Photo by Joan Hermann A monarch butterfly rests on goldenrod.

Photo by Joan Hermann
A monarch butterfly rests on goldenrod.

By Joan Hermann

Whereiwander…nostalgic thoughts fill my head. There is a tug of war, of wanting the summer to continue but, yearning for the change in color and temperature of autumn. Autumn’s change will enhance as well as eliminate much of the flora and fauna, which I truly enjoy photographing.
In the autumn of my life, my focus on what I photograph has changed dramatically. Instead of mountain vistas, now I seek mosses, insects, alpine plants and lichens. The truth is I will photograph any small thing that doesn’t run, fly, crawl or jump away from my camera. As a nature photographer, naturalist and outdoor educator I am always eager to share my photos, walks and talks, and everything I learn and discover.
The Adirondacks offer so many diverse habitats, for this former Rochester transplant to discover. The lakes, ponds, bogs, and well marked, easily accessible trails offer a new adventure each day and season, of the year. After living here 20 plus years, I am still “discovering” these Adirondacks. Walking out into “the meadow,” which makes up about 3.5 acres of our property, provides hours of discovery and photographic opportunities. This time of year goldenrod, one of our native plants, dominates the meadow, it is a much maligned plant. So often I hear, “I hate goldenrod, I am allergic to that plant.”
That may be so, however, it is probably not the truth. Unfortunately, for goldenrod, which is bright, tall and showy, another plant, unobtrusive in color and size, also blooms at the same time of year. That plant is ragweed. Goldenrod has heavy pollen which stays on the plant until pollinators such as bees, wasps, flies, butterflies or moths remove it. The pollen of ragweed is wind pollinated, and the pollen can remain in the air for days and travel long distances.

Photo by Joan Hermann The goldenrod ball gall causes a swelling on the stem of the goldenrod.

Photo by Joan Hermann
The goldenrod ball gall causes a swelling on the stem of the goldenrod.

Many insects and spiders rely on goldenrod. The goldenrod spider even changes color from white to yellow in order to hunt undetected on the plant.
Perhaps you have noticed a round ball on the stem of the goldenrod plant, this is generally called a goldenrod ball gall. The gall begins to form as the result of an insect, the goldenrod gall fly, laying an egg within the stem. The gall creates a “house and meals” for the egg, larva, and pupa. The egg will hatch about 10 days after being deposited in the stem. The larva bores into the tissue of the stem and begins eating, this creates a response, and the stem begins to swell. When we are “bitten by a mosquito” we sometimes have a response and the bite begins to swell. The chemicals in mosquito saliva, which stops your blood from clotting, may create swelling and redness. The larva bores into the tissue and begin eating, this creates a response, and the plant stem begins to swell. As temperatures decrease the larva produces a type of antifreeze, called glycerol, which will keep the “house” and the larva from freezing. The larva will stay dormant for the winter, this state is called diapause. In the spring the larva will chew a tunnel through the gall, leaving a thin layer of outer “skin” and crawl back to the middle. As the weather warms the larva will pupate. A few weeks later the adult gall fly will crawl through the tunnel and emerge. It pumps fluid into its head, and this “bubble head” pushes through the outer “skin.” Just like the mouths of a caterpillar (which has a mouth for chewing) and a butterfly (which has a proboscis, for sipping nectar) are different, the goldenrod gall fly larva and adult mouths are also different. That is the reason the tunnel is prepared by the larva in advance.
During the winter black-capped chickadees and downy woodpeckers may peck into the gall and extract a tasty meal. Goldenrod can be host to more than 50 species of gall making insects, acting as “house and meal” for insects and in turn providing food for birds. There are also several wasps with long ovi-positors which they insert into the galls and lay their eggs on the goldenrod gall fly larva. When the wasp larva hatch they will feed on the gall fly larva. The seed production of the goldenrod plant will decrease by 40 percent as a result of a gall, thus disease and insects keep our native plants in balance.
Today a cultivar of goldenrod (Solidago) is used in floral arrangements. It is the state plant of Alabama, Kentucky and Nebraska. The genus name Solidago in Latin means “to heal” or “make whole.” Native Americans used goldenrod as one of the components, boiled with other herbs, in steam baths because they believed it had healing powers. You may be able to find as many as a dozen species of goldenrod in New York State. Goldenrod ranges in size from two inches to four feet in height. It begins blooming as early as June and continue to decorate the landscape until snow falls on it. Its golden flower clusters range in shape from plumelike to flat-topped.
Hopefully you can appreciate the golden treasure for it beauty and source of food for many critters and creatures, and plant that offers great photo opportunities or an addition to your fall flower bouquets.
Joan Hermann is a new columnist for the Express. She has been an outdoor educator for many years and will share her photos and knowledge every other week. Welcome Joan!