Goldenrod is a fascinating and wonderful plant. We do have a wild goldenrod here in the UK Solidago virgaurea (European goldenrod or woundwort). It’s another plant that likes scrubby wasteland areas and is sometimes mistaken for ragwort.
My USA Goldenrod moment
USA goldenrods are very beautiful, varied and … of course, can be much bigger than ours. My most memorable goldenrod moment in the USA was a visit to the wonderful Thomas Edison house in Fort Meyers. It was in his small lab here that he experimented with the possibility of extracting rubber from Goldenrod, See a recent article, “Bouncing Back to Life” from Preservation Magazine about the restoration of the lab and about his search for rubber.
Here from the Edison House Website is Edison with his own huge Goldenrod (Solidago Edisonia). He crossed a common goldenrod with a huge everglades species, Solidago gigantea.
Golden Rod: Friend of bugs
Should you have your doubts about your feelings towards goldenrods, which can be considered a weed I know, have a look at Beatriz Moisset’s wonderful set of Flickr photos called Goldenrod Zoo, here and then read her excellent article on Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens website about the many (… over 300!) species of “visitors” who love this sunshine plant.
Golden Rod: a Useful Herb
I have a favourite old set of family books, Frederick Edward Hulme’s, Familiar Wild Flowers. This is from the Golden Rod entry.
The generic name Solidago is derived from the Latin word “solidare” to unite, the name being bestowed from a belief in the vulnerary ( I had to look this up ..it means good for healing exterior wounds) virtues of the plant…The specific name was change to Virgaurea, by Matthiolus. The name is admirably descriptive and is in fact but a Latinised version of its English name , “virga” being a stem or rod while “aurea”signifies golden.
Hulme goes on to record Gerard’s interesting observations in 1633 about human nature and rarity.. It seems that Golden Rod once was a rare and much sought after healing herb…but availability apparently bred contempt… ‘twas ever thus…?
Gerard writes in his “Generall Historie of Plantes” 1633:
In my rememberance I haue knowne the dry herbe which came from beyond the sea sold in Bucklers Bury in London of halfe a crown an ounce. But since it was found in Hampstead wood …no man will giue halfe a crowne for an hundredweight of it:….Our phantasticall physitions when they have found an approued medicine and perfect remedie they wil seeke a new ( and more expensive and profitable??) and farther off, and by that meanes, many times, hurt more than they helpe.”
Hulme’ s European Golden Rod, from “Familiar Wild Flowers” Cassell 1910 (approx)
Frederick Hulme was another of those many fascinating Victorians who observed, drew, recorded and shared their passions for the natural world. More of him another time.
Goldenrod notes & sketches
Wild Goldenrod can sometimes be confused with Common Ragwort Senecio jacobaea. or I think now renamed Jacobaea vulgaris.
Generally the leaf of ragwort is different, much more deeply lobed.
However Broadleafed Ragwort, Senecio fluviatilis Wallr has a rather similar leaf.
Does this help? Hmmm…
Goldenrod and Broadleaved ragwort, preserved specimens from the fabulous resource the UK and Irish Herbaria online.
It’s a wonderful site to browse and I have been too busy reading to do much drawing but did make a prelim page of notes.
There is so much to discover about Goldenrod, especially about the insects it supports, from beautiful plume moths to bees and hoveflies and little gall wasps. All that has to be another post .