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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Gray Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis)

It is likely that gray goldenrod can be found in every county in North Dakota. Elsewhere, the plant occurs from Nova Scotia to Florida, west to central Canada, and south to Texas, at elevations up to 8,000 ft.

Gray goldenrod is a very variable species throughout its range. Stems, which usually are reddish, may arise singly or in groups of six or occasionally more. Stems and leaves are covered with tiny gray hairs. North Dakota specimens are mostly 12-18 inches tall, but plants from more southerly areas can be over three feet tall. Basal leaves are long and tapered and up to six inches long, whereas upper leaves become progressively smaller upward and may be only a half inch long near the flowering spikes. Spikes are usually about three to six inches long. Groups of flower heads form crescent-shaped clusters along the spikes. Each of the 50-100 flower heads is about a quarter inch wide. Flowers in each head each produce about 10-12 tiny seeds (achenes) that are equipped with bristles for dissemination by the wind.

Look for gray goldenrod from mid August through September on dry sandy or gravelly native prairie. A few more plants seem to occur where grazing is light or moderate, perhaps because of the slightly better soil moisture conditions than are found under heavy grazing.

Amerindians used North American goldenrods for foods, drinks, medicines, and rubbers or adhesives, but I could find no specific mention of S. nemoralis in this regard. This is true for many Great Plains plants because of the poor documentation of ethnobotany in this area.

Goldenrods are members of the sunflower family (Asteraceae). Aster means "star" in Greek, in reference to the radiate arrangement of the flowers in the heads. The family contains over 15,000 species, more than any other family in North Dakota as well as nearly every country in the North Temperate Zone. The generic name stems from the Latin solidus, "whole," probably in allusion to the reported properties of the goldenrods to heal wounds. There are about 100 species of Solidago in North America, mostly in the East. The specific name nemoralis means "of woodland" in botanical Latin.

Gray goldenrod was first described for science by William Aiton (1731-1793), eminent English botanist and Royal Gardener at Kew, site of the world's largest plant collection.

Previous Species -- Soft Goldenrod (Solidago mollis)
Return to Asteraceae (The Aster Family)
Next Species -- Rigid Goldenrod (Solidago rigida)

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