Images: ©Jouko Lehmuskallio

Goldenrod

Solidago virgaurea

  • Name also: Woundwort, European Golden-rod
  • Family: Daisy Family – Compositae, subfamily Asteroideae
    (formerly Aster Family – Asteraceae)
  • Growing form: Perennial herb. Rhizomatous.
  • Height: 30–100 cm (12–40 in.) (ssp. virgaurea) or 5–60 cm (2–25 in.) (ssp. alpestris). Stem usually branchless, bristly, virtually glabrous.
  • Flower: Single flower-like approx. 1–2 cm (0.4–0.8 in.) capitula surrounded by involucral bracts. Capitula flowers yellow, ray-florets tongue-like; disc florets tubular, small. Stamens 5. Pistil of 2 fused carpels. Involucre cylindrical, involucral bracts overlapping in a number of rows, 8–10 mm long (ssp. virgaurea) or approx. 5 mm (0.2 in.) long (ssp. alpestris). Capitula a compact cylindrical–stacked cluster, usually in a group of more than 10 (ssp. virgaurea) or less than 10 (ssp. alpestris).
  • Leaves: Alternate, basal leaves long-stalked, stem leaves stalkless, slightly amplexicaul. Blade elliptic–lanceolate, with narrow base, sparsely serrated, underside glabrous.
  • Fruit: Hairy cypsela, tip downy.
  • Habitat: Forest heaths and broad-leaved forests, dry meadows, meadows, banks, rocky outcrops, fens, tall-growing meadows, fell heaths.
  • Flowering time: (June–)July–September.

The diversity of nature is a consequence of the fact that most species are quite picky and choosy about their habitats. An exception to this rule is goldenrod, a highly adaptable plant that grows from the outer islands of the archipelago in the south to the northernmost tundra of the Lappish fells, and is thus one of Finland’s most common flowering plants. The appearance of this widespread species varies greatly. In northern Finland the subspecies ssp. alpestris is smaller and has larger flowers than ssp. virgaurea, which grows further south, but the change is gradual and it is hard to draw a line between them. There are also many mutations within the subspecies – for instance ssp. virgaurea might grow close to a metre tall in favourable conditions, but equally only a few dozen centimetres in less suitable places. In order to thrive goldenrod needs a lot of light and as a forest plant it is most abundant on grazing land and areas where slash-and-burn agriculture has been practiced, and it also likes sparse northern forests. In dense forest it often goes unnoticed as it hides itself away as a leaf rosette. It has to achieve a certain size before it can flower and after part of the forest has been cleared a whole large group of goldenrods can suddenly rise up and bloom. The species is also common around forest margins, on banks and meadows, and on coasts and archipelago islands. It even grows on gravel beside railway tracks. On bare lichenous rocks it is often the only flowering plant to be seen.

Dozens of healing properties have been attributed to goldenrod, and its scientific name solidago also refers to this. It was already being used medicinally in the middle ages, but later it fell out of favour. It is now back in vogue, however, and clinical trials are being held to determine its healing properties. The flower also yields a yellow dye. It has earlier been a popular ornamental, but more showy relatives have elbowed it out of the flower bed. Perhaps it is too familiar to people now to be of worth in the garden. It transplants easily and is undemanding, and within several years it fills out to become the central part of the flower bed. Goldenrod also adds to natural diversity wherever it grows as it attracts many kinds of insects, from large butterflies to small bugs. It can also be a good companion plant, as it is said to attract small predatory insects that would otherwise be harmful to other plants. The stems remain erect as they dry and spread their hairy cypselas, which are also an important source of nutrition to many small birds over the winter.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family
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