If you take a walk near the beach now, you’ll see one of the fall glories of life at the beach — the seaside goldenrod, solidago sempervirens. I’m sitting here watching some late season monarch butterflies gliding between the flower clusters, fueling up for the journey south — be safe, little butterflies!
There are several vegetation zones on the dunes, determined mostly by how much salt they are exposed to: the foredune, which is facing the ocean; then you have the backdune, facing away from the ocean; then the secondary dune zone, and more zones farther inland.
Because of the harsh environment, beach grass is about all you’ll see on the foredunes. But on the back dunes, seaside goldenrod is one of the dominant plants, its thick, fleshy leaves with their waxy coating protecting it from salt spray. These leaves also store water, like a succulent, helping it through dry periods. They are another adaptation to the salt environment.
It needs full sun, and grows well in sandy soil, even straight sand. It blooms from late August to November, and is an important late season food source for bees and butterflies. It gets to about 3 to 4 feet tall near the ocean, but in richer soil inland it can get to 6 feet tall — however, it will be floppy in better soil.
The flower clusters (inflorescences) are typical of goldenrods — hundreds of tiny yellow flowers on the top of a tall stem. The cluster is about 2 to 5 inches long, and fluffy-looking. Most of the evergreen leaves are arranged around the base of the plant, with some alternately along the flower stem.
Seaside goldenrod, and all the plants growing on the dune, are tremendously important in protecting the dunes, and us and our property — they trap and hold sand as the wind blows it around, preserving, stabilizing and enlarging the dunes. They have large root systems, and some have brittle stems — so it’s best to keep off the dunes and enjoy them from a distance. Interestingly, it is spreading inland along roadsides where there is salt spraying in winter, like the groundsel we talked about last week (all previous articles are available on the Coastal Point website).
Seaside goldenrod can have a place in your garden, too. You can pinch it back to keep it shorter so it won’t flop open. Leave the seedheads after they flower so the birds can enjoy the seeds, but in late winter/early spring, cut the stems back to enjoy the evergreen basal leaves, which can be a nice groundcover.
One important note: it doesn’t cause allergies! All goldenrod pollen is heavy and sticky, so the plants need a pollinator. The pollen isn’t blown around by the wind like ragweed is.
Do you have, or are you thinking about a pollinator garden? It provides food for pollinators, shelter and nesting habitat for birds. Seaside goldenrod is one of the latest plants to bloom and is beautiful with late asters. Think about a few in your garden!