Finger Lakes, FLX, hiking, History, Nature, NY, Uncategorized, Upstate New York

I never tire of Goldenrod. Walks Around The Finger Lakes. September.


When something is totally ubiquitous, after a while, you tend not to really see it.

I thought that all my socks had vanished, but was actually seeing them every day.  My mind saw them as part of the carpet pattern, and they were re-discovered, when I tried to vacuum.

Around here, soybeans are everywhere, a sea of dull green, and I instinctively turn my eyes away, before the monotony swamps my brain.  Likewise, by September, I start to turn a blind eye to the ceaseless tide of hogweed, floral boardshorts, and political corruption.  All these things were once thought to cause irritability and watery eyes, but it turns out, it’s the ragweed.

But…goldenrod, that’s different, we notice it.  A commonplace weed, it’s actually beautiful, and we’re glad to see brightening up every nook and cranny.

It likes old farms in particular, and fallow fields are a sea of yellow this month.

I’d definitely consider it for our state flower, instead of the rose.  Several states have already adopted it, but it seems a perfect emblem for New Yorkers – goldenrod ain’t subtle, but it’s strong, reliable, cheerful, and suffers from gall.

Several types of parasitic pests lay eggs in it’s stem, causing a round swelling,  but the goldenrod is tough, keeps growing, and just shrugs off the irritants.

Sure, it’s kinda galling, nobody likes a freeloader, but inna couple a weeks, a parasitic wasp’s gonna bore in, and lay eggs on the larvae, so the parasite’s got its own parasites, and the laugh’s on them.  Like the poet said:

      Big fleas have little fleas

     Upon their backs to bite ’em;

     And little fleas have lesser fleas

     And so, ad infinitum.   

(Jonathan Swift, by way of Ogden Nash, thanks Steve for the attribution)



I think I’m posting pictures of Rough-stemmed (why are plant people so judgmental, it’s stem is fine!), but it might be Tall, and there’s also Dwarf, Canada, Dixie, Wand-like, Zigzag, Downy Ragged, and many many more, at least 130 in the U.S..  So there’s a great number of varieties, of course, and I’m no expert.

Even with things you enjoy, it can be hard to spend time with experts, when you lack their expertise, or don’t share their enthusiasms.

Botany, quantum physics, Seinfeld trivia, Pez dispensers, motorheads souping up vintage V-8’s or Straight 8’s, whatever, I don’t know about any of this stuff.  Movie buffs want to discuss Harry Dean Stanton’s uncredited appearance in a ’59 Disney TV show.  Jazz fiends whisper (smoking Gauloises in cellar clubs will do that to you) about a legendary late-night set, pressed in Bucharest on shellac, only 11 copies, with Gene Krupa getting wasted and banging on a steam radiator.  It’s all Greek to me, or as a Greek would say, Αυτά μου φαίνονται κινέζικα.



And likewise, hiking with people who majored in Vegetation & Herbage- you tend to feel a bit left out, if you’ve never studied Horticulture, or Advanced Shrubby Stuff.  I invested in “The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers”  but haven’t made much progress yet (although, delighted to find a plant called “Herb Robert”!  Great! ) but got distracted by Sweet Cecily, scared by Spreading Dogbane, and had to take a break after Goat’s Rue.  A sad goat is just upsetting.

But listen, when it’s Upstate Plants, I can help other non-experts who want to join in the conversation.

Have you ever seen the old SNL skit from the ’70’s, with Dan Akroyd, Gilda Radnor, and Chevy Chase, doing a commercial for “New Shimmer” – – a non-dairy dessert topping and floor wax, all in one?  Well, almost every plant in Upstate NY is a combo-product like that!  If you want to join in these vegetative conversations, you just throw out “Didn’t the native Americans make that into a tea?” and “Didn’t early settlers use that as a laxative/dye for clothing?”

You’ll be right 99% of the time.  Pretty much anything growing around here, you can stew it up, have a cup of bracing tea, rinse your hair, dye your socks, cure a kidney ailment, uplift & improve a testy or laggard disposition, and then celebrate it all with a really bang-up purgative.

Each and every wiry, raspy, deep-rooted weed I’ve ever yanked out of a pea patch can be rendered into a poultice, tea, tisane, tincture, or infusion that’s Certifiably Beneficent for Child, Beast, and Registered Holstein.  Or else quite toxic.  That’s why you go and consult an expert.



But generally, when we’re looking at wildflowers, the subject of car tires doesn’t come up.

And so, I learned something recently – – Thomas Edison was cultivating goldenrod plants, to produce rubber.  He tested 17,000 exotic plants, and then found the most promising was in his backyard – goldenrod.  He grew a variety about ten feet tall, that produced 12% latex.  When his pal, Henry Ford, presented him with a Model T, it was running on goldenrod tires.


