Thursday, October 27, 2011

Downy Ragged Goldenrod - Solidago petiolaris

Downy ragged goldenrod (Solidago petiolaris) is one of our most attractive native goldenrods, though you would never guess that from its common name.  This deciduous perennial goldenrod is native to open upland sites across much of the Florida panhandle and in a few interior counties as far south as Alachua.  Though not widely distributed in Florida, it occurs throughout much of the south and middle portions of the country, from New Mexico, Colorado and Nebraska, north to southern Illinois and east to North Carolina.
Downy ragged goldenrod gets its common name from the rough hairs (trichomes) on both the stems and the leaves.  These are evident in the photo above.  It gets its Latin name from the obvious petioles (the stalk that connects the leaf to the main stem) that also keep the leaves away from it - not appressed to the stem.
Downy ragged goldenrod is one of the better behaved species in this genus and works well in a mixed wildflower garden. At maturity, in early fall, it normally stands no taller than 3 feet.  Each plant is normally composed of multiple stems, but it doesn't sucker extensively like many do.  Over time, downy ragged goldenrod tends to form dense patches in the landscape, not widely scattered stands.
Both the foliage and the flowers are distinctive.  The leaves are more broad than most members of this genus, oval in shape, and with a noticeable midrib.  The flowers are arranged in a willowy panicle.  Each head is a bit broader across than most and bright canary yellow in color. Like all members of this genus, the blooms are excellent nectar sources for bees and butterflies.
Though downy ragged goldenrod has a great many attributes to recommend it for the home landscape, it is only available sporadically.  Currently, it is being propagated by Claudia Larsen at Micanopy Wildflowers and I can only hope that her sales of this plant justify her growing it for many years to come. We have purchased plants from her for our landscape in Pinellas, but it is far too early for us to evaluate its ability to be grown this far south of its normal range.
Use this species in a mixed wildflower garden in the middle portion and mix it with other medium-sized wildflowers such as Florida paintbrush (Carphephorous corymbosus), butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), red salvia (Salvia coccinea), and the like.  It blooms in October into early November in Florida and mixes well with any wildflower with a fall blooming season.  It is drought tolerant and adaptable to most upland landscape settings. If you can find some plants for purchase, this is a wonderful goldenrod to add - and, every garden should have at least a few goldenrods.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sweet Goldenrod - Solidago odora var. odora

Sweet or Anise-scented goldenrod (Solidago odora var. odora) is an extremely widespread species with wonderful fragrant foliage.  It occurs throughout much of the eastern half of the U.S. in upland habitats, but in Florida, it is confined almost exclusively to the panhandle.  It is essentially the northern version of Chapman's goldenrod (S. odora var. chapmanii) that I have discussed previously.
In terms of habitat requirements, ecology, and landscape potential, sweet goldenrod is virtually identical to Chapman's goldenrod and I will not repeat myself here in this blog.  They are both widely occurring in open upland habitats and they play similar roles in the landscape.  Though sweet goldenrod's leaves are often more linear than Chapman's goldenrod, the major difference lies in the fragrance of the foliage.  As its common name suggests, sweet goldenrod has highly aromatic foliage owing to the essential oils in its leaves.  This fragrance is quite noticeable when the leaves are crushed and they can be very successfully used in herbal teas and potpouris. 
This is a wonderful goldenrod for home landscapes, but it is only recommended for north Florida.  Success further south is unlikely and Chapman's goldenrod should be used instead.  Because of its limited range in Florida, sweet goldenrod is rarely offered by Florida nurseries, but it is widely propagated in states to our immediate north.
The photos above do not give this species justice.  They were taken of a plant in our Pinellas County landscape that we have attempted to push a bit.  Judging from the plant's condition, it is not welcoming our attempt to make it live this far south. I just couldn't resist having access to the wonderful foliage....

Chapman's goldenrod - Solidago odora var. chapmanii

Chapman's goldenrod (Solidago odora var. chapmanii) is the southern version of a widely occurring goldenrod known for its highly aromatic foliage, (S. odora var. odora).  Unlike its more northern relative however, Chapman's goldenrod has only faint fragrance and is poorly suited to making such things as herbal teas.
Chapman's goldenrod is found throughout the peninsula and is scattered also in a few panhandle counties.  It is a near endemic as it is found outside Florida only in a few counties in Georgia.  It is a frequent component of mesic to more xeric pinelands and open habitats throughout its range.  I encounter it nearly everywhere I hike in upland settings.
This is a medium-sized member of the genus and generally extremely well behaved in the landscape. Like nearly all members of the genus, it is deciduous and makes its appearance known in early spring.  Its elliptical foliage often goes unnoticed until it begins to send its flower stalk upward in early summer.  This is one of the earliest goldenrods to bloom, so it reaches its mature height of 3-4 feet by about July.  If you notice flowering goldenrods in Florida in July and August, they are most certainly Solidago odora
Flowering occurs throughout mid to late summer and is often done about the time most other species in Florida begin.  The heads are irregular to rather "formal" pannicles with many side shoots forming near the top that can go off at right angles to the main stem. The heads are not particularly dense, but they are attractive.
We have grown this species in our landscape at Hawthorn Hill for many years and find it to be a wonderful addition to a mixed wildflower bed.  Chapman's goldenrod suckers, but very unobtrusively.  Stems appear widely scattered over time so it mixes throughout the bed; not forming dense monocultures as some do.  Its moderate size also makes it blend well with many other wildflowers. Chapman's goldenrod is not fussy about growing condtions, but it will not perform well if given too much moisture.  Otherwise, it is a very easy species to maintain.
Chapman's goldenrod is one of the goldenrods nearly always available from nurseries affiliated with FANN- the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. You may have to search a bit, but its excellent landscape qualities make the time well spent.

Solidago stricta - Wand Goldenrod

Wand goldenrod (Solidago stricta) is another unique species that is relatively easy to identify. Found statewide in Florida in a variety of mesic upland settings and in much of the Southeastern Coastal Plain states, wand goldenrod is difficult to notice until it sends its slender flower stalk upward in late summer.  This is a deciduous species. In the spring, it produces a rosette of thin, lanceolate leaves which tend to blend in with the grasses and other wildflowers it occurs with.  A single slender flower stalk emerges from this cluster of basal leaves in late summer to early fall.  By late fall, it may reach 3 feet in height and the bright yellow flowers open.
Wand goldenrod almost looks like a yellow blazing star (Liatris spp.) when in bloom.  The wand of blooms stays compact; rarely do side shoots emerge and give it a wider aspect.  This species does not readily sucker, but over time multiple clusters of basal leaves form and each produces a flower stalk.
This is one of the very best goldenrods for the home landscape, yet it is not widely propagated at this time.  Because it does not aggressively sucker or get overwhelming in size, it mixes extremely well in a wildflower garden. Its bright blooms provide color and are magnets for pollinating insects. It also is very undemanding in the types of growing conditions it needs.  Wand goldenrod will adapt to nearly any landscape condition normally encountered in a residential setting.  Don't plant it in inundated soils or the driest xeric sands, and it will prosper. As interest in goldenrods for home landscapes increases due to their color and their exceptional value to pollinators, I suspect this will be one species that becomes much more widely available.