by Cheryl Brendel, Coordinator, Penn State Extension Master Gardeners of Greene County

In 2016, the Greene County Master Gardeners began participating in a pollinator study with 31 other counties in Pennsylvania. Penn State Extension was interested in studying the pollinators attracted to five species of monarda (bee balm) and four species of coreopsis (tickseed). We monitored for varieties of bees: dark sweat bees, bumblebees, honey bees, carpenter bees and green sweat bees. Other visitors to the flowering plants, like moths and butterflies, were also recorded. Over the three years, it was surprising that certain bees visited specific flowers more than others. The Route 66 coreopsis had the highest number of pollinator visits. Monarda Fancy Fuchsia had the most bumblebee visits.

Over the three years, the garden became overgrown as the monarda spreads quickly. The last year, the plants bloomed and dried out quickly, leaving the gardens looking wintered early. So the Master Gardeners replanted with perennial plants.

For the upcoming seasons, from 2020 – 2022, there will be a new pollinator study. We will be watching for other pollinators, particularly butterflies. There will be two native plants we will be observing, goldenrod and Joe Pye. Most people hear those names and think of them as weeds. Goldenrod is often given a bad rap for allergies when ragweed is the real culprit! The pollen from goldenrod is too heavy to fly through the air. Ragweed pollen is lighter and carried by the wind.

On a historical note, goldenrod contains a rubber content, 7% in the leaves, which Thomas Edison cultivated to make tires for the Model T! He teamed up with Washington Carver at Dearborn to devise a way to make a rubber substitute.

Goldenrod, with over 100 varieties, are beautiful. The specimens in our garden are Speciosa, Rigida, Fireworks and Odoro. These native plants bloom in the fall and attract butterflies and other pollinators. Solidago is the family name, and it is a member of the aster family. Propagation is by the wind spreading seed or by spreading underground rhizomes. Goldenrod is the state flower in Kentucky, Nebraska and South Carolina.

Joe-Pye weed was named after an herbalist, who was said to use it to treat fever. It is also a late-blooming perennial, with rose to mauve florets making a compound flower, and can reach anywhere from 3 to 12 feet.

These two gardens are planted in the front of the Goat Building at the Greene County Fairgrounds. Penn State Extension is hoping to show how beneficial these native plants can be to our pollinators.

If you would like to visit the gardens, you will find an outdoor brochure box with information about the perennial garden and the goldenrod and Joe Pye in the newly planted garden. We are hoping that seeing that these are not just weeds will encourage homeowners to grow some of these for our pollinators.

If you have gardening questions or might be interested in becoming a Master Gardener, please call the Penn State Extension Office at 724-627-3745.

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