Edison’s Model T

“Natural” rubber can be made from a number of plants, including dandelions, and my personal favorite, gutta-percha, a tree grown in Malaysia.  I’ve constantly run into gutta-percha in  histories and old stories – –  electrical insulation, golf balls, buttons, and of course, “mourning jewelry,” for when Victorians wanted something dressy, but suitably depressing and creepy-looking.  The walking stick used in the nearly-fatal attack on Senator Charles Sumner, in 1856, was made of gutta-percha, and snapped, saving Sumner’s life.

The goldenrod rubber process didn’t really take off, but the research was revived during WWII, when our supply of natural rubber from SE Asia was cut off.

Wikipedia indicates goldenrod rubber is “excessively tacky,” but extreme tackiness is very much in vogue, so perhaps its time has finally come.

Ok, back to my plant studies.  Tonight’s episode:  Saga of the Silverleaf Scurfpea.   Hope everyone has a great week.

P.S.  I forgot to mention, this was also one of my favorite crayon colors, when I was a kid.  I looked it up on the Crayola site, and found Goldenrod Yellow has been in the lineup since 1957… and then ran into car tires again.  Crayolas were created by the Peekskill Chemical Co., which originally made paint, lampblack, printing ink, shoe polish.  In the early days of automobiles, tires were white, but Peekskill discovered that adding their carbon black to rubber, made tires last ten times longer.  I remember thinking I should mention this, but I’m not sure why.


66 thoughts on “I never tire of Goldenrod. Walks Around The Finger Lakes. September.

    • I was looking them up, and ran across the story about Thomas Edison, making rubber from them, and couldn’t believe it. There are some German scientists who are working on dandelion rubber right now!

  1. It’s great to see those pictures of flowering goldenrod, especially as you’re weeks and even months ahead of Texas. I’d never call goldenrod a weed; I’d call it a wonderful wildflower, and like you I never get tired of it.

    The poem you quoted is from a century before Ogden Nash. The author was the mathematician Augustus De Morgan, but he based his version on the earlier satirist Jonathan Swift. There more info at

  2. Very nice goldenrod natural history, Robert. I also enjoy the plants but it has taken a while to convince Mary Beth to allow it in our yard. She felt it was crowding out others, which it was, but I have convinced her to leave it in certain areas. Unfortunately, some people persist in the belief that it causes allergic reaction, transferring Ragweed’s habits to the poor maligned Goldenrod.
    Lots of nice shots.

        • Yeah, I’ve been wanting to try it, but haven’t found any yet. There’s a couple of local beekeepers, Wixson’s has been around 100 years, and does a few varieties, clover is one, I guess goldenrod is usually included in the “fall flowers” type, I’ve never seen anyone selling straight “goldenrod honey.” They grow buckwheat around Penn Yan, so one of their varieties is buckwheat, which is pretty dark, I like it but not everyone does. But I read that goldenrod is kind of spicy, and I just wanted to try it. One of my grandmothers once gave us a big can of leatherwood honey, from Tasmania, and that one was quite spicy, we used it to make honey cakes.

  3. What an interesting and informative post, Robert! Thanks! 🙂 Lovely flowers/blossoms. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Goldenrods.
    Have a wonderful week,

  4. Goldenrod makes its way into many of my pictures from northern New York … especially near where my family lives, not far from the Saranac River, it’s all along the back roads and the river bed. Also huge swatches at Point Au Roche State Park, especially at the edges of the swampy area and near the hiking trails that get a lot of sunlight.

    The Audubon field guide sounds like a good idea. I went onto Amazon to look at it, but there is no preview. Does it include the southeast — Georgia especially? Thanks!

  5. I can’t tell goldenrod from ragweed (or poison ivy from anything), but there sure is a lot of tall, pretty yellow around here too. It makes September more bearable. If only there was an herbal remedy for sad goats (Herb Robert perhaps?).

    • You’re right! It’s used as a goat antidepressant, but unfortunately, it has to be applied topically. I quote from Wikipedia: “Freshly picked leaves have an odor resembling burning tires when crushed…” goats love that kind of thing.

  6. J.D. Riso says:

    Well, this is certainly an eclectic post. Crayon colors, rubber. I love wildflowers, but I always connected goldenrods with allergies, and then later found out that ragweed was the culprit. I do love that color, though.

  7. It’s a wonderful plant and so are your presentation, dear Robert. Exquisite photos and very informative reading. Absolutely love the colour of the Goldenrod.

  8. Another post that somehow combines really nice images, informative stuff you thought you didn’t need, history and humor. 🙂 Seriously, the photos are lovely, and Goldenrod in all its forms is a good subject – BTW I’m glad you invested in that field guide, I expect to see many more informative plant posts now!
    And who knew about Edison and latex from Goldenrod?! My father spent WW II lounging in the Bahamas because of the rubber shortage – he was sent there to figure out another rubber source, since he was a newly minted research chemist from MIT, and anyway, he was nearsighted. 🙂 My impression was that the main thing he got out of that gig was a penchant for mangoes, but I’m sure that’s wrong.

