Goldenrod Galls

What began as a simple search for interesting props for my upcoming Sketching Nature workshop, led to a great illustration of how much there is to discover if we only look more closely. Among the things I collected were the dried stems of goldenrod, many of which had classic round goldenrod galls. But I soon discovered other deformities that I hadn’t noticed before: stunted stems with tufts of leaves at the tops, and elliptical-shaped growths on stems.

It turns out that more than 50 species of insects—mostly flies, midges, and wasps– lay their eggs on goldenrod stems. When the larvae hatch, they borrow into the stem, causing the plant to form a protective chamber around the growing grub. When the larvae transforms into an adult, it emerges from its hideaway and flies off. Sometimes woodpeckers drill into the gall for a meal, in which case, you’ll find a small hole in the gall. For the most part, the insects don’t harm the plant; though in the case of the bunch gall, they do stunt the growth of the stem, causing leaves to sprout at the top and curtailing the growth of flowers.

So, there you have it…a bit of natural history for your day and an invitation to go out and see what you can discover.

Tips & Techniques– Keep it simple! I wanted this page to illustrate how much you can do with a few simple things on a page and a limited amount of time. I drew everything directly in pen and shaded only the darkest areas. I added watercolor in three loose layers, using combinations of yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and ultramarine blue. A bit of spatter near the dried flowers and the “goldenrod galls” text were my finishing touches.

32 Comments on “Goldenrod Galls

  1. I love this! So understated in its palette, but so lively a composition. And it speaks to how important it is to maintain native plants, and not simply mow them down. We’re in the process of returning our 10-acre pasture to a native grassland, and I love looking at all the cool “weeds” and the myriad insects.

  2. And, according to a camp my son went on this summer, you can eat those bugs, which he did. It was disgusting to watch – and tasted bad, too, apparently.

  3. This is one of my favorite flowers for it’s amazing versatility. The flowers are an amazing dye and the color is a clear sunny gold. It also makes a great tea for the runny nose that often accompanies a cold. This drawing is beautiful and I love how you connect us to nature in all of it’s complexity.

  4. Hi Jean, I am a fairly new discoverer of your blog. This entry is proof that I must continue to “follow” you! These entries are a treat for the eyes and mind.

    • Thanks Evelyn! I’m intrigued with the atmospheric approach you are taking with your watercolors. I wrote down the title of the book you referenced so I can see if I can get a copy.

      • It’s a lovely book Jean – so inspirational and Jean Haines seems to have captured everything I love about watercolour in her book. It’s a very useful book for me as I’m still in the early stages of my watercolour journey and have much to learn. You should be able to get a copy no trouble….

  5. Wonderful essay as illustration! 2017 was a remarkable goldenrod year in the Delaware Valley. Big long lasting bloom and the stalks are still standing. I wonder if it was the same for you ? Best Rita

    • I think so Rita. There is a field of goldenrod adjacent to our property and it was gorgeous for weeks. Stalks are all still standing, which gave me a variety of choose from for this sketch.

      • It is so exciting to follow your blog, Jean – I never know what to expect, but I do know that the things appearing will make me want to find my owner sketchbook right away! And I must also tell you that I love the way you guide us through your process of making – always very instructive!

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