Friday, October 15, 2010

Goldenrod Research

I've been trying to collect all the locally native Goldenrods. Some are quite easy, such as Solidago graminifolia, the Grass-leaved Goldenrod, but others are totally confusing.

In some cases the plants are so affected by growing conditions that I simply can't tell them apart. Solidago nemorosa, Grey-leaved Goldenrod, is usually quite easy to spot: short, one-sided wand-like flower spikes which nod over to one side, only a few small leaves along the stem, and no rosette of leaves at ground level at the time it blooms. So what the heck came up in the rock garden? The flower stalk was about 20" high, well-branched, with flowers all around each branch, and a healthy rosette of leaves on the ground.The individual flowers matched the description of S. nemorosa in J.C. Semple's Goldenrods of  Ontario, but the form of the flower stalk did not. It was in no way wand-like, much more what I'd call a plume. The rosette leaves matched, but should not have been there at the time the plant bloomed. Then there is a plant I brought back from an alvar I visited, which in fact looked exactly like this one except for being 4" high. It was growing in a huge field of Grey-leaved Goldenrods, all of which looked 'normal'. So is it a dwarf Grey-leaved or is it a regular one that got stepped on or chewed by a deer? Does S. nemorosa, when cut back early in the season, produce a plume instead of a wand?

I have a similar problem with a Goldie from Shaw Woods. When I try to key it out I get lost every time. It's not quite S. hispida, Hairy Goldenrod, yet it's not quite S. nemorosa either. It also bloomed very late so is not likely to be a form of S. juncea, Early Goldenrod, although the rosette leaves look a lot like it.

The answer: try to grow them all together in a test bed, so they all get the same conditions, and see how they do. Put a regular Grey-leaved, the dwarfish one, and the one from the rock garden all together and see if they are still different next year.

 So I dug a couple of beds for a Goldenrod Research Garden. Doesn't that sound grand? There is a spot below my rock garden which I have been planning to incorporate as a sort of transition between the rockery and the start of one of my woods trails and which I hadn't really done anything with yet. Full of weeds of course and I'll have to deal with them next year, but for now I just lifted the top six inches, dug up the six inches below that, added topsoil from the conveniently nearby pile, and called it a flowerbed. I'll put down some dark landscape fabric to make paths for now. One bed is for Goldenrods and the other for Asters. On the left you see the end of the two beds, looking a little like dog graves, and on the right you see the rosettes of some of the unknown Goldies. I've had them in pots for several months, so they should do fine. The smaller rosettes are some that might be Downy Goldenrod, S. puberula, a rare Ontario Goldenrod. They came from Constance Bay, growing on the trail and getting stomped by the horses that people like to ride through there. The two medium sized ones are the possible S. nemorosas, and the large one is goodness-knows-what from a marshy area. It's not S. uliginosa, Bog Goldenrod, but what it is I don't know. It didn't bloom this year but maybe next year. Gardeners are nothing if not hopeful!

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