    • Thank you, Lynn, you always write such nice compliments. That’s very interesting about your dad doing research in the Bahamas, that was a pretty nice assignment! I have a serious love for mango juice.
      One of my great-uncles went into the Signal Corps in 1940, and was sent to Trinidad or Tobago for a while. When it was time for survival training, it became very real, because the Navy had dropped him off on the wrong islet, and took an extra week or so, to locate him. Among other things, he ate what I think were palmetto grubs. Shortly afterward, he transferred to the Air Corps, and said it taught him to appreciate Spam a whole lot more.

  9. That second photo is wonderful. The first time I visited Arkansas, I happened to be there at the height of the goldenrod season, and their plants — as much as five feet high — were everywhere. They were particularly beautiful where they were growing with beautyberry, which is a branchy plant with clusters of deep purple berries.

    Here’s another tidbit. Steve G. and I share seaside goldenrod. It’s smaller, and likes to grow around water: surprise, huh? But it has the same lovely yellow flowers. I haven’t seen any goldenrod stands yet this year, but I haven’t been out for over two weeks, because it’s done nothing but rain.

    I’ve never thought about goldenrod honey, but of course it exists, and is on offer via the web for those who don’t have it in their neighborhood. I did read that its flavor differs from other wildflower honeys because it’s one of the last flowers of the year the bees can use. By the time the goldenrod’s abloom, many other flowers have given up the ghost, so I guess you get single-source honey, like single malt scotch.

    I had no idea about the goldenrod rubber — or the dandelion, for that matter. But now that I think about it, I remember reading about the latex oozing from dandelion stems, so it makes sense.

    I looked and looked for a couple of photos I had of the tiny red larvae I found inside goldenrod galls. There were clusters of galls, about the size of small peas. I was totally confused at first, because they looked like berries, and I was pretty sure goldenrod didn’t have berries. Eventually I figured out what they were, at least generally, and have been looking for more ever since. Maybe I’ll find some this year.

    • This year has just been a standout for them, they seem to be everywhere.
      Maybe you two will post pictures of the seaside goldenrod? I don’t get to the shore too often, but I’m always amazed at the nice plants and flowers that thrive in salty sand. One of my grandmothers used to grow flowers for dried arrangements – statice, strawflowers, baby’s breath, etc. that she’d sell at the farm coop stores, and sometimes the German Statice (I looked it up, some type of Limonium I think) wouldn’t thrive, but she’d see it growing wild in big healthy clumps on dry New England sand dunes.

      • Strawflowers were such a part of my childhood. They decorated my Easter hats, and my dolls’ clothing, and birthday gift wrappings — they were everywhere. I never knew anyone who dried them. In fact, I didn’t know where they came from. Maybe I thought they were artificial — and maybe some were. But it’s fun to think of your grandmother drying flowers — I never had done it until I dried some basketflowers this year.

        • Some varieties would have to be stuck in a bucket of silica beads, but most would be tied up and hanging everywhere from the basement ceiling to dry. Most of them had stiff stalks, but the strawflower stems pretty much wither away, so she’d use very fine piano wire as a substitute.

  10. You get a gold(enrod) medal for this one. I hear they’re kind of rubbery, but you’re less likely to lose it because they stick to your neck.

    And you didn’t even have to go to the Advanced Shrubby Stuff Olympics!

  11. Fascinating stuff Robert. Is your goldenrod a brother to our ragweed or ragwort? And why weren’t Henry T’s tires a wonderful yellow? Just think if cars ran on yellow tires instead of black? And how wonderful to have a Herb named after you! 🙂

    • Hi Denzil, thank you. Yes, I was quite honored to have this plant named after me.
      I’m a botanical ignoramus, but I think they’re completely different plants. Goldenrod is a type of aster. Ragweed and goldenrod are fellow travelers, and people associate them because they often grow together, and may folks still blame the latter for their sneezing, when it’s the former that’s plaguing them.
      And yes, I think bright yellow tires would look pretty snazzy on a Model T! 🙂

  12. Herb Robert is one of my favorite plants. It tends to move about, popping up in different places from year to year, and always bringing a smile when I come across it.
    A year ago I decided to draw as many species of asters as I could~could goldenrods (Solidagos) be far behind? Let me tell you~it proved to be near impossible. Turns out the darned things inter-marry! Botanist friends of mine gleefully pull out their microscopes at that point to examine the finer details. I leave them to it, and call it pretty.

    • Flowers intermarrying! Cats and dogs, living together! 🙂 Until I did this piece, I never had any idea there were so many goldenrods. I now realize, I’d classified some of them, as “yellow flowers.” I see in a lot of the articles “…often confused with…” so I don’t feel so bad.

      • I used to berate myself over it until I realized how confused the experts get, too. That applies to insects as well. An entomologist friend of mine sent in a small brown moth specimen for identification. After some time passed he got the specimen back, with what he considered a dubious ID. For fun, he waited a month or two and sent it back in. A few weeks later, it came back with an entirely different ID! LOL

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