in this region. It’s a hardy coastal plant that adds color to the shoreline, supports the stability of dunes, and helps sustain a healthy bee population.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.