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    What Thomas Edison and goldenrod teach us about allergy

    Right about now, you are probably wondering, “Is there a real connection between the plant and the late inventor?” Before the cat strays too far out of the bag, let us take a brief look at goldenrod’s background. Belonging to the genus Solidago, the plant has an interesting historical significance in the horticulture and allergy worlds. There are over 100 flowering species, sourced mostly throughout North America but are also found in pockets of South America, Europe, and Asia.1,2

    Without delving too deep into botany, the goldenrod blossoms are typically radial in nature, producing pollen that is both heavy and sticky.1 By virtue of these properties, it does not allow for a large dispersion from the flower but does make it attractive to pollinators such as bees and butterflies.3 This information might seem out of time and place; nevertheless, it certainly relates to eye care with regard to our differential diagnosis for fall allergy sufferers.

    More from Dr. Cooper: A new player in point-of-care allergy testing

    Edison’s last adventure

    As promised, a fascinating twist in the goldenrod story comes from the legendary Thomas Alva Edison. As luck would have it, I happened to be in West Orange, NJ, for a wedding a few years ago. Passing time before the festivities began, I decided to head over to his museum. What I found beyond the usual treasure trove of inventions was his hybridized species, Solidago edisoni.4         

    Looking back in time, there was growing concern in the late 1920s with the increased price and shortage of natural rubber coming from East Asia. Subsequently, Edison with his hunt-and-try approach scoured the literature and the counsel of botanists for several years, relying heavily on his friends Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone in the burgeoning car industry. Just prior to his death in 1931, he was able to produce industrial rubber from the goldenrod leaves—but with limited application as a blend rather than a replacement for the original product.4,5 Although his foray was not a complete success, his efforts laid the groundwork for the likes of DuPont and Firestone to achieve the synthetic product known as neoprene.4

    Next: Guilt by association

    Michael S. Cooper, OD
    Michael S. Cooper, OD, is in private practice in Willimantic, CT. He is a consultant to Allergan, BioTissue, Johnson & Johnson Vision ...


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