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Stiff Goldenrod
(Solidago rigida)

by Virginia Chatfield

Family: Asteraceae (Aster Family)

Habitat and Distribution: Prairies, dry fields and hillsides; may spread along roadsides and railroads. Located in the southern half of lower Michigan.

Description: The stiff goldenrod is a tall, handsome, 3-5' perennial plant with a large-headed flower and an outline reminiscent of the familiar garden plant, Autumn Joy Sedum. It flowers from late July into October. The stems are very erect and do not require staking. The blades of the lower stem leaves, like the ones at the base of the plant, are much larger than the upper stem leaves, and instead of being almost sessile, are on long petioles. (In trying to distinguish between species of goldenrod, the change, or lack of it, in leaf size from the base of the plant upwards is often very helpful. Complete specimens should always be collected.) This plant has a distinct character that looks particularly well with fine-textured plants such as the asters and native grasses. Setting the chunky stiff goldenrod against the delicate panicles of Switch Grass will create an effect lasting for several weeks, as the two plants age together.

Seed and Cultivation: Nutlets (seed) mature in October but tend to remain in the seed head for several weeks afterwards, allowing adequate time for collecting. Since germination is often poor, sow seeds thickly in an outdoor bed early in the fall, or sow stored seed later in a flat indoors or in the cold frame. The seed may also be sown in a bare-soil area in late fall, following the pattern of nature, for germination in the spring. This plant will grow well in most soils and thrives in an open, sunny exposure.

Related Species: There are 50 varieties of goldenrod in North America alone, and almost two dozen in Michigan. Some of these species are distinctive, and others are difficult to tell apart. Goldenrods all have yellow to creamy yellow flowers, but they do vary in height, flower arrangement, cultural requirements, leaf size, aggressiveness, and bloom time. This highly successful and lovely genus can fill many niches in late summer and fall gardens and meadows.

Some goldenrods such as the Tall, S. altissima, Canada, S. canadensis, and Late, S. gigantea, are considered too aggressive for the garden bed and are more suitable for the naturalized area. These are best planted where they can form a golden mass, instead of scattered plantings, and have adequate competition. Other goldenrods such as the Rough-Leaved, S. rugosa, Blue-Stemmed, S. caesia, and Early, S. juncea, which also spread by rhizomes, are less aggressive but still should be given a lot of room. It is recommended that you plant them three feet from their neighbors and curb their clumps by sectioning off their edges or dividing them every year. Showy Goldenrod, S. speciosa, as well as Stiff Goldenrod are not spread by rhizomes and so are more easily controlled in the garden bed. Although most goldenrods are sun-loving, several of our goldenrods will take part sun, including the Canada, S. canadensis, Rough-Leaved, S. rugosa, Early, S. juncea, and Zigzag, S. flexicaulis, goldenrods. Blue-Stemmed Goldenrod is adapted to shady open woods and can add welcome color in the fall woodland. Several species are adapted to wet conditions and add their lovely yellows to the fall wetland garden landscape. These are mainly the Swamp, S. patula, Riddell's, S. riddellii, and Bog, S. uliginosa, goldenrods, although others are also somewhat adaptable to this environment.

Uses: Both the roots and flowers of the Canada Goldenrod were used medicinally by Native Americans, who also boiled the flowers of various species to make a yellow dye. Thomas Edison hoped to make a rubber substitute from the rubbery sap of the goldenrod. Although these uses are no longer valid, the goldenrod's usefulness to countless species of birds, butterflies, and other insects is significant. Interestingly, a variety of tiny insects use small galls formed on the stems, leaves and even roots of the goldenrod to shelter their growing larva. The heavy, sticky pollen, which we now realize could not possibly cause hay fever (blame it on the Ambrosia spp.), is important to the viability of our natural communities.

Planting Design Combinations: There are many plant combinations which are enhanced by the addition of goldenrods. Combine the spidery goldenrods with asters and native sunflowers. Mass them with our stately Joe-Pye Weed and Boneset. Use them as foils for Great Lobelia and Sundrops. The rich lavendars, pinks, and whites of asters, the deep purple of the Iron Weed, and the bright yellows of the goldenrod and Sneezeweed combine with the sandy, gold, and tawny orange tones of the native grasses for a spectacular and painterly landscape that is truly our native Michigan meadow.

Article reprinted from the Spring 2000 issue of Wild Ideas,
the Flint Wild Ones Newsletter.
Copyright © 2000 Wild Ones–Natural Landscapers, Ltd.


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