Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Native Species Profile - Blue-stemmed Goldenrod

One of the themes of the conference that I went to over the weekend was the idea of planting native plants in layers not only fill space, but also to fill time.  Everyone that gardens want plants that will begin blooming as soon as the snow melts in the Spring through the last warm days of Fall.  There is no single plant that will do all of this, but by using the right combination of plants you can get flowers that bloom from April through October providing not only beauty but also food for a sequence of pollinators. (Look here to see some of the pollinators you can attract to the garden by using native plants.)

One real challenge is finding flowering plants that grow well in the shade.  Many of the Spring wildflowers (trilliums, phlox, spring beauty, etc.) do grow in the shade, but by Fall they have gone dormant for the year, leaving the ground under trees bare and lifeless.  Fortunately there are some Fall-flowering wildflowers such as Asters and Goldenrods that will grow in the shade.

In Michigan there are three species of Goldenrod that will add Fall color to a shady garden: Elm-leafed Goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia), Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis), and Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia).  Elm-leafed Goldenrod is uncommon in Michigan and is only found in the most southern counties of the state.

The other two species are more common.  Zigzag Goldenrod is found across Michigan in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas.  Zigzag Goldenrod prefers moist habitats and is often found in wet woodlands and shaded wetlands.  (Look here to learn more about Zigzag Goldenrod.)

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod grows throughout much of the Lower Peninsula and prefers drier habitats than Zigzag Goldenrod.  In addition to Michigan, Blue-stemmed Goldenrod can be found in a further 30 states (and three Canadian provinces) east of a line running from Wisconsin south-west to eastern Texas.

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod and Big-leafed Aster

Like the majority of goldenrods, Blue-stemmed goldenrod has golden yellow flowers. Blue-stemmed Goldenrod is one of the few goldenrod species that does not have most of its flowers in a terminal cluster at the end of its stem.  Like Zigzag Goldenrod, the flowers of the Blue-stemmed Goldenrod grow in clusters from the leaf axils (the upper part of the joint where the leaf joins the stem).  The flowers bloom in late Summer into Fall and can be found in Mid-Michigan from August to October, with the peak blooming time coming during the first two weeks of September.

The leaves of the plant lance-shaped and are almost all the same size.  Narrow leaves help distinguish this plant from S. flexicaulis which has wider leaves that get smaller toward the end of the stem.

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod - note the axial flowers, lanceolate leaves, and bluish stem

The plant gets its name from the color of its stems which often do look bluish in color.  The caesia in Solidago caesia comes from the Latin adjective caesius which means "blue-grey".   The stems grow 1 to 3 feet long and form a gentle arch instead of standing erect to their full height.

Gently curving stem of the Blue-stemmed Goldenrod
The Blue-stemmed Goldenrod is an attractive plant of the fall woodland that can easily be planted in a woodland garden to add color and texture to the Fall landscape.  It attracts large numbers of pollinators, especially native bees. 

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod

Basic Information

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod 
Solidago caesia

Height:  1-3’ tall

Habitat:  deciduous woods, open woodlands, woodland edges, woodland clearings

Flower Color:  yellow

Bloom Time:  August – October

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