The golden leaves of the trees outside my window remind me that the growing season is almost over and that winter is coming. However, those same gold colors also remind me that spring is not that far away and at my place, it will start with some gold showing up in my garden. This golden treasure connects the gold of the fall with the gold of spring to close the season’s circle. Let me tell you about what I think is an underrated plant from right here: the golden ragwort!
Golden ragwort – a treasure for our gardens
The golden ragwort (Packera aurea) is a perennial native plant of our region that belongs to the sunflower family, Asteraceae. The species is found pretty much across the whole state and is commonly found in eastern North America. Its name comes from the abundant yellow flowers it produces early in the season (all that gold!), at a time when most other spring plants have not flowered. In fact, in our region, the golden ragwort starts flowering as early as March and continues doing so for several weeks/months afterward.
Besides it being a great addition to any space that needs some floral resources, another benefit of this species is its tolerance of a wide variety of growing conditions. Golden ragworts can be grown in conditions ranging from full sun to shade, tolerate heat well, and require some soil moisture. Once established, the plants are great ground covers since they can spread easily thanks to their rhizomes.
After flowering, the rosettes and rhizomes continue to cover and occupy the ground, making them also a great resource to retain water and soil in spaces that may be prone to soil erosion. Related to this, another benefit of this strong ground cover is that because they are so good at establishing, this species can have a high potential for competing against invasive plants that we may want to prevent from arriving or to remove from our green spaces.
And if your green space is like mine, and often visited by deer, this is a plant for you! In fact, because plants cannot escape predation like animals, they have evolved other ways of protecting themselves against herbivores. It turns out that all plants produce chemical compounds that act as chemical shields against herbivory. These compounds can make them toxic or unpalatable to many animals, thus leading to at least an unpleasant and at worst a deadly experience if ingested. Well, it turns out that Packera aurea has some of these defenses! This means that it may not be a great idea to try to eat this plant yourself (in case you were thinking of it 😊), and second, that other mammals such as deer will not feed on it due to its toxicity… making it deer resistant!
What do pollinators think of this plant?
Because they flower so early in the season, golden ragworts are very valuable for pollinators. In fact, because there are often not too many floral resources available in the early spring, early-flowering plants such as this one play a key role in supporting early-emerging pollinators.
Packera aurea flowers have been shown to support a large diversity of bees and hoverflies, and of course, this diversity increases with the progression of the season. Among some of the species it supports are several sweat bees, little carpenter bees of the genus Ceratina, and many species of hoverflies. Interestingly, this species has also been described as one of the preferred pollen sources of the rare pollen specialist mining bee Andrena gardineri.
When is the best time to plant golden ragwort?
Although the ideal time to plant it is in the early spring, depending on where you are in the state, you may be able to have just enough time to establish it this fall. Either way, the plant gets established very quickly, so if you are afraid of it being too late right now to try it, keep it in mind for the spring and check out your local native plant nursery to get your starts in time! I promise you will not regret it, and you will be thankful every spring for the lovely botanical chest of gold that will enrich your garden.
By Anahí Espíndola, Assistant Professor, Department of Entomology, University of Maryland, College Park. See more posts by Anahí.
Anahí also writes an Extension Blog in Spanish! Check it out here, extensionesp.umd.edu, and please share and spread the word to your Spanish-speaking friends and colleagues in Maryland. ¡Bienvenidos a Extensión en Español!