Gateway to the Classics: Wild-Flower Study by Anna Botsford Comstock
Wild-Flower Study by  Anna Botsford Comstock



The Goldenrod

Teacher's Story

Once I was called upon to take some children into the field to study autumn flowers. The day we studied goldenrod, I told them the following story on the way, and I found that they were pleased with the fancy and through it were led to see the true purpose of the goldenrod blossoming:

"There are flowers which live in villages and cities, but people who also live in villages and cities are so stupid that they hardly know a flower city when they see it. This morning we are going to visit a golden city where the people are all dressed in yellow, and where they live together in families; and the families all live on top of their little, green, shingled houses, which are set in even rows along the street. In each of these families, there are some flowers whose business it is to furnish nectar and pollen and to produce seeds which have fuzzy balloons; while there are other flowers in each family which wave yellow banners to all the insects that pass by and signal them with a code of their own, thus: 'Here, right this way is a flower family that needs a bee or a beetle or an insect of some sort to bring it pollen from abroad, so that it can ripen its seed; and it will give nectar and plenty of pollen in exchange.' Of course, if the flowers could walk around like people, or fly like insects, they could fetch and carry their own pollen, but as it is, they have to depend upon insect messengers to do this for them. Let us see who of us will be the first to guess what the name of this golden city is, and who will be the first to find it."


A street in goldenrod city.

The children were delighted with this riddle and soon found the goldenrod city. We examined each little house with its ornate, green "shingles." These little houses, looking like cups, were arranged on the street stem, right side up, in an orderly manner and very close together; and where each joined the stem, there was a little, green bract for a doorstep. Living on these houses we found the flower families, each consisting of a few tubular disk-flowers opening out like bells, and coming from their centers were the long pollen-tubes or the yellow, two-parted stigmas. The ray-flowers had short but brilliant banners; and they, as well as the disk-flowers, had young seeds with pretty fringed pappus developing upon them. The banner-flowers were not set so regularly around the edges as in the asters; but the families were such close neighbors, that the banners reached from one house to another. And all of the families on all of the little, green streets were signalling insects, and one boy said, "They must be making a very loud yellow noise." We found that very many insects had responded to this call—honeybees, bumblebees, mining and carpenter bees, blue-black blister beetles with short wings and awkward bodies, beautiful golden-green chalcid flies, soldier beetles and many others; and we found the spherical gall and the spindle-shaped gall in the stems, and the strange gall up near the top which grew among the leaves.

Unless one is a trained botanist it is wasted energy to try to distinguish any but the well-marked species of goldenrod; for, according to Gray, we have 56 species, the account of which makes twelve pages of most uninteresting reading in the new Manual. The goldenrod family is not in the least cliquish, the species have a habit of interbreeding to the confusion of the systematic botanist. Mathew's Field Book serves as well as any for distinguishing the well-marked species.


Disk-flower and banner-flower of goldenrod.


The Goldenrod

Leading thought—In the goldenrod the flower-heads or families are so small that, in order to attract the attention of the insects, they are set closely together along the stem to produce a mass of color.

Method—Bring to the school-room any kind of goldenrod, and give the lesson on the flowers there. This should be followed by a field excursion to get as many kinds of goldenrod as possible. The following observations will bring out differences in well-marked species:


1. Use Lesson CXXXV to study the flower. How many banner-flowers in the family? How many disk-flowers? Are the banners arranged as regularly around the edges as in the asters and daisies? How are the flower-heads set upon the stems? Which flower-heads open first—those at the base or at the tip of the stem? Do the upper stems of the plant blossom before those lower down?

2. Do the stems bearing flowers come from the axils of the leaves? What is the general shape of the flower branches? Do they come off evenly at each side, or more at one side? Are the flower branches long or short? Make a sketch of the general shape of the goldenrod you are studying.

3. Is the stem smooth, downy, or covered with bloom? What is its color? In cross-section, is it circular or angular?

4. What is the shape and form of the edges of the lower leaves? The upper ones? Are they set with, or without, petioles on the stem? Do they have a heart-shaped base? Are the leaves smooth or downy? Are they light, or dark green?

5. Field notes. Where do you find the goldenrod growing? Do you find one kind growing alone or several kinds growing together? Do you find any growing in the woods? If so, how do they differ in shape from those in the field?

6. How many kinds of insects do you find visiting goldenrod flowers? How many kinds of galls do you find on the goldenrod stems and leaves?

7. Study the goldenrods in November. Describe their seeds and how they are scattered.

"I am alone with nature,

With the soft September day;

The lifting hills above me,

With goldenrod are gay.

Across the fields of ether

Flit butterflies at play;

And cones of garnet sumac

Glow down the country way.

"The autumn dandelion

Beside the roadway burns;

Above the lichened boulders

Quiver the plumèd ferns.

The cream-white silk of the milkweed

Floats from its sea-green pod;

From out the mossy rock-seams

Flashes the goldenrod."

—Mary Clemmer Ames.

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