One of Our Own, Part 2

by Elsa Johnson

Goldenrods of Northeast Ohio, A Field Guide to Identification and Natural History, by Dr. James K. Bissell, Steven M. McKee, and Judy Semroc. 

Yep— OUR Jim Bissell.

A little backstory here. I’ve known Jim since around 1980. I was living on the east side of Twinsburg, in Summit County, where I’d grown up amid forest, fields, swamps, and ledges, but by the late 70’s Twinsburg had been continually developing since Forest City built the Glenwood development in the mid 1950’s. By 1980 development had finally arrived on the heretofore totally undeveloped east side, where I lived, in the form of a developer buying up a couple thousand acres directly across the street from me, consisting of fields and swamps and ledges that were in the headwaters of Pond Brook (which feeds into Tinkers Creek, which feeds into the Cuyahoga River). Horrors.

Some of us – conservation minded and appalled by the idea of such development there – formed a group to fight this threat and one of the first things we did was ask Jim Bissell to come out and hike the two sets of ledges with us. Which he obligingly did, this youngish (early thirties, I guessed at the time) sandy haired fellow, already a fount of knowledge. This was in the early days of land conservation through purchase by the museum. We were hoping the museum might be interested in our 2000 acres. Unfortunately, while Jim agreed it would be a shame to see it developed, it was not pristine enough or unique enough to be of interest to him or the museum (In case you’re wondering – we did eventually find a way to save it. The area is now a Summit County Metropark.)

Flash forward to now, thirty some years later.  Jim is still out there doing what he loves to do, fighting for natural areas, and me too, I’m doing what I love to do, fighting for places I love. Neither of us is young or even youngish anymore. Occasionally we run into each other, which for me has always been both a pleasure and an education.

As a kid growing up in the country I took goldenrods for granted. Goldenrods were just — goldenrods. They were considered ‘weeds.’ They grew everywhere and pretty much looked the same. In fact, to me, they mostly still do. I do not appreciate them with a botanist’s interest but rather for the beauty of their abundant glory when they are all in bloom. I no longer consider them weeds. So it is with delight that I mention that the beginning of this definitive book on goldenrods begins by celebrating that glory and their role as “the cornerstones of ecosystems across the region.” 

We learn that 100 species of goldenrods have been described, with the greatest goldenrod diversity – 60 species — within North America, and that they support 430 types of insects. We learn that goldenrods are not huge nectar producers, but that this is offset by the vast number of flowers produced per plant, and that their pollen is heavy. Native bees, we learn, and bumble bees, rely heavily on goldenrod nectar, and that there are at least eight butterfly and moth species that feed exclusively on Solidago species. We learn that after the flowers die back for the season the seeds feed chickadees, finches, siskins, juncos, and sparrows. And we learn much more. One interesting aside gives a list of goldenrod uses —  for tea, for dye. This natural history section is followed by a section on how to use the guide, a dichotomous key, and then a species by species description of the goldenrods to be found in Northeast Ohio, with both elegant drawings and clear photographs, and discussion of preferred soils and habitat.

This year a goldenrod volunteered in my front yard garden. It grew into a sizable clump while growing taller, and taller, and taller, growing ultimately about 5 or 6 feet tall. Late in August the flower heads developed and in mid to late September they bloomed. Using the guide descriptions and pictures I was able to identify it as most likely either Tall goldenrod, Canada goldenrod, or Late Goldenrod. The flowers were so heavy that they bore their supporting stems to the ground, and were covered with all sorts of insects – many different kinds of wasps and bees and flies. It was glorious.  Thank you, Jim Bissell, Steven M. McKee, and Judy Semroc.

As a side note, Jim’s work in the region has been recognized by many, including the Nature Conservancy. The Dr. James K. Bissell Nature Center opened October 21. Located on the Grand River Conservation Campus of the Morgan Swamp Preserve in Ashtabula County, the center is open Saturdays and Sundays from 1 – 5 pm from the first weekend of April through the first weekend of December. 

One thought on “One of Our Own, Part 2

  1. It’s an excellent book! I love goldenrods! They are the preferred plant for two of our tree crickets pieces. I see pollinators on the flowers every time I’m in a meadow and on the plants we have in our yard. Their subtle fragrance gives NE Ohio’s meadows their characteristic sweet smell in August and September – and even into October. And yes, they will provide seeds for sparrows and the goldenrod galls will be attacked by hungry Black-capped Chickadees and Downy Woodpeckers in the winter.

    There are goldenrods for sun, shade, and everything in between. We have a number of species here in our yard and love them all.

    Nothing says “Ohio” to me like a late summer goldenrod-filled meadow!

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