Goldenrod for Fall Color
Adams County Master Gardener
My new favorite flower is goldenrod. Although I must tell you—whatever the
season, I always choose a new favorite! While I was looking for some information on goldenrod, I found the interesting fact that there are between 62 and 69 species in our
area (Northeastern and North Central North America). Identification can be difficult, but one thing all goldenrods have in common is their color—bright yellow. Their
differences can include different shaped leaves, hairy or smooth stems or leaves, configuration of flower stems, and the number of rays in each blossom, which are massed in
Goldenrods can range from 1 to 7 feet tall, depending on weather and location. There is even an Alpine Goldenrod from 2 to 12 inches tall.
This appears only in alpine summits of New England and New York. There is also a Bog Goldenrod that appears in swamps, bogs, and wet meadows; and there is a Seaside Goldenrod
found in salt marshes, dunes, and beaches. I only mention these to show that goldenrod has many adaptations and can be found most anywhere. Now that the technical stuff is
out of the way just enjoy the beauty of the many goldenrods in central and southern Pennsylvania.
It is still possible to drive along country roads and farm lanes and enjoy the scenery—and even stop your car to take pictures. Walking is
even better since you will have plenty of time to observe how many species of goldenrods grow in the same fields or hedgerows. At this time of the year one of the most common
sights will be fields filled with goldenrod and asters. Asters come in many colors, ranging from white, through blue to dark purple. So if you see a field without an
agricultural crop, or the edges of a field that hasn’t been mowed, these are the flowers you will be seeing from late August through October. Take a dirt road and drive
slowly and stop often to take in the beauty of Pennsylvania’s flowers.
Until I found goldenrod in this book (Peterson Field Guide—A Field Guide to Wildflowers by Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret MeKenny) I was
quite proud that I had found (bought, not dug up) and planted 5 different species of goldenrod. One of my favorites is Solidago rigida or Hard-Leaved Goldenrod. It grows
between 5 and 6 feet tall, starts blooming in early September and now, at the end of September has finished blooming. The flower clusters are flat-topped and very showy.
I have another goldenrod—Zigzag or Broad-leaved Goldenrod; it is the stem that is zigzag, with the flower clusters in the angles and at the
top of the stem. The leaves are broad and a lighter green than most goldenrods. It should bloom into October.
Blue-stemmed Goldenrod is new to me this year. It grows 1 to 3 feet tall and likes shade. It is found in woodlands and thickets. And the stem
is smooth and bluish or purplish with its flowers well-spaced in the axils of the smooth slender leaves.
The last important thing about goldenrod is the fact that it attracts all pollinating insects. There have been wasps, bees, flower flies,
ermine moths, monarch butterflies on my goldenrods, especially Solidago rigida. Many times all these insects have been feeding and pollinating at the same time. Plant
goldenrod; it will reward you in many ways. One last thought—goldenrod does not cause hay fever, ragweed does and ragweed is not a pretty plant.
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