By: Mary Ellen Ellis
Rough goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) flowers bloom in the fall and add a spectacular, rich yellow to the autumnal landscape. As a native wildflower it looks great in perennial beds and natural areas of your garden. Care is easy, and contrary to popular belief, it does not trigger allergies.
Rough Goldenrod Information
Goldenrod is native to many parts of the U.S. and is easily identifiable as a bright, golden yellow clump of flowers so characteristic to fields and meadows in fall. These perennial flowers grow to a height of two to five feet (0.6 to 1.5 m.). The flowers are yellow and small but grow in large clusters, blooming between August and September. The leaves of rough goldenrod, sometimes called wrinkled goldenrod, are toothed, deeply veined, and rough in texture.
There is no question that this is a pretty flower to have in any wildflower garden, meadow, or native plant bed. It also attracts bees, butterflies, and birds. However, all types of goldenrod have gotten a bad rap during hay fever season. It has been blamed for these allergies, but unfairly.
It is ragweed, which just happens to produce pollen while goldenrod is blooming, that causes the allergic symptoms. If you use wrinkled goldenrod plants in your garden and have no ragweed in the area, you won’t have the usual allergies.
Growing Rough Goldenrod in the Garden
As a native, perennial wildflower, rough goldenrod care is not labor intensive. Give it a spot in full sun, or a spot with a little shade, and with well-drained soil. The soil should be moist much of the time, but goldenrod will tolerate dry soil. Once your plants are established, you shouldn’t need to water them often.
To propagate rough goldenrod, you can sow seeds right in the soil, but be heavy-handed, as germination is spotty. You can also take cuttings in late spring or early summer or divide the roots in late winter. Divide to propagate or just to thin out clumps for the coming growing season. If collecting seeds from your plants, look for the thicker seeds; flat seeds are not usually viable.
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About the Goldenrods
The Goldenrod (Solidago) flower family consists of over 130 species of sunny yellow plumes nodding in the late summer wind. Solidago is pronounced, (Sol-eh-day’-go).
The goldenrods are mostly golden yellow in color with a few species with white blossoms. The plumes are made up of many small flowers lined up in rows along the stem.
Goldenrods stand tall rather than lean over or trail along the ground. Their heights vary from three to seven feet tall. They have upright woody stems.
The golden yellow blooms flower from August through September. The blooms provide nectar for fall migrating insects like Monarch butterflies. Insects that are frantically preparing for the winter visit the blooms for pollen and nectar.
Rough goldenrod ‘Fireworks’
Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ (rough goldenrod) is interplanted with Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Red Thunder’ (burnet) in the Dark Plate. This perennial Asteraceae forms clumps of erect bright yellow flower heads that not surprisingly look like fireworks with their spiky appearance.
The tiny flowers of this hardy goldenrod bloom for 2 weeks in th e fall, and are carried on stiff stems that are 100 cm long (36 inches) and bear alternately arranged leaves. Preferring full sun and dry soil but tolerant of wet soils, Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ is hardy to zones 3-8. It will grow up to 120 cm (4 feet) tall and provides important nectar for pollinators such as the monarch butterfly in the fall.
Solidago rugosa is native to North America from Canada to Florida, through Texas and north to Wisconsin. Mistaken for causing fall allergies, this plant is actually not the culprit that ragweed (Ambrosia artemisifolia) has been proven to be. Designers will use this lovely flower in borders and meadows. It pairs nicely with grasses such as Schizachyrium scoparium and Symphotrichum oblongifolium (aromatic aster). Garden maintainers can cut back the spent flowers to encourage a rebloom. Flower arrangers use Solidago ‘Fireworks’ in vases and bouquets paired with deep red or purple focal flowers.
Goldenrod — is it a weed? Or is it a beloved wild flower? Depending on who you talk to, perhaps it’s both. This native North American plant grows in one form or another in every state in the contiguous United States and in Alaska. In fact, it’s so common that it’s understandable why many people think of it strictly as a weed. But what a weed! Goldenrod is an important source of nectar and pollen for pollinators of all kinds as well as shelter for the larvae of beneficial insects. This bee and butterfly magnet tolerates two of our region’s gardening challenges — deer and clay soil.
