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Sweet Goldenrod
Solidago odora

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Sweet Goldenrod

Goldenrods are abundant in our area, and some are quite attractive, lighting up the low roadsides in late summer. They are often blamed for causing the miseries of late summer allergies, probably because there are so few other flowers noticeably blooming at the same time. Allergists now assure us that Goldenrod is not at fault - it is the tiny, unnoticed flowers and pollen of Ragweed causing the nasal mischief.

Most of our Goldenrods are found along roadsides, in old fields, or sometimes along a dry open stretch of trail. They can be hard to tell apart unless you get up close, but there are a few tricks you can use. For example, use your nose! Sweet Goldenrod leaves are very fragrant when bruised, smelling like anise seed or licorice. Ever since I discovered this, nearly by accident, I've been sampling goldenrods everywhere - and Sweet Goldenrod turns out to be very common.The next time you pass a goldenrod, pinch a leaf - it makes identifying this specific plant very easy.

A second species you've probably noticed is Showy Goldenrod ( Solidago speciosa). If you are driving along a country road and see a large, tall clump of Goldenrod with bright yellow, very large and dense plumes of flowers, it is likely to be the Showy one - for obvious reasons. I find it a most attractive wildflower.

A third species you might come across is Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis). It is distinctive because the stem is crooked, or zigzagged, with a slight twist at each leaf axil. Also, the flowers grow in small clusters on stems emerging from the axils, and the leaves are very wide (compared to length) and toothed nearly all the way around. Unlike most of our other Goldenrods, this one grows in the woodlands.

A fourth one, Silver-rod (Solidago bicolor),  is easy to identify. The flowers are so pale they are nearly white. The plant grows like a wand, a single upright stalk with small clusters of the flowers growing close to the upper third of the stem. The leaves on this species are mostly smooth, but the lower, largest leaves may be slightly toothed.

If you really want to tackle the identification of Goldenrods, I found that the Peterson Field Guide to Wildflowers was the most helpful. It begins by groupinng them according to general shape of the plant ( whether the flowers form a "plume" or a "wand", for example), then by noting whether the leaf veins are parallel ( not connected) or feather-like (connected). It's still a tough task, but the Peterson method is a good place to start.

A note on the nomenclature (naming conventions) on this site: Scientific names and classifications are constantly being argued and changed, and it drives me nuts. Although I use many different sources for knowledge, for naming consistency  I  use the  "Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas" by Radford, Ahles and Bell, 1968 edition. This book is a well-established authority for the plants of our region and I've been using it for years. If for some reason I must use a different source for a particular plant, I will make note of it within the descriptive text. Don't like it? Tough!

Fiona Dudley
986 Reems Creek Road
Weaverville NC 28787


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