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A Comprehensive Guide to Gray Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis)

Gray Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to the mid-western and eastern United States. This species is a host to the baltimore checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton) and several moths. Growing from 0.5 foot to 3 feet tall, this species grows in open areas such as fields, prairies, roadsides, and open woods. The yellow flowers bloom from August to October and the plant is hardy in zones 3-9.

Taxonomy and Naming of Gray Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis)

Herbarium specimen of gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).
Herbarium Specimen of Gray Goldenrod — Solidago nemoralis var. longipetiolata (Mack. & Bush) E.J.Palmer & Steyerm. collected in United States of America by Botanical Research Institute of Texas (licensed under CC0 1.0)
Herbarium specimen of gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis var. nemoralis).
Herbarium Specimen of Gray Goldenrod — Solidago nemoralis f. nemoralis collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Gray Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) was originally named and described by William Aiton, a Scottish botanist, in 1789. It has kept this same name since and is a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae).

Varieties

  • Solidago nemoralis var. longipetiolata: native to the mid-western United States, leaves are narrowly lanceolate to lance-linear (Fernald 1936), basal leaves not crenate (Flora of North America)
  • Solidago nemoralis var. nemoralis: native to the eastern United States, leaves are broadly oblanceolate to spathulate-obovate (Fernald 1936), basal leaves usually crenate

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Solidago, derives from the Latin words, Solidus and ago, which together mean to make (ago) whole (Solidus). This meaning comes from the medicinal uses of the plant. The species name, nemoralis, is Latin for growing in groves or woods.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name comes from the grayish hue of the leaves. Some other common names include old field goldenrod and common goldenrod (NC Extension Gardener).

Physical Description

Plants of gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) with yellow flowers in an open area.
Flowers of Gray Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) — Public Domain, EPA
  • Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial.
  • Height: 0.5 ft (0.2 m) to 3 ft (0.9 m)
  • Stem: The stems are erect and pubescent (Flora of North America)
  • Leaves: The leaves are alternate, with basal rosettes and cauline leaves, spathulate to lance-linear, petioles are winged, and crenate to entire margins. They are 0.75 in (2 cm) to 3.75 in (9 cm) long and 0.3 in (0.7 cm) to 0.6 in (1.5 cm) wide. The leaves have a gray-green color (Glattstein 1991).
  • Flower color: yellow
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from August to October, November (Collins 1915).
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has achenes that mature in the late fall and winter.

Range of Gray Goldenrod in the United States and Canada

Range map of gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis var. nemoralis) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map of Gray Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis var. nemoralis) — Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023.(website https://bonap.org/). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2023. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]
Range map of gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis var. longipetiolata) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map of Gray Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis var. longipetiolata) — Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023.(website https://bonap.org/). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2023. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]

This goldenrod species is native to the mid-western and eastern United States and Canada. Solidago nemoralis var. longipetiolata is considered to be rare in the provinces of Manitoba and British Columbia.

Habitat

Meadow Habitat in Massachusetts.
Meadow Habitat — Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows in open areas such as sand barrens (Catling and Catling 1993), littoral meadows (Catling 1976), roadsides, prairies, and fields – var. nemoralis and open woods – var. longipetiolata (Flora of North America), upland oak forests (Henry 1985 and Blankinship 1903), cedar and limestone glades (Baskin and Baskin 2000), pastures (Catling 1997), and open rocky fields (Mackenzie 1906). Solidago nemoralis var. longipetiolata is also reported to be in an acidic fen in Montana (Lesica 1986) and in a dry limestone grassland (Hansen 2010).

Hosted Insects

Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly on vegetation.
Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton) — D. Gordon E. Robertson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This goldenrod, like a lot of other goldenrods, is a host to wavy-lined emerald (Synchlora aerata). The genus in general is a host to the Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton) and black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes).

Other Supported Wildlife

Blazing star (Liatris spicata) with bumblebee in McMullen House garden.
Bumblebee on Blazing Star (Liatris spicata) — Robert Coxe, Image

This species is a nectar source to other butterflies, skippers, bees, and wasps during the growing season. It is especially important since it provides a nectar source in the late season. It is favored by Andrena bees (Robertson 1921) and other bees (Steury, et al 2009).

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethobotanical Database shows that this species has been used as a food, for skin diseases, fragrances, disinectants, and stomach remedy.

How is this plant distinguished from other Goldenrods?

The Missouri goldenrod (Solidago missouriensis) is similar to this species, however the Missouri goldenrod has a glabrous stem whereas this species is pubsecent (Weakley 2022). It is also similar to the velvet goldenrod (Solidago mollis), but the leaves stay roughly the same size up the stem. In this species, the leaves reduce up the stem (Taylor and Taylor 1984).

Is this plant invasive?

This has not been noted as being weedy.

Gardening with Gray Goldenrod

Close-up of yellow flowers of gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).
Flowers of Gray Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) — Laval University, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 3-9. If your garden is within these zones and you have the right growing conditions (soil, moisture and exposure), you may well be able to grow this plant. However, if planted outside of its range, the hosted species may not recognize the plant or be harmed by ingesting a different species with an unfamiliar chemical composition.

Optimal Conditions

This species enjoys full sun to part-shade in medium to dry well-drained soils.

References

  • Baskin, Jerry M. and Carol C. Baskin. 2000. Vegetation of Limestone and Dolomite Glades in the Ozarks and Midwest Regions of the United States. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 87: 285-294.
  • Blankinship, J.W. 1903. The plant-formations of eastern Massachusetts. Rhodora 5: 124-134.
  • Catling, Paul M. 1997. Biology of the black-antenna race of Phycoides tharos tharos (Nymphalidae) in Ontario. Journal of the Lepidopterists Society 51: 218-226.
  • Catling, P.M. and V.R. Catling. 1993. Floristic composition, Phytogeography and Relationships of Prairies, Savannas, and Sand Barrrens along the Trent River, Eastern Ontario. Canadian Field-Naturalist 107: 24-45.
  • Catling, P.M. 1976. Spiranthes magnicamporum Sheviak, an Addition to the Orchids of Canada. Canadian Field-Naturalist 90: 467-470.
  • Collins, Frank S. 1915. November Flowers. 17: 33-38.
  • Fernald, Merritt Lyndon. 1936. Studies in Solidago. Contributions from the Gray Herbarium 113: 201-229.
  • Glattstein, Judy. 1991. The Daisies of Autumn. Arnoldia 51: 23-31.
  • Hansen, Laura L. 2010. Annotated Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Fort Hood Texas. Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas 4: 523-558.
  • Henry, R.D. 1985. A Survey of Some Remnants of the Native Flora of West-Central Illinois, USA. Phytologia 57: 97-106.
  • Lesica, Peter. 1986. Vegetation and Flora of Pine Butte Fen, Teton County, Montana. The Great Basin Naturalist 46(1): 22-32.
  • MacKenzie, Kenneth. 1906. Lespedeza simulata in New Jersey. Rhodora 6: 210-211.
  • Robertson, Charles. 1921. Synopsis of Panurgidae (Hymenoptera). Psyche 29: 159-173.
  • Steury, Brent W., Sam Droege, and Erik T. Oberg. 2009. Bees (Hymenoptera: Anthophila) of a riverside prairie in Fairfax County, Virginia. Banisteria 34: 17-24.
  • Taylor, Constance E.S. and Ronald J. Taylor. 1984. Solidago (Asteraceae) in the Oklahoma and Texas. Sida 10: 223-251.
  • Weakley, A.S. and the Southeastern Flora Team 2022. Flora of the southeastern United States. University of North Carolina Herbarium, North Carolina Botanical Garden.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

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