Les Harrison is the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Director
The ample rain has been a benefit to many in the area. Lawns and landscapes have received ample moisture without the application of irrigation systems. Gardeners are, as a rule, happy with the generous precipitation.
For allergy sufferers, the mold and pollen have produced a challenging environment. With autumn officially arriving in less than two weeks, there will be some, but not complete, relief from the symptoms.
Goldenrod, the common late summer, early autumn wildflower, is frequently blamed for the onset of hay-fever symptoms. Sneezing, itchy and watering eyes, and the necessity to purchase tissue and antihistamines is all blamed on this wildflower.
The real culprit is ragweed, another Wakulla County native plant, but with muted blooms which seem pale in comparison to goldenrod. Unfortunately, at least for the goldenrod, they both bloom at the same time, and goldenrod blooms are much easier to identify and blame.
For the record, Goldenrod pollen is too heavy and sticky to be blown far from the flowers, unlike ragweed, which is typically wind pollinated. There are people who have an allergic reaction to goldenrod, but they must have very close contact with the blooms before symptoms begin.
Goldenrod is a prolific late season producer of nectar and pollen, which supports a variety of insects, including European honeybees. There are more than 100 members of this plant genus, which is in the aster family, in the northern hemisphere and South America.
This wildflower took on strategic value during World War I as a possible source for natural rubber. The conflict restricted access to rubber plantations in Southeast Asia which placed a burden on the burgeoning auto and truck industry.
Thomas Edison was one of the key scientists who developed a process to extract usable latex from readily available materials in the western hemisphere. Edison used the common goldenrod to produce rubber and examples may still be seen at his winter home in Fort Myers.
Edison’s horticultural skills helped develop a 12 foot tall plant with the potential to produce 12 percent rubber by volume of plant material. Only the goldenrod leaves contained the rubber producing compound.
The rise of the Japanese Empire, prior to World War ll, hastened the development of synthetic rubber, which became commercially practical in 1940. After the war, Goldenrod ceased to be a cultivated crop and returned to its status as a brilliant harbinger of autumn to some, and a weed to others.
Goldenrod currently serves as a host for a variety of caterpillars which later become butterflies and moths. 2015’s generous supply of rain has insured an ample growth of goldenrod plants in the pastures, fence-rows and other untended sites county wide.
Several cultivars of goldenrod have progressed beyond the classification of weed to become named shrubs with identifiable features. Still, the brilliant harbinger of autumn takes the blame for countless sneezes and watery eyes.
To learn more about goldenrods in Wakulla County, visit the UF/IFAS Wakulla County website at https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullacoor call (850) 926-3931.