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A Comprehensive Guide to Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima)

Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to most of the United States and Canada, except for the far northern reaches. This species is a host to the baltimore checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton), the black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes), and several moths. Growing from 2 feet to 6 feet tall, this species grows in disturbed open areas such as fields, roadsides, thicket edges, and prairies. The yellow ray and disk flowers bloom from August to October and the plant is hardy in zones 5-10.

Taxonomy and Naming of Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima)

Herbarium specimen of tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima).
Herbarium Specimen of Tall Goldenrod — Solidago altissima var. altissima collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0).

Taxonomy

Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima) was originally named and described by Carl Linnaeus, in Species Plantarum in 1753. It has kept this same name since and is a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae). This species has sometimes been grouped with Solidago canadensis, but this species has larger flowers (Fernald 1908) and the leaves are more entire (Weakley, et al 2022).

Subspecies

This species has two subspecies in North America. These include:

  • Solidago altissima subsp. altissima: generally from the Plains and east
  • Solidago altissima subsp. gilvocanescens: centered on the Great Plains region

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, altissima, comes from the Latin word for “tall,” referring to the high growth habit.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name comes from the tall stature of the species. Other common names in use include late goldenrod and shorthair goldenrod.

Physical Description

Yellow flowers of tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima).
Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima) flowers — Cbaile19, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial.
  • Height: 2 ft (0.6 m) to 6 ft (1.8 m)
  • Stem: The stems are erect and pubescent with white hairs
  • Leaves: The leaves are alternate, cauline, linear to lanceolate, sessile to sub-petiolate, and have serrate to entire margins. They are 3 to 6 inches long and < 1 inches wide (Flora of North America).
  • Flower color: yellow
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from August to October.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has achenes that mature in the late fall and winter.

Range of Tall Goldenrod in the United States and Canada

Range map of Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima) in the United States and Canada.
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 essentially throughout the United States and Canada, except for the far northern states and provinces.

Habitat

Prairie habitat in United States.
Prairie Habitat — USFWS Mountain-Prairie, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows in disturbed open areas such as fields, roadsides, thicket edges, and prairies.

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 the black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes). This species also hosts beetles and Andrena bees.

Other Supported Wildlife

Bumblebee on pink flower.
Bumblebee on Flower — Weerlicht, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethobotanical Database states this species has historically been used for burns and skin diseases.

How is this plant distinguished from other Goldenrods?

This species is most similar to the Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) and has, in some treatments, been placed as a variety of it. However the somewhat scabrous leaves serve to separate it from the Canada Goldenrod.

Is this plant invasive?

This has been noted as being weedy by the NC Extension Gardener.

Gardening with Tall Goldenrod

Plant of tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) on a woodland edge.
Tall Goldenrod — Solidago altissima L. observed in United States of America by Daniel Atha (licensed under CC0 1.0).

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 5-10. 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 can grow in full sun to partial-shade in dry to moist soils.

References

  • Fernald, Merritt Lyndon. 1908. Notes on Some Plants of Northeastern North America. Rhodora 10: 84-95.
  • 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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