Twelve or more species of goldenrod grow in Minnesota. All provide an important source of autumn nectar to bees, butterflies and insects, and also give a burst of long-lasting color at the end of the growing season. Most goldenrod species grow in sunny locations, but zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) prefers shady woods and woodland borders. It’s smaller, daintier and better-behaved than many of its cousins.
Zigzag goldenrod with aerial yellowjacket (Dolichovespula arenia).
A patch of zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) grows in dappled sun near a hazelnut thicket along the banks of the Snake River in east central Minnesota.
Known also as broad-leaved goldenrod, it has oval-shaped leaves rather than thin narrow ones typical of many goldenrods. The stem bends a little bit at each node, hence the name zigzag. An interesting fact: Sometimes allergy sufferers blame their misery on goldenrod, but ragweed is the true culprit. Unlike ragweed pollen, which is wind-dispersed, goldenrod has sticky pollen that is dependent upon insect pollination. So, if you’re sneezing in the fall, it is primarily caused by the pollen of ragweed and nettle! To learn more about the difference between ragweed and goldenrod, visit the University of Minnesota Extension website for an excellent, succinct overview.
In early October, wildflowers in shades of orange-gold, yellow, purple and white light up Minnesota’s roadsides, fields, woods and riverbanks. One of my favorites is spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), or touch-me-not. Its small flowers are bright orange with red spots and are shaped like tiny funnels or cornucopias. The name jewelweed refers to the way that water droplets bead up like shiny jewels on the plant’s leaves, and also to the blossom’s jewel-like appearance. Touch-me-not refers to the ripe seed pods, which burst open and expel the seeds if touched. When our teenage son was little, we loved popping open the ripe pods and watching the seeds fly out.
Spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) blossom and ripening seed pods.
Native to much of Canada and the United States, spotted jewelweed grows along streams, rivers, damp roadsides and other moist, shady spots. The one I photographed was growing in a shady wet area about four feet from the edge of the cabin road. Hummingbirds, which are attracted to the bright, red-spotted blooms, are the main pollinator of spotted jewelweed. The nectar is contained within spurs that are easily reached by the hummer’s long beak. A closely related plant is pale touch-me-not (Impatiens pallida) which is light yellow with just a few reddish-brown spots.
Related Video: Spotted jewelweed pods popping open.