Goldenrods

Name:  Goldenrods, various species

Botanical Name: Solidago spp.

Form: wildflower

Parts Used: seeds, greens

Citation: Guenther, K. (2017, January 12) Goldenrod as wildlife food [Web log post.] Retrieved: readers supply the date, from http://wildfoods4wildlife.com

Harvested seed.

Getting Started

Asteraceae ( Aster family)

Asteroideaea (Aster subfamily)

Astereae (Aster tribe)

Solidago  (Goldenrod genus)

Hooray! All our many, many goldenrods are native plants! It’s never hard to collect lots of goldenrod seed. And you really can’t clean this seed from its pappus hairs, so there is almost no work! Goldenrods rank 22nd on our Great Greens listing and 36th on our Super Seeds list.

There is something readily visually identifiable about almost all goldenrod species’ flowers; the tiny, bright, yellow masses of late summer flowers that tower at or above one’s head, and the distinctive smell of the crushed leaf. Learn this scent, and you can identify goldenrod when it is not in flower.

Common name Virginia Solidago Species Origin Rare Plant Status
Canada goldenrod S. altissima native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
Atlantic goldenrod S. arguta native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
white goldenrod S. bicolor native not rare
wreath goldenrod S. caesia native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
Canada goldenrod S. canadensis native not rare
Curtis goldenrod S. curtisii native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
mountain goldenrod S.curtisii var. flaccidifolia native Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
showy goldenrod S. erecta native yes,  in some states (not Virginia)
gorge goldenrod S. faucibus native Globally imperiled and at risk of extinction, vulnerable in Virginia
pine barren goldenrod S, fistulosa native not rare
  not rare
zigzag goldenrod S. flexicaulis native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
giant goldenrod S. gigantea native not rare
shale barren goldenrod S. harrisii native not rare
hairy goldenrod S. hispida native Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
early goldenrod S. juncea native not rare
lance-leaf goldenrod S. lancifolia native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
Elliott’s goldenrod S. latissimifolia native Globally secure, imperiled in Virginia
gray goldenrod S. nemoralis native not rare
anisescented goldenrod S. odora native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
roundleaf goldenrod S. patula native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
small’s goldenrod S. pinetorum native not rare
downy goldenrod S. puberula native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
Rand’s goldenrod S. randii native Globally appears  secure, imperiled in Virginia
sticky goldenrod S. racemosa native Being assessed, in Fairfax Co., Potomac River gorge area only.
stiff goldenrod S. rigida native not rare
Roan mountain goldenrod S. roanensis native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
wrinkleleaf goldenrod S. rugosa native not rare
rock goldenrod S. rupestris native Globally appears secure, but critically imperiled in Virginia
southern rough-leaved goldenrod S. salicina native Globally secure, extremely close to extirpated in Virginia
seaside goldenrod S. sempivirens native not rare
showy goldenrod S. speciosa native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
autumn goldenrod S. sphacelata native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
stout goldenrod S. squarrosa native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
wand goldenrod S. stricta native Globally appears to be secure, imperiled in Virginia
sandhill goldenrod S. tarda native  Globally appears secure, but vulnerable in Virginia
twistleaf goldenrod S. tortifolia native Globally appears secure, critically imperiled in Virginia
bog goldenrod S. ulignosa native Globally appears secure, imperiled in Virginia
elmleaf goldenrod S. ulmifolia native yes, in some states (not Virginia)
Distribution of <i>Solidago altissima</i> L.
Range map: Canada goldenrod. USDA, NRCS. (2015). The PLANTS Database, National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA. Retrieved on a variety of dates from 2015-2017 from http://plants.usda.gov

Key Features to Look For

In addition to using the identification guide of your choice, here are a couple of features you should see on this plant:

  • Yellow masses of tiny flowers in late summer
  • Stands of tall plants, 4-6 feet tall
  • Leaves longer than they are wide, in most goldenrods
  • Leaves are alternate on the stem, in most goldenrods
  • Distinctive scent of the crushed leaf
  • Sometimes you see goldenrod galls on the stems, a spherical bulge in the stem that looks like the plant swallowed a large marble or a golf ball
A blurry, bad picture of a goldenrod insect gall in the stem, but enough to give the idea.

