Glorious Goldenrod

Goldenrod is a fascinating and wonderful plant. We do have a wild goldenrod here in the UK Solidago virgaurea (European goldenrod or woundwort). It’s another plant that likes scrubby wasteland areas and  is sometimes mistaken for ragwort.

My USA Goldenrod moment
USA goldenrods are very beautiful, varied and … of course, can be much bigger than ours.
My most memorable goldenrod moment in the USA was a visit to the wonderful Thomas Edison house in Fort Meyers. It was in his small lab here that he experimented with the possibility of extracting rubber from Goldenrod, See a recent article, Bouncing Back to Life from Preservation Magazine about the restoration of the lab and about his search for rubber.
 Edison’s Golden Ticket: Goldenrod | Edison Botanic Research Corporation & Lab Part II

Here from the Edison House Website is Edison with his own huge Goldenrod (Solidago Edisonia). He crossed a common goldenrod with a huge everglades species, Solidago gigantea.

Golden Rod: Friend of bugs
Should you have your doubts about your feelings towards goldenrods, which can be considered a weed I know, have a look at Beatriz Moisset’s wonderful set of Flickr photos called Goldenrod Zoo, here and then read her excellent article on Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens website about the many (… over 300!) species of “visitors” who love this sunshine plant.

Golden Rod: a Useful Herb I have a favourite old set of family books, Frederick Edward Hulme’s, Familiar Wild Flowers. This is from the Golden Rod entry.

 The generic name Solidago is derived from the Latin word “solidare” to unite, the name being bestowed from a belief in the vulnerary ( I had to look this up means good for healing exterior wounds)  virtues of the plant…The specific name was change to Virgaurea, by Matthiolus. The name is admirably descriptive and is in fact but a Latinised version of its English name , “virga” being a stem  or rod while “aurea”signifies golden.

Hulme goes on to record Gerard’s interesting observations in 1633 about human nature and rarity.. It seems that Golden Rod once was a rare and much sought after healing herb…but availability apparently bred contempt… ‘twas ever thus…? Gerard writes in his “Generall Historie of Plantes” 1633:

In my rememberance I haue knowne the dry herbe which came from beyond the sea sold in Bucklers Bury in London of halfe a crown an ounce. But since it was found in Hampstead wood …no man will giue halfe a crowne for an hundredweight of it:….Our phantasticall physitions when they have found an approued medicine and perfect remedie they wil seeke a new ( and more expensive and profitable??) and farther off, and by that meanes, many times, hurt more than they helpe.”


Hulme goldenrod bg

Hulme’ s European Golden Rod,  from “Familiar Wild Flowers”  Cassell 1910 (approx) Frederick Hulme was another of those many fascinating Victorians who observed, drew, recorded and shared their passions for the natural world. More of him another time.

Goldenrod notes & sketches Wild Goldenrod can sometimes be confused with Common Ragwort Senecio jacobaea. or I think now renamed Jacobaea vulgaris.
Generally the leaf of ragwort is different, much more deeply lobed.

goldenrod v ragwort leaf bg

However Broadleafed Ragwort, Senecio fluviatilis Wallr has a rather similar leaf.
Does this help? Hmmm…

goldenrod senecio flu

Goldenrod and Broadleaved ragwort, preserved specimens from the fabulous resource the UK and Irish Herbaria online.

It’s a wonderful site to browse and  I have been too busy reading to do much drawing but did make a prelim page of notes.

goldenrod notes bg

There is so much to discover about Goldenrod, especially about the insects it supports, from beautiful plume moths to bees and hoveflies and little gall wasps. All that has to be another post .

Marty’s Honey Bee and a Goldenrod stem.

Marty contacted me a while ago to very kindly ask if I could paint her a honey bee to use on her website and her publicity for Beezations her “growing apiary of treatment-free hives at the edge of the Catskills in upstate New York”.

Marty’s hives are ruled by a variety of lovely Queen bees..
Queen Camilla is a mild Italian…..Queen Marianne II is a feisty Russian with great genes from a Pennsylvania apiary….Queen Eleanor is a Carniolan mix who was bred at an apiary in Brewster, NY and Queen Kate II is the daughter of an Italian queen who was overthrown by her subjects in the spring of 2011…..” and more.

She sells shares in her hives and will reward the shareholders with gorgeous honey from their hard working bees.. A lovely idea! I sent her a couple of thumbnail roughs which feature either a Goldenrod or a New England Aster.. and of course a bee.

bee on goldenrod      bee with aster

The general feeling, via her blog and facebook votes was; the curve of the goldenrod stem and the hovering bee!
My thoughts too. It will make a versatile image for use on all of his products.
Maybe labels, cards, publicity etc etc. So the next stage is the, almost, final rough.. I will tweek it a bit more for the final painting but it’s one I am looking forward to.

b and goldenrod

I have been out in the garden again, this time giving the shed a bit of TLC. Dave my good neighbour, who is going to help with re-roofing said shed, tells me it is a summerhouse. He is a man of optimism and some imagination.

Leaf of the Day: The Banyan and Goldenrod in Fort Myers

I have recently encountered 2 amazing banyan trees. One at The Landings in Sarasota and the next one farther south at Fort Myers where Chris and I were having a weekend break. The majestic and stately banyan in Fort Myers is part of the Ford Edison estate which we visited yesterday.

This particular tree was given to Edison by Henry Firestone in 1925 as a 4 foot sapling when he, Edison and Henry Ford were pursuing the possibilities of a domestic source of rubber at the laboratory in Fort Myers. It was said to have been taken from the Great Banyan in the Shibpur Botanical garden near Calcutta the largest Banyan in the world.
The history and growing habits of the banyan (Ficus bengalensis) are completely fascinating and it is a botanical wonder. The tree starts life as an epiphyte, settling on the branch or bark crevice of another tree. It gradually takes over from its host by producing aerial roots and, once established, auxiliary roots sprout from the branches like long strands of spaghetti. The tree must somehow sense the need for more support and these become supportive trunks necessary to prop up its massive spreading horizontal limbs and so it spreads, on and on .. “walking” its way across huge areas of ground.

In an HGTV article on the Banyan, Bob McGuire explains the effects of the tree!!!
“Bob McGuire, chief arborist at the Thomas Edison Estate, counts the prop roots of the Edison banyan and finds there are 323.
“Visitors touch the roots and they talk to them,” McGuire says. “People are awestruck by the tree. You can tell by their faces. And you know, we still are too. I’m still in awe of it every day.”

There are many other interesting plants and trees to see at the estate set on the banks of the Caloosahatchee River.

W. Stoker, D. Redman after James Forbes., 1811

A few words from Milton:
“The fig-tree at this day to Indians known
In Malabar or Deccan, spreads her arms,
Branching so broad and long, that on the ground
The bended twigs take root, and daughters grow
About the mother tree, a pillar’d shade,
High over-arched and echoing walks between.”
Milton “Paradise Lost”

The tree was found not to be able to produce rubber in Florida however and Edison then turned his incredible mind and boundless energy to finding another source. He discovered the lovely autumn flowering Goldenrod was capable of producing rubber and there is a huge dried specimen in the laboratory at the museum which Edison had bred for commercial rubber production.
There is a short informative article about him here. and the link to the Museum site in Fort Myers is here
The lab visit alone is worth the price of entry.

The Banyan