Goldenrod for Fall Color

Martie Young
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 showy clusters.


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.

Broad-leaved Goldenrod

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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