 

Risks

According to the Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System,  some species of goldenrod greens have toxins poisonous to sheep esp., and also horses and calves and plants also can develop a toxic rust–which is a fungus. S. juncea, S. flexicaulis, S.rigida and S. hispida are the most toxic, though other species may also release neurotoxins, especially in fall and winter greens forage.   (Burrows, G.E. & Tyrl, R.J., 2013; Canadian Biodiversity Info System)

About this Species

Goldenrods are a very common, showy fall wildflowers that grow in large stands, so you may already have a good mental search image for this genus in your mind’s eye.

I set out armed with my ID books and my camera to identify my local species. Goldenrods are notoriously difficult to identify to the species level for us amateurs. Both authors Newcomb and Peterson gave me clues to help narrow my specimen into fewer species possibilities. The Peterson Wildflowers of Northeastern/North-central North America (Peterson and McKenny, 1968) offers the strategy of selecting a plant silhouette from five choices and then determining whether the leaf is parallel veined or feather veined to further refine the search.

Newcomb’s Guide to Wildflowers (Newcomb, 1977) suggests a strategy based on leaf shape followed by determining the veining patterns.

I also found an online key that really boosted my hope. Discover Life,  uses thirteen different criteria to help narrow the field of choices. But in my case it only reduced 35 possible species down to 24.

All these assists, and I still do not know with certainty which goldenrod I have. My best guess at this point?…S. gigantea? S. canadensis? Perhaps a reader will know!

But the good news is that from a foraging for birdseed perspective, as is often the case, it does not matter if you identify to the species level– unless you are trying to avoid harvesting an endangered plant.

Ready to harvest for seed.

Flower Description: The whole flowering part of the plant (the inflorescence) is a massive group of many tiny flowers arranged in spikes, plumes and other configurations (dependent on species) towards the top third of the tall plant.  If you separate out an individual flower from the mass and examine it with a hand lens, you will see the outer “petals” rising out of the bract cup underneath. Since goldenrods are in the aster family, these petals are actually ray flowers and the center of the flower is packed with many more tubular flowers in the center disk. It will be maddeningly difficult to see this individual flower detail, but trust that it is there.

Instead, you will come to recognize goldenrods by the overall mass of golden flowers. In some species the flowers will line up on one only side of the stem. In other species, the flowers cluster at the top. The overall silhouette of the plant varies across species. Peterson’s does a good job of illustrating these profiles as plume-like, elm-branched, club-like, wand-like or flat-topped (Peterson and McKenney,1968).

Once the flowers go to seed, the dead flowers remain on the plant well into winter, though it would be prudent to collect the seed in the fall while the seed will have not yet fallen out and the plants have not been beaten down by snows.

This is one individual goldenrod flower. You can see the rays, which look like petals, but most the other flower details are too small to see, even in this close-up.

Leaf Description: The most general description across most species of goldenrod in my area is that the leaves are alternate on the stem and are longer than they are wide. They feel rough to touch, like a very fine sandpaper. You will more likely recognize goldenrod from its flowers, which are more consistent in form across species. There are goldenrods with very slender,  entire leaf margins (no teeth) to goldenrods with fatter, serrated (toothed) leaves with feather-type veins. Crush the leaf and try to memorize the lovely smell. Some of the veins on goldenrod, though initiating from the main rib, seem to run parallel to the main vein for a good distance.

Learn the distinctive smell of the crushed leaf, so you can collect goldenrod greens before the plant flowers.

Seed Size: The seeds are oblong and very tiny, about 3/64 inch (1 mm) or about 3/32 inch (2 mm) if you include the pappus hairs.

A tint goldenrod seed with its pappus hairs attached.

Harvesting

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
winter winter late winter early spring spring late spring early summer summer late summer early fall fall late fall
seed x x x
greens x x x x x x x x

Does this lend itself as a good enrichment item?

Maybe, or perhaps I should say, “it depends”. I have seen goldenrod seedheads that were too delicate to cut and transport without knocking the achenes (seeds) off during transport and installation. I have also seen perfectly mature goldenrod seedheads that appeared not so likely to drop seeds just by looking at them.  I recommend running the brown dry seed head through your hand to see how easily the seeds detach. If you think it can make it through cutting and transport without seeding up your car too much, then go ahead and try to cut the whole plant and install it in an enclosure. Keep in mind, however, at some point later on the seeds will likely detach more and blow around in the enclosure, which you may or may not want. But at least it is a native plant!

