Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
A plant of the dry plains and foothills that extend from Saskatchewan to Texas, at elevations up to 8,000 ft., soft goldenrod is found in all but extreme northeastern North Dakota. This species is the most common goldenrod in the western part of the state.
Soft goldenrod is perennial from creeping rhizomes. Plants are up to 2 feet tall. The soft, gray-green leaves are placed alternately on the stem. Leaves on the lower half of the plant are widely separated, about three inches long, and toothed. Those nearer the top are crowded, small, and untoothed. Yellow flower heads form at the tips of the many upper branches, forming a broadly pyramidal or narrow cluster. Each flower head has about 3-8 disc flowers and 6-10 ray flowers. Fruits are small, hairy achenes, equipped with bristles to aid transport by wind.
The plant becomes slightly more abundant where grazing pressure by cattle is light or moderate rather than heavy. It is unknown whether this is due to occasional utilization by livestock, or to the better soil moisture conditions associated with lesser grazing pressure. References indicate several of the goldenrods are used for foods, teas, oils, and medicines, but soft goldenrod is not mentioned. This is true for many of our Great Plains plants whose history of use by Amerindians has been lost.
The goldenrods are members of the sunflower family (Asteraceae), one of the largest in the world, with over 15,000 known species, about 200 of which live in North Dakota. Aster means "star" in Greek, concerning the radiate arrangement of flowers in the heads. The generic name is from the Latin solidus, "whole," in allusion to the reputed properties of the goldenrods to heal wounds. The specific epithet mollis means "soft" in botanical Latin. Soft goldenrod was described for science in 1836 by the botanist at the University of Gottingen, Professor Frederich Bartling (1798-1875).