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|