Harvesting Goldenrod Seed:

Goldenrod goes to seed very late in the year, so it is possible to harvest it in late fall maybe up until snowfall knocks the whole plant down. It is easy to collect a lot of goldenrod seed, but impossible to easily remove the seed from the pappus fluff.

Once the bright golden blossoms mature and fade to beige-tan, cut the stem just below the seed heads and place in a large paper sack to dry further for a few weeks indoors. Many seeds will fall off and accumulate in the bag as a big pile of fluff. Working outside on a windless day, finish removing the remaining seeds by stripping each stem piece by piece through your fingers. Discard stems.  I have not found a way to further clean the seed of its pappus hairs. You can rub the seed in your hands which will decrease the seeds overall volume somewhat and make it less likely to “fly-away” in a minor breeze.

Clipped and ready to clean off stem.

How to Store Prepared Seed: Once cleaned and fully dried, choose a low humidity day—not a rainy day—to jar up your seed.

Glass or metal works best, because all plastics are somewhat porous to humidity. Canning jars and lids work well. Place seed in a tightly sealed, glass container and store in a dark, cool area for up to 1 year. Refrigeration and freezing work well. Label the airtight container with the seed name, date of harvest and which animals it should be used for.

If you intend to keep the seed longer than one year, jar up the seeds in two stages. First, jar the seeds up using a desiccant for up to 1 week. Then check the seed for dryness, and if dry enough, remove the desiccant and immediately repack the seed into an airtight container. Read more about drying seeds and using desiccants.

Keep stored seed in an airtight glass or metal container in a cool, dark place. Refrigeration and freezing works well, but allow container to warm to room temperature before opening. Discard any seed that ever appears moldy.

Harvesting Goldenrod Greens: Goldenrod greens are softer, perhaps more palatable, when young. Most plants get tougher and less succulent as they mature. Stems get firmer or woodier and leaves get tougher and coarser.  Aim for young goldenrod leaves in early summer as soon as you can positively identify the plant. The stems are probably not all that palatable; I’d probably strip the leaves off the stems.

Storing Greens: If you choose to, use a commercial vegetable cleaner or a ¼ cup (60 ml) of vinegar added to wash water as a cleaner. Submerge the plant material and swish it around to remove all dirt from leaves and roots. Rinse in clean water. Always wash greens; you never know what might be on them…like animal feces or urine. Place in a colander or salad spinner to drain, then layout a towel and spread the greens on the towel and roll up the towel. Unroll and transfer the damp greens to storage.

For storage, there are a couple of different possible container methods. If the greens will be used quickly within days, place the spun-and-towel-rolled damp greens to a 1 gallon zip-lock baggie with 12-15 holes cut in it to provide air and keep the greens from molding (or reuse commercial grape bags with holes). Label the bag with the plant name and which animals it should be used for. Keep container in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator.

For storage longer than one week, use a rigid, lidded, airtight container. After washing and salad spinning the greens, place a paper towel in the bottom, then loosely fill with greens, but do not pack them in. Then lay a paper towel on top and put on lid. Keep container in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. Do not use if greens become moldy, slimy or dried out.

Many greens are very sensitive to exposure to ethylene gas, though greens themselves are low emitters of the gas. You may get longer quality by adding with a product that reduces free ethylene gas in the refrigerator. Greens are good until they become dry and crispy, fade in color, or become slimy or moldy. Storing Greens.

Other Species:

In my area of Virginia, the other flower that can turn whole fields golden is wingstem. I don’t think it would be too easy to really confuse wingstem with goldenrod, except at the most cursory glance. Wingstem’s long stalks have 4 “wings” that run the length of the stalk and stand out perpendicular to the stalks–goldenrod doesn’t have anything like that.  Also wingstem’s flowers are much larger–enough to clearly see flower parts, which are too minute to see easily in goldenrod.

Not goldenrod, but this wingstem blooms around the same time and in similar habitats.

Also, in about fifteen counties in Virginia and in other states, there is another small genus of plants, Oligoneuron, that was previously listed in under the Solidago genus, but are now their own genus based on changes discovered through new genetic understanding. Some of these plants could easily be mistaken for a Solidago goldenrod and many species still use the word goldenrod in their common name. From a wildlife food perspective, I do not believe harm would be done if you offered these Oligoneuron seeds or greens.

A stand of fall goldenrods.

