Thursday, January 2, 2014

Native Species Profile - Zigzag Goldenrod

When most people think of Goldenrods (if they think of them at all), they usually think of two things:  Hay Fever and open fields.  The connection to Hay Fever is wrong - Goldenrods do not cause Hay Fever.  The second connection is more correct - most Goldenrod species grow best in open habitats such as roadsides, prairies, and old fields.  However, there are several species of Goldenrod that grow in woodlands especially Elm-leaved Goldenrod, Bluestem Goldenrod, and Zigzag Goldenrod.  Elm-Leaved Goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia) is fairly uncommon in Michigan and is only found in a few of the state's southernmost counties.  Bluestem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) has a greater distribution and is found in counties throughout the Lower Peninsula. 

Of the woodland species of Goldenrod, Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) has the greatest distribution in Michigan, being found in both the Lower and Upper Peninsulas.  Zigzag Goldenrod is found throughout the temperate woodlands of eastern North America as far south as Louisiana and Georgia and as far west as the eastern counties of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas.  Overall, Zigzag Goldenrod is found in 33 states and in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis)

Zigzag Goldenrod is typically found in moist soil in woodlands and along woodland borders.  It prefers moister soil than either S. caesia or S. ulmifolia.  It is occasionally found in dry sites if they are well sheltered from sunlight and wind.  One place where I routinely find Zigzag Goldenrod growing is at Mission Creek Park in Mt. Pleasant where it can be found growing along Mission Creek.

A large patch of Zigzag Goldenrod

Zigzag Goldenrod is appropriately named.  The stems tend to zigzag from one alternate leaf to the next.  The stem is usually unbranched and the plant can reach 1 to 3 feet in height.  The lower leaves of Zigzag Goldenrod are ovate (egg) shaped and up to 5 inches long and 4 inches wide.  Leaves higher on the stem are smaller and narrower than the lower leaves.  All leaves are coarsely serrated.

Zigzag Goldenrod - note zigzagging stem and ovate leaves with serrated margins

Zigzag Goldenrod - this photo shows tendency of leaves to become smaller as they progress higher on the stem.  The circular hole in the leaf at lower right was probably caused by a leafcutting bee or wasp.

The flowers of the Zigzag Goldenrod (like most Goldenrod species) are golden yellow in color.  Most of the plant's flowers grow in an elongated terminal cluster that can be up to 5 inches long.  Other flowers are found at the leaf axils (the upper part of the joint where the leaf joins the stem).  Bluestem Goldenrod also has flowers in its leaf axils but is is easily distinguished by its narrower leaves.

Zigzag Goldenrod - note the axillary flowers and ovate leaves

Bluestem Goldenrod also has axillary flowers - note the much narrower leaves than those of Zigzag Goldenrod

Basic Information

Zigzag Goldenrod 
Solidago flexicaulis

Height:  1-3’ tall

Habitat:  woodlands, woodland borders

Flower Color: yellow

Bloom Time:  July – October

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