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A Comprehensive Guide to White Goldenrod (Solidago bicolor)

White Goldenrod (Solidago bicolor) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to the eastern United States and Canada. This species is a host to the baltimore checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton) and several moths. Growing from 0.5 feet to 3.5 feet tall, this species grows in dry woods, and open areas such as fields, roadsides, and disturbed places. The white flowers bloom from July to October and the plant is hardy in zones 3-10.

Taxonomy and Naming of White Goldenrod (Solidago bicolor)

Herbarium specimen of white goldenrod (Solidago bicolor).
Herbarium Specimen — Solidago bicolor L. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0).

Taxonomy

White Goldenrod (Solidago bicolor) was originally named and described by Carl Linnaeus in 1767. It has kept this same name since and is a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae).

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, bicolor, is a Latin word for two colors, referring to the flower.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name comes from the color of the flowers. Other common names include silverrod (Penny 1998) and white-flowered goldenrod (Harshberger and Burns 1919).

Physical Description

Plant of white goldenrod (Solidago bicolor) with white flowers in a wooded setting.
Plant of White Goldenrod (Solidago bicolor) — Fritzflohrreynolds, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial.
  • Height: 0.5 ft (0.2 m) to 3.5 ft (1.1 m)
  • Stem: The stems are erect and hirsute-pubescent
  • Leaves: The leaves are alternate, basal and cauline, oblanceolate, ovate to oblong, winged petioles, upper leaves sessile, and have serrate to crenate-dentate margins. They are 1.25 in (3.5 cm) to 8 in (21 cm) long and 0.5 in (1.5 cm) to 2 in (5 cm) wide (Flora of North America).
  • Flower color: white, yellow variant in Virginia (Allard 1940)
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from July to October.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has achenes that mature in the late fall and winter.

Range of White Goldenrod in the United States and Canada

Range map of white goldenrod (Solidago bicolor) 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 to the eastern United States and Canada. It is considered to be rare in the states of Alabama, Michigan, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Wisconsin.

Habitat

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

This species grows in dry woods, rocky slopes, clearings, sandy places (McVaugh 1958), roadsides (Peck 1902) and disturbed areas. In Nova Scotia it is found in mixed conifer forests (Garbary, et al 2011).

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). This species also hosts leaf beetles (Futuyma 1990) 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 does not describe this species specifically, but the genus in general has been used as a nasal and stomach remedy. The leaves can be used for cooking, tea, and beer (McAvoy 2020).

How is this plant distinguished from other Goldenrods?

This goldenrod can readily identified from most other goldenrods by the white color of the flowers.

Is this plant invasive?

This has not been noted as being weedy.

Gardening with White Goldenrod

Close-up of white flowers of white goldenrod (Solidago bicolor).
Flowers of White Goldenrod (Solidago bicolor) — USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab from Beltsville, Maryland, USA, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 3-10. 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 medium well-drained soils.

References

  • Allard, H.A. 1940. Solidago bicolor A Rather Puzzling Assemblage in Northern Virginia. Virginia Journal of Science 1: 53-56.
  • Futuyma, Douglas J. 1990. Observations on the Taxonomy and Natural History of Ophraella Wilcox (Coleoptera: Chrysomedlidae), with A Description of a New Species. Journal of the New York Entomological Society 98(2): 163-186.
  • Garbary, David J., Jonathan Ferrier, Barry R. Taylor. 2011. Late Blooming of Plants from Northern Nova Scotia: Responses to to a Mild Fall and Winter. Proceedings of the Nova Scotian Institute of Science 46(2): 149-174.
  • Harshberger, John W. and Vincent G. Burns. 1919. The Vegetation of the Hackensack Marsh: A Typical American Fen. Transactions of the Wagner Free Institute of Science of Philadelphia 9(1): 1-35.
  • McAvoy, William. 2020. The Genus Solidago in Delaware. 23: 7-10.
  • McVaugh, Rogers. 1958. Flora of the Columbia County Area, New York. New State Museum and Science Service Bulletin Number 360.
  • Peck, Charles H. 1902. Report of the State Botanist 1902. Bulletin 67 of the New York State Museum.
  • Penny, Larry. 1998. Fall Wildflowers of the South Fork. Long Island Botanical Society Newsletter 8(6): 34-35.
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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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