Rare Species in Virginia

Do you live in one of these Virginia counties? If so, be aware that there are some species near you that may be threatened or endangered. Do more research to make sure you are identifying your target species correctly and not harvesting a threatened species!

County in Virginia Species Alert
Albemarle Rand’s goldenrod Globally appears  secure, imperiled in Virginia
Amherst Rand’s goldenrod Globally appears  secure, imperiled in Virginia
Augusta hairy goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Augusta Rand’s goldenrod Globally appears  secure, imperiled in Virginia
Bath hairy goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Brunswick southern rough-leaved goldenrod Globally secure, extremely close to extirpated in Virginia
Buchanan gorge goldenrod Globally imperiled and at risk of extinction, vulnerable in Virginia
Buchanan mountain goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Chesapeake twistleaf goldenrod Globally appears secure, critically imperiled in Virginia
Chesapeake Elliott’s goldenrod Globally secure, imperiled in Virginia
Clarke hairy goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Dickenson gorge goldenrod Globally imperiled and at risk of extinction, vulnerable in Virginia
Dinwiddie sandhill goldenrod Globally appears secure, but vulnerable in Virginia
Dinwiddie wand goldenrod Globally appears to be secure, imperiled in Virginia
Fairfax rock goldenrod Globally appears secure, but critically imperiled in Virginia
Fairfax Rand’s goldenrod Globally appears  secure, imperiled in Virginia
Fauquier hairy goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Floyd Rand’s goldenrod Globally appears  secure, imperiled in Virginia
Frederick hairy goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Giles hairy goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Giles gorge goldenrod Globally imperiled and at risk of extinction, vulnerable in Virginia
Grayson bog goldenrod Globally appears secure, imperiled in Virginia
Greene Rand’s goldenrod Globally appears  secure, imperiled in Virginia
Halifax southern rough-leaved goldenrod Globally secure, extremely close to extirpated in Virginia
Hampton Elliott’s goldenrod Globally secure, imperiled in Virginia
Henrico Elliott’s goldenrod Globally secure, imperiled in Virginia
Henrico wand goldenrod Globally appears to be secure, imperiled in Virginia
Highland bog goldenrod Globally appears secure, imperiled in Virginia
Isle of Wight sandhill goldenrod Globally appears secure, but vulnerable in Virginia
James City wand goldenrod Globally appears to be secure, imperiled in Virginia
King George wand goldenrod Globally appears to be secure, imperiled in Virginia
King William wand goldenrod Globally appears to be secure, imperiled in Virginia
Lee gorge goldenrod Globally imperiled and at risk of extinction, vulnerable in Virginia
Lee mountain goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Madison hairy goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Madison Rand’s goldenrod Globally appears  secure, imperiled in Virginia
Middlesex sandhill goldenrod Globally appears secure, but vulnerable in Virginia
New Kent sandhill goldenrod Globally appears secure, but vulnerable in Virginia
Northampton Elliott’s goldenrod Globally secure, imperiled in Virginia
Northampton twistleaf goldenrod Globally appears secure, critically imperiled in Virginia
Page rock goldenrod Globally appears secure, but critically imperiled in Virginia
Page hairy goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Page Rand’s goldenrod Globally appears secure, imperiled in Virginia
Patrick hairy goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Pittsylvania hairy goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Rockbridge hairy goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Rockingham hairy goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Rockingham Rand’s goldenrod Globally appears  secure, imperiled in Virginia
Scott gorge goldenrod Globally imperiled and at risk of extinction, vulnerable in Virginia
Shenandoah hairy goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Southampton wand goldenrod Globally appears to be secure, imperiled in Virginia
Suffolk Elliott’s goldenrod Globally secure, imperiled in Virginia
Sussex wand goldenrod Globally appears to be secure, imperiled in Virginia
Tazwell gorge goldenrod Globally imperiled and at risk of extinction, vulnerable in Virginia
Virginia Beach twistleaf goldenrod Globally appears secure, critically imperiled in Virginia
Warren Rand’s goldenrod Globally appears  secure, imperiled in Virginia
Warren hairy goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
Wise gorge goldenrod Globally imperiled and at risk of extinction, vulnerable in Virginia
Wise mountain goldenrod Globally secure, vulnerable in Virginia
York Elliott’s goldenrod Globally secure, imperiled in Virginia

Feed Goldenrod to:

goldenrod

(Solidago spp.)

greens

Caution: S. juncea, S. flexicaulis, S.rigida and S. hispida are the most toxic, though other species may also release neurotoxins, especially in fall and winter greens forage. Some species of goldenrod greens have toxins poisonous to sheep esp., and also horses and calves and plants also can develop a toxic rust-- a fungus. (Burrows, G.E. & Tyrl, R.J., 2013; Canadian Biodiversity Info System)

Cottontail, Eastern

Sylvilagus floridanus

Deer, White-tailed

Odocoileus virginianus

Vole

various spp.

