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A Comprehensive Guide to Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)

Showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) is a herbaceous perennial that is found in the mid-western and eastern United States, except for Florida and Ontario in Canada. This plant is a host for one butterfly and two moths. It can grow to 5 feet tall and has yellow flowers that bloom in the summer and fall. It is hardy in zones 3-8. This plant can be purchased in the McMullen House Bed & Breakfast Garden Shop.

Taxonomy and Naming of Showy Milkweed (Solidago speciosa)

Herbarium specimen of showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa).
Herbarium Specimen — Solidago speciosa Nutt. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)
Holotype specimen of showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa).
Holotype Specimen — Solidago harperi Mack. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) was named and described by Thomas Nuttall, an American botanist in 1818. It has kept this name since being described and named. This plant is a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae).

Varieties

  • Solidago speciosa var. rigidiuscula : Has more a western distribution and has entire to slightly serrate leaves (Weakley 2022). The lower leaves on this variety are usually deciduous (Taylor and Taylor 1984).
  • Solidago speciosa var. speciosa : Has a more eastern distribution and has coarsely serrate leaves (Weakley 2022). The lower leaves on this variety are usually evergreen (Taylor and Taylor 1984).

Meaning of the Scientific Names 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 is in reference to the medicinal uses of the genus members. The species name, speciosa, means “beautiful” or “good-looking” in Latin (name-doctor.com).

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name of this plant derives essentially from the species name, which means beautiful. Another alternative name for this species is just plain “goldenrod.” The two varieties have two other common names of narrowleaf goldenrod (var. rigidiuscula) and noble goldenrod (Weakley 2022) and prairie goldenrod (Taylor and Taylor 1984) (var. speciosa).

Physical Description of Showy Goldenrod

Yellow flowers of showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) in an open area.
Joshua Mayer from Madison, WI, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial.
  • Height: 3 to 5 (6) feet
  • Leaves: The leaves are alternate, simple, dentate, and elliptical in shape. They range from 4 to 12 inches in length and 1 to 3 inches in width.
  • Flower color: The flowers are golden yellow.
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from July to October, depending on the location.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has achenes that mature in the late summer and fall.

Range of Showy Goldenrod in the United States and Canada

Map showing range of showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa var. rigiduscula).
Range map of showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa var. rigiduscula) in the United States and Canada — Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2015. North American Plant Atlas. (https://bonap.net/napa). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2015. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)].
Map showing range of showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa var. speciosa).
Range Map of Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa var. speciosa) — Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2015. North American Plant Atlas. (https://bonap.net/napa). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2015. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)].

Habitat

Roadside in Europe with wildflowers.
Roadside verge full of wildflowers by Christine Johnstone, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is found in a variety of habitats such as fields, prairies, savannas, railroads, forests, woodlands, roadsides, thickets, riverbanks (Taylor and Taylor 1984) and wooded edges. The var. rigidiuscula is found on limestone barrens (Weakley 2022) and on prairies especially (Ladd and Thomas 2015).

Hosted Insects

Goldenrod flower moth on fabric.
Goldenrod Flower Moth — Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is a host for the Painted Lady (Vanessa atlanta), Goldenrod Gall Moth (Epiblema scudderiana), and the Goldenrod Flower Moth (Schinia nundina).

Other Supported Wildlife

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) on goldenrod.
Goldenrod Flowers with Monarch Butterfly — ALAN SCHMIERER from southeast AZ, USA, CC0 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is used as nectar plant for monarchs and other butterflies, as well as andrena bees, and other insects.

Frequently Asked Questions about Showy Goldenrod

Does this plant cause allergies?

Goldenrods (Solidago sp.) do not cause allergies although they look like ragweed (Conyza canadensis) that does have allergic effects.

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethnobotanical Database lists var. speciosa as being used for burn dressings. The database also lists var. rigidiuscula as being used for lung disorders, gynecological aids, and skin diseases.

How is this plant distinguished from others?

This species is similar to the bog goldenrod (Solidago uliginosa) and to the hairy goldenrod (Solidago hispida). However, bog goldenrod has longer stem leaves, up to 9 inches, and hairy goldenrod, as the name suggests, has a hairy stem and leaves.

Is this species invasive, like some other goldenrods?

Showy goldenrod is not aggressive like some other goldenrods such as Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).

Gardening with Showy Goldenrod

Add Showy Goldenrod to Your Garden

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Plants of showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa) with yellow flowers.
Plants of Showy Goldenrod — “Solidago speciosa” by evan8 is marked with CC0 1.0.

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 3-8. If your garden is within these zones and you have the right growing conditions (soil and moisture), you may well be able to grow this plant.

Optimal Conditions

This species can handle full sun to partial shade and moist to dry well-drained soil. It is very tolerant of most any soil type. This species does well in xeric gardens (Glattstein 1991).

Additional Information

This goldenrod is considered to be one of the most showy of the goldenrods, hence the name. It can handle most garden conditions and is a pollinator magnet in the late summer and fall.

References

  • Glattstein, Judy. 1991. The Daisies of Autumn. 51: 23-31.
  • Ladd, D. and Justin R. Thomas. 2015. Ecological checklist of the Missouri flora for Floristic Quality Assessment. Phytoneuron 2015-12: 1-274.
  • Taylor, Constance E. and Ronald J. Taylor. 1984. Solidago (Asteraceae) in 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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