Goldenrods (species in the genus Solidago) appear to be indigenous on at least three continents, North and South America, and Eurasia, and perhaps a fourth, northern Africa.  John Semple at the University of Waterloo has a map of this worldwide distribution on his website:

There is one widespread indigenous species in Eurasia, S. virgaurea, though it is so widespread and has so much recognized variation that there could well be multiple species. There are also a half dozen indigenous species in far eastern Asia.

There is no universal agreement among botanists about how many species of goldenrod exist in North America, but they all agree that there are a lot of them.  While you might think they all look alike (and many do), there are some surprising differences among all these species, and I hope to explore some of these differences in future posts.

Let’s look at something seemingly simple: where do they grow?  The Natural Resources Conservation Service of the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains a database on plants in the United States and Canada. For each species that they recognize, they have a map of where it grows.  

So let’s look at goldenrods.  I’m using the common and species names from the USDA.

For each species, you might have to scroll down a bit for the map.  But then, you can play with the scale bar and zoom in on each state.  When you zoom in, many of the maps show the occurrence of the species in each county.  Some of the county distributions are quite surprising.

What you will see in these maps is the result of considerable speciation and adaptation among goldenrods.  Some are widespread generalists, some narrow specialists.  Specialization might include temperature, soil moisture, soil type, shade tolerance, elevation, latitude, proximity to the coast, or some combination of these.  We will explore some of these specializations in future posts.

Have fun with the maps.  If the maps don’t appear in your first browser, try another.

Atlantic to Pacific: these species stretch all the way across the continent (sometimes just barely).

Canada goldenrod, S. canadensis

Giant goldenrod, S. gigantea

Gray goldenrod, S. nemoralis

Missouri goldenrod, S. missouriensis

Tall goldenrod, S. altissima

Mt. Albert goldenrod, S. simplex

Rocky Mt. goldenrod, S. multiradiata (this species prefers high latitudes or high mountains)

East to West: I have arranged these species roughly geographically across the continent.

Limestone goldenrod, S. calcicola

Cutler’s alpine goldenrod, S. cutleri

Largeleaf goldenrod, S. macrophylla

Stout goldenrod, S. squarrosa

Downy goldenrod, S. puberula

Seaside goldenrod, S. sempervirens (this species lives on shorelines, freshwater or marine)

Wreath goldenrod, S. caesia

Wrinkleleaf goldenrod, S. rugosa

Zigzag goldenrod, S. flexicaulis

Bog goldenrod, S. uliginosa

White goldenrod, S. bicolor

(also called silverrod)

Early goldenrod, S. juncea

Hairy goldenrod, S. hispida

Atlantic goldenrod, S. arguta

Elmleaf goldenrod, S. ulmifolia

Roundleaf goldenrod, S. patula

Anisescented goldenrod, S. odora

Downy ragged goldenrod, S. petiolaris

Western rough goldenrod, S. radula

Showy goldenrod, S. speciosa

Velvety goldenrod, S. mollis

Baby goldenrod, S. nana

Threenerve goldenrod, S. velutina

Nevada goldenrod, S. spectabilis

Goldenrods with smaller ranges (some have long common names), again arranged roughly from eastern to western North America

Showy goldenrod, S. erecta

Rock goldenrod, S. rupestris

Mountain decumbent goldenrod, S. curtisii

Roan mountain goldenrod, S. roanensis

Shadowy goldenrod, S. sciaphila

Wand goldenrod, S. stricta

Twistleaf goldenrod, S. tortifolia

Pine barren goldenrod, S. fistulosa

Elliott’s goldenrod, S. latissimifolia

Dixie goldenrod, S. brachyphylla

Leavenworth’s goldenrod, S. leavenworthii

Gorge goldenrod, S. faucibus

Lance-leaf goldenrod, S. lancifolia

Clustered goldenrod, S. glomerata

Whitehair goldenrod, S. albopilosa

Short’s goldenrod, S. shortii:

Sand goldenrod, S. arenicola

Springflowering goldenrod, S verna:

Plumed goldenrod, S. plumosa

Hairy-seed goldenrod, S. villosicarpa

Carolina goldenrod, S. pulchra

Small’s goldenrod, S. pinetorum

Ouachita mountain goldenrod, S. ouachitensis

Gattinger’s goldenrod, S. gattingeri

Louisiana goldenrod, S. ludoviciana

High plains goldenrod, S. altiplanites

Julia’s goldenrod, S. juliae

Wright’s goldenrod, S. wrightii

Guirado goldenrod, S. guiradonis