Before you mow them down or,
worse, reach for the herbicide, you might want to consider giving the
dandelions in your yard a second chance.
How They Got Here
The ubiquitous dandelions that pop up in our yards this time of year are actually native to Europe and Asia. They were brought here by European colonists who used them for medicine, food, and wine. The English name comes from the French “dent de lion” meaning “teeth of a lion” which refers to the jagged leaves.
A Useful Weed
Many people think of them as a
noxious weed but they are actually quite a useful plant. They flower earlier
than most of our native plants so they offer early pollen and nectar for
honeybees and native pollinators.
They are host plants for the
caterpillars of several moth species including the spectacular Giant Leopard
Moth. Their long tap root helps to break up the soil and move nutrients and
water throughout the soil. And dandelion greens are delicious.
This year, help out our native
pollinators and be kind to Mother Earth by forgoing any herbicides and letting
dandelions do their thing. Dandelions are an important food source for
honeybees and others throughout the spring and most herbicides are poisonous to
these insect pollinators.
Ah…ah…AH…CHOO! Feeling a bit sneezy these days? Well, we’re here to clear the air—goldenrod is not to blame for your seasonal allergy woes. This bright, ubiquitous, late-flowering plant has been framed by the real culprit, ragweed, which blooms around the same time and often nearby. Ragweed’s light, dusty pollen is easily carried on the wind to hay-feverish noses but goldenrod’s pollen is much too heavy, making the latter all the more appealing for pollinators!
There are at least 15 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars that feed on the leaves and stems of goldenrods and the many species of insects that can be found on goldenrods, pollinating the flowers or feeding on their leaves and nectar, are far too numerous to count! Research from Cornell University suggests that Monarch butterflies actually face their greatest food shortage in the fall as they are migrating south, usually along the coast; so while milkweed is the primary food source for Monarch caterpillars, the adult butterflies rely on nectar from wildflowers such as goldenrod to fuel them on their long journey.
So before you go pulling goldenrods out of your yard or garden as a nuisance weed, give them a second chance. You might just be reward by a visit from some hungry butterflies. Here are five beautiful photos of goldenrod from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest entries. The 2018 contest is now closed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some gorgeous photography year-round!
June 18–24 is National Pollinator Week and we’re celebrating these wonderful and critical creatures that provide a much needed and under-appreciated service to us and to the natural world. The vast majority of flowering plants on earth need help from pollinators to reproduce; we need pollinators for our food supply and to support healthy ecosystems.
Enjoy these five photos of pollinator butterflies you’re likely to see in Massachusetts and learn what you can do to support pollinators.