Here, in this part of Virginia, the Albemarle County Native Plant Database lists seven varieties of goldenrod that are native to this area. These are only a few of the approximately 38 varieties that are native to Virginia. Depending on the variety, they start appearing in the landscape as early as July and bloom until November. They’re hard to miss. Most varieties of goldenrod range in height and width from three to four feet on average. While Rough-Stemmed Goldenrod is fairly diminutive at 2 feet in height, its relative, Sweet Goldenrod, can reach 5 feet. Taller yet, Canada Goldenrod can reach 6 feet in height while the tallest of the bunch, Giant Goldenrod, can climb to 8.2 feet in height, according to the United States Department of Agriculture plant database. For an idea of just how tall this plant is, check out the accompanying photo of Piedmont Master Gardener Dorothy Tompkins standing next to a clump of it in her garden.
Photo Credit: Pat Chadwick
Commonly seen growing in fields and along country roads, this wild flower has long been ignored by serious gardeners until recent years. With the introduction of hybrid forms of the plant, which are smaller and better behaved, Goldenrod often appears in home gardens as well as in public botanical gardens. A member of the Solidago genus (pronounced sole-ih-DAY-go), goldenrod is commonly used in European gardens more so than in North American gardens. As Allan M. Armitage points out in his Herbaceous Perennial Plants, A Treatise on their Identification, Culture, and Garden Attributes (Third Edition), Europeans developed goldenrod hybrids for the commercial cut flower market using North American natives as parents. However, as American gardeners become more interested in native plantings, goldenrod is now viewed less as a weed and more as a wild flower worthy of consideration in the ornamental garden. Of the more than 100 species of goldenrod within the Solidago genus, most of the commonly grown ones have feathery, branching clusters of brilliant yellow flowers which dance in the breeze and add movement to the landscape.
Many garden centers in the mid-Atlantic offer Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ as a staple of the autumn perennial trade. ‘Fireworks’ features generous plumes of small, bright yellow flowers that grow in dense panicles at the ends of stiff alternate-leaved stems. It blooms from September to October in full sun and ranges in height from 36 to 42 inches. While it does well in average, well-drained soil, it can tolerate wetter soil than other Goldenrod cultivars, which makes it a good candidate for rain gardens. Deadheading the spent flower clusters encourages additional bloom. ‘Fireworks’ produces some creeping roots. If the plant spreads beyond the space allotted to it, don’t despair. The excess pulls up very easily. To control growth, divide the plant every two to three years. If you’re not familiar with ‘Fireworks,’ take note of a beautiful clump of it growing on the grounds of the Jefferson-Madison Library branch on Gordon Street in Charlottesville.
Another popular cultivar is ‘Golden Fleece,’ which blooms from August through September. This East Coast native goldenrod (Solidago sphaecelata) is more diminutive than the species, topping out at about 20 inches and spreading to about 3 feet.
Goldenrod is susceptible to rust, which is characterized by bronze pustules on stems and lower sides of leaves. To either minimize or avoid the problem, make sure the plant has plenty of air circulation and is sited in full sun. While it will tolerate some shade, it can become floppy and may need to be staked.
Many people believe goldenrod is the source of autumn hay fever and allergy symptoms. You’ll be relieved to know that this is not the case. The pollen of goldenrod is sticky and is not wind borne. The true cause of those fall sniffles and sneezes is the wind-borne pollen of plants such as ragweed.
While some people categorize goldenrod as a weed, many of us regard it is a beloved wild flower. The state of Kentucky, for example, likes it well enough that it named Solidago altissima as its state flower in 1926. This is just one of 30 species of goldenrod that grace the Kentucky fields and byways. Another species of goldenrod, Solidago gigantea, or giant goldenrod, has been the state flower of Nebraska since 1895.
Albemarle County Plant Database available on-line at http://www.albemarle.org/nativeplants/.
Armitage, Allan M., Herbaceous Perennial Plants, A treatise on Their Identification, Culture, and Garden Attributes (third Edition), 2008.
DiSabato-Aust, Tracy, The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, 2006.
Hodgson, Larry, Perennials for Every Purpose, 2000.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Plants Database available on-line at http://plants.usda.gov/.
Weakley, Alan S. Ludwig, J. Christopher and Townsend, John E., Flora of Virginia, 2012.
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