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Solidago: Solid Gold for the Garden

Picture of Solidago Altissima outside in a field
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Bill McLaughlin, Plant Curator at the U.S. Botanic Garden, reflects on the beautiful goldenrod blooming at the U.S. Botanic Garden.

Beautiful goldenrod blooming at the U.S. Botanic Garden.
Solidago odora. Once exported as an herbal tea, anise-scented goldenrod also makes a neat and tidy specimen for dry gardens. Solidago odora. Once exported as an herbal tea, anise-scented goldenrod also makes a neat and tidy specimen for dry gardens. S. plumosa S. plumosa. Rare and recently re-discovered, the red-stemmed Yadkin River goldenrod now thrives in the National Garden.
S. plumosa. Rare and recently re-discovered, the red-stemmed Yadkin River goldenrod now thrives in the National Garden.

Falsely accused of causing hay fever (that dishonor belongs to ragweed and late grasses), goldenrods have long been appreciated overseas for cut-flower and garden use. Most of the 100 plus goldenrods (Solidago spp.) are native to North America, where they provide a bright blast of late season color.
 
While the beauty is ours to behold, their pollen and nectar makes them among the most important pollinator foods at the close of the growing season. The familiar tall species seen along roadways this time of year spread very aggressively underground, and are best reserved for habitat reclamation work. So, which among them is tame enough to be called garden-worthy?
 
The U.S. Botanic Garden’s National Garden features a dozen that are as well behaved as they are beautiful. A tidy choice for dry sunny sites, Anise-scented goldenrod (Solidago odora) also happens to be the official state herb of Delaware. Its glossy, licorice flavored leaves were famously used in revolutionary times as an ingredient in “Liberty Tea.”
 
While many goldenrods are quite common in their native haunts, a few are rare. Long presumed extinct following a dam building project in the early 1900’s, the rediscovery of Yadkin River goldenrod (S. plumosa) in 1994 has allowed conservationists a chance to bring it back from the brink. Currently thriving in the National Garden, the broad golden plumes of this handsome North Carolina species put on their show in September and October.
 
While most goldenrods are found in sunny places, a few call our eastern woodlands home. Among the best of these is wreath goldenrod (S. caesia), whose nearly horizontal fall flower stems look great weaving among rich green Christmas ferns and blue and white woodland asters.
 
A staff favorite at the U.S. Botanic Garden is wand goldenrod (S. stricta). Through the summer its lean, strong stems reach skyward some 6-8 feet and then gently arch as the top of third becomes studded with tiny yellow blooms that sway on every breeze. Flowering peaks in mid-to-late November, and if icy weather doesn’t trouble them, on into January!
 
Come check out the season’s golden bounty and find your own favorite garden variety goldenrod. The National Garden is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, including all weekends and holidays. Visit www.usbg.gov for more information.

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