Vole, Meadow

Microtus pennsylvanicus

Vole, Pine

Microtus pinetorum

Woodrat, Allegheny

Neotoma magister

Grouse, Ruffed

Bonasa umbellus

Grouse, Sharp-tailed

Tympanuchus phasianellus

goldenrod

(Solidago spp.)

roots/tubers/corms

Caution: S. juncea, S. flexicaulis, S.rigida and S. hispida are the most toxic, though other species may also release neurotoxins, especially in fall and winter greens forage. Some species of goldenrod greens have toxins poisonous to sheep esp., and also horses and calves and plants also can develop a toxic rust-- a fungus. (Burrows, G.E. & Tyrl, R.J., 2013; Canadian Biodiversity Info System)

Woodrat, Allegheny

Neotoma magister

goldenrod

(Solidago spp.)

seeds

Caution: S. juncea, S. flexicaulis, S.rigida and S. hispida are the most toxic, though other species may also release neurotoxins, especially in fall and winter greens forage. Some species of goldenrod greens have toxins poisonous to sheep esp., and also horses and calves and plants also can develop a toxic rust-- a fungus. (Burrows, G.E. & Tyrl, R.J., 2013; Canadian Biodiversity Info System)

Vole

various spp.

Vole, Meadow

Microtus pennsylvanicus

Vole, Pine

Microtus pinetorum

Woodrat, Allegheny

Neotoma magister

Goldfinch, American

Carduelis tristis

strong preference

Bunting, Indigo

Passerina cyanea

Bunting, Snow

Plectrophenax nivalis

Finch, House

Carpodacus mexicanus

Junco, Dark-eyed

Junco hyemalis

Redpoll, Common

Carduelis flammea

Siskin, Pine

Carduelis pinus

Sparrow, American Tree

Spizella arborea

Sparrow, Swamp

Melospiza georgiana

Warbler, Pine

Dendroica pinus

Warbler, Yellow-rumped

Dendroica coronata

goldenrod, Canada

(Solidago canadensis)

greens

Caution: S. juncea, S. flexicaulis, S.rigida and S. hispida are the most toxic, though other species may also release neurotoxins, especially in fall and winter greens forage. Some species of goldenrod greens have toxins poisonous to sheep esp., and also horses and calves and plants also can develop a toxic rust-- a fungus. (Burrows, G.E. & Tyrl, R.J., 2013; Canadian Biodiversity Info System)

Deer, White-tailed

Odocoileus virginianus

Book References:

Burrows, G.E., Tyrl, R.J. (2013) Toxic Plants of North America, 2nd Edition, Oxford, U.K.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Martin, A.C., Zim, H.S., Nelson, A.L. (1951). American Wildlife and Plants: A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits. New York: Dover Publications.

Newcomb, L. (1977). Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.

Peterson, R.T., McKenny, M. (1968). Wildflowers: Northeastern/North-central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Scott, M. (2013). Songbird Diet Index. National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, St. Cloud, MN.

Townsend, J. F. (2015, April) Rare Plants Natural Heritage Technical Report 15-10. (Unpublished Report) Richmond, Virginia: Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Division of Natural Heritage.

On-line References:

Canadian Poison Plants Information System. (n.d.) Retrieved on 8/6/17 from the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility at http://www.cbif.gc.ca/eng/species-bank/canadian-poisonous-plants-information-system/canadian-poisonous-plants-information-system/?id=1370403266275

Coladonato, Milo. 1993. Solidago canadensis. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online].
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer).
Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/forb/solcan/all.html [2016, December 23].

Goldenrod (n.d.). Retrieved on December 2, 2015 from http://www.discoverlife.org/

USDA, NRCS. 2015. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, 4 January 2016). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.

Virginia Botanical Associates. (Accessed January 2016). Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora (http://www.vaplantatlas.org). c/o Virginia Botanical Associates, Blacksburg.