Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Southern Appalachians, and even at lower elevations in North Carolina, late every summer & fall we are overwhelmed with Goldenrods (Solidago), everywhere. Ken & Vince have been working on a key to try to help us with the seemingly impossible task of identifying (some of) them. Dick Smith wrote that they were more difficult to identify than Asters! Below is a pictorial key to those we most commonly see. We will probably be working on this for the next few …. years! Click on any picture to zoom.

The shape of the flowering head is assigned to one of the following categories. Since flat-topped Goldenrods are rare in the mountains, they have been omitted. Note: The distinction between “Elm-branched” and “Plume-like” is a bit subjective. Maybe Elm-branched “arms” are a bit longer and start lower on the stem; in the eye of the beholder!

Wand-like or Club-like Goldenrods

Silverrod (Solidago bicolor)

  • Common
  • Wand-like, slender
  • Flowers – white and yellow ray flowers arranged around the stem
  • Stem – Stiff, grayish, hairy
  • Leaves – ovate, blunt-tipped, reduced upward
  • Derivation of Scientific Name: From the latin solido meaning “to cure” based on Goldenrod’s reputed medicinal efficacy & “two-colored”

Silver Goldenrod (Solidago bicolor)

Blue-stem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia)  

  • Probably rare in the mountains
  • Wand-like, slender
  • Flowers – yellow ray flowers, in sessile clusters in leaf axils
  • Stem – round, not grooved, arching, bluish or purplish
  • Leaves – sessile, lanceolate
  • Could be confused with S. curtisii, except stem of S. curtisii is square, grooved, & glaucous (covered with a white powder)
  • Derivation of Scientific Name: From caesius meaning “light blue, or bluish-gray”

Curtis’ Goldenrod (Solidago curtisii)

Note the upper leaves extending beyond the flower heads

  • Common
  • Wand-like, slender
  • Flowers – yellow ray flowers in sessile clusters in leaf axils; 3 or 4 florets per head
  • Stem – erect, grooved, looks square, glaucous, sometimes purple
  • Leaves – sessile, lanceolate; upper leaves extend way beyond the flower clusters
  • Derivation of Scientific Name: For American botanist, Moses Ashley Curtis

Mountain Goldenrod (Solidago roanensis)

  • Common
  • Club-like; short & stocky appearance
  • Flowers – yellow ray flowers, in dense cylindrical clusters arranged around the stem
  • Stem – smooth, sometimes purple
  • Leaves – thin, rough above, smooth beneath; upper leaves, sessile, lanceolate & entire; lower leaves coarsely toothed with long pointed ends, winged
  • Derivation of Scientific Name: From “found at Roan Mountain”

Elm-branched Goldenrods
(flower heads in an open panicle)

Early Goldenrod (Solidago juncea)

  • Uncommon in the mountains
  • Elm-branched & plume-like
  • Flowers – Golden yellow, secund (arranged on one side of the stem)
  • Stem – Smooth, stout, light green
  • Leaves – Lower leaves sharply toothed, tapering to a long petiole; upper leaves toothless with tiny wing-like leaflets in axils; progressively smaller & becoming sessile
  • Petioles – Leaves taper to a long margined stalk
  • Derivation of Scientific Name: Meaning “rush-like”


Rough-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago patula)

  • Common
  • Elm-branched
  • Flowers – Yellow, secund
  • Stem -Reddish-purple, smooth, 4-angled, & sharply ridged
  • Leaves -Basal leaves very large, toothed, & elliptic; upper leaves rough on upper surface, smooth & veiny on underside
  • Petioles – Leaves taper toward the base to a long broad petiole
  • Derivation of Scientific Name: Meaning “somewhat spreading”

Rough-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa

  • Common  
  • Elm-branched & plume-like
  • Flowers – Light golden yellow, secund
  • Stem – Rough & densely hairy
  • Leaves – Prominently veined; upper leaves wrinkled, hairy, deeply jagged teeth, lanceolate to ovate; lower leaves rough with jagged teeth, broad
  • Petioles – Leaves taper into a short stalk
  • Derivation of Scientific Name: Meaning “wrinkled”

Plume-like Goldenrods
(flower heads on spreading branches)

Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima)

  • Common
  • Plume-like
  • Flowers – Large, pyramid-shaped panicle; yellow, secund
  • Stem – Downy & grayish
  • Leaves – Numerous & crowded; rough texture, lanceolate, finely downy beneath
  • Petioles – Short-stalked
  • Derivation of Scientific Name: Meaning “very tall or tallest”

Late Goldenrod (Solidago gigantea

  • Common
  • Plume-like
  • Flowers – Yellow, secund
  • Stem – Smooth, pale green or purplish, often covered with a whitish bloom
  • Leaves – Smooth or with soft hairs; downy on midrib on underside; sharply toothed above the middle, sessile, narrowly lanceolate
  • Derivation of Scientific Name: Meaning “gigantic”

Gray Goldenrod; Old Field Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis

  • Common
  • Plume-like
  • Flowers – Heads as broad as long, pyramidal, nodding, secund
  • Stem – Grayish & densely covered with fine hairs
  • Leaves – Rough, green-gray leaves covered with fine hairs, tiny leaf clusters in axils
  • Derivation of Scientific Name: Meaning “growing in groves or woods”

Sweet Goldenrod (Solidago odora

  • Uncommon in the mountains
  • Plume-like
  • Flowers – Yellow, densely flowered, arching, secund
  • Leaves – Alternate, slender, toothless, sessile, with tiny leaf clusters in axils. Anise-like odor when crushed
  • Derivation of Scientific Name: Meaning “fragrant”

Modified from text by Ken Borgfeldt & Vince Mercurio. Photography by Ken Borgfeldt, Penny Longhurst, Jim Poling, & Joe Standaert.


Britton, Nathaniel Lord & Brown, Addison: An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. Volume 3, p. 330-347, 1913

Horn, Dennis; Cathcart, Tavia; Hemmerly, Thomas E.; & Duhl, David: Wildflowers of Tennessee the Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians: The Official Field Guide of the Tennessee Native Plant Society. Lone Pine Publishing, p. 378-382, 2005 – Solidago

Newcomb, Lawrence: Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide. Little Brown, p. 446-453, 1989

Peterson,  Roger Tory &  McKenny, Margaret: A Field Guide to Wildflowers: Northeastern and North-central North America. Peterson Field Guides, p. 190-203, 1968

Albert E. Radford, Harry E. Ahles, & C. Ritchie Bell: Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. The University of North Carolina Press, p. 1084-1098, 1968.

Richard M. Smith: Wildflowers of the Southern Mountains. University of Tennessee Press, p. 201-206, 1998.

Alan S. Weakley: Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States. UNC Herbarium, p. 1177-1188, 2015.