By Ellie Hollo
Goldenrods (Solidago sp.) inhabit many different ecosystems throughout North America, including roadsides, meadows, and forested areas, and they are typically valued in gardens for their golden-yellow blooms. This diversity of habitats has led them to develop a variety of foliage textures, colors, and shapes, some equally as showy as their floral displays. This array of foliage is on full display right now in the Mt. Cuba Center Trial Garden, where Solidago and related Euthamia and Brintonia species are currently being trialed. Below are six goldenrods with noteworthy leaves.
Solidago stricta – pine barren bog goldenrod
Pine barren bog goldenrod stands out with its narrow, dark green, slightly rubbery leaves spirally arranged on its floral spikes. The flower spikes are very upright and narrow, similar to the vertical nature of a horsetail (Equisetum) plant or a reed. Solidago stricta grows in coastal plain habitats from the pine barrens in New Jersey south to Texas. A plant with a similar leaf texture and growth habit is Solidago virgata (wand goldenrod).
Solidago mexicana– southern seaside goldenrod
Southern seaside goldenrod is much taller than pine barren bog goldenrod, reaching about 6 feet in mid-June. Its smooth leaves also have a rubbery texture, but they are thicker than pine barren bog goldenrod. The stems on southern seaside goldenrod are tall enough that it is easy to look at the leaves from below and see sunlight illuminating the veins and texture of the leaves. The stems are a rusty red, adding a pop of color to an otherwise very green section of the Trial Garden. Southern seaside goldenrod grows from Connecticut south to Florida, where it can be found in sand dunes and coastal marshes.
Solidago flexicaulis ‘Variegata’ – variegated broad-leaf goldenrod
This is the only goldenrod in the trial garden with variegated leaves — its splashes of light-green color on darker green leaves make its foliage stand out. The variegation on this goldenrod is more subtle than the loud white and dark green variegation present on some hostas or dogwoods, and it creates an additional layer of visual texture on the plant. On newer leaves, large lime-yellow splashes contrast with medium-green foliage. On older leaves, light-green flecks barely contrast against a dark-green backdrop.
Solidago riddellii– Riddell’s flat-top-goldenrod
Riddell’s flat-top-goldenrod has an unusual form for a goldenrod. With a habit evocative of a corn plant, the leaf edges on Riddell’s flat-top-goldenrod have a fine serration at the margins which feels sticky, almost like Velcro. The leaves are folded in the middle, and the stems and veins are a lighter green, creating a chevron pattern on the stems.
Solidago rigida– stiff leaved goldenrod
Stiff leaved goldenrod leaves are covered on both sides with a dense layer of hairs, which is what makes this species stand out from the many smooth leaved goldenrods around it. The leaves are spirally arranged around tall floral spikes, which add a vertical foliage element to any sunny garden. The new leaves appear lighter in color, creating a subtle color gradient from top to bottom. Larger, fuzzy leaves of the same shape and texture grow at the base of the plant.
Euthamia caroliniana– slender goldentop
While not a true goldenrod, Euthamia is a closely related genus, which grows in similar conditions as goldenrods. Slender goldentop grows in a dense, slowly spreading stand, though its thin leaves help create an airy texture. The stems curl at the top and the foliage turns a lighter chartreuse green, adding a colorful element to the visual texture.
Want to learn more? Dig in to all of the past trials and findings from Mt. Cuba’s Trial Garden here.