Goldenrod Plant Guide: How To Grow, ID and Plant, Goldenrod Vs Ragweed

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | March 21, 2024

Man looking at goldenrod plants from the ground after learning how to grow and identify goldenrod plants and learning the differences between goldenrod vs ragweed.

Goldenrod is a truly remarkable wildflower, and there are many species native to North America.

Unfortunately, Goldenrod has fallen out of popularity over the years and received a bad reputation as a troublesome weed due to its being confused with the allergy-causing Ragweed.

But, understanding the difference between goldenrod and ragweed is easy when you know what to look for, and the benefits of growing Goldenrod plant in your garden make it completely worth it.

This guide explains how to differentiate beneficial Goldenrod plants from their distant cousin, the Ragweed and how to grow Goldenrod at home to attract and host beneficial pollinators!

What Is the Goldenrod Plant (Solidago)?

The Goldenrod plant is a perennial wildflower that blooms from mid-summer into the fall. The common name “Goldenrod” is used to denote any of approximately 120 species in the Solidago genus.16

Solidago, in turn, is only one of a whopping 1,900 genera in the family Asteraceae, also known as the sunflower family.16,24



Goldenrod image in oval frame on green background.
  • Characteristics: A genus of more than 100 species of flowering plants, primarily perennial wildflowers, known for their bright yellow color.
  • Family: Asteraceae
  • Genus: Solidago
  • Type: Herbaceous perennial
  • Leaf: Narrow, elongated up to 6 inches. Arranged alternately. Smooth to touch, sometimes with serrated margins. Basal leaves larger than upper wing-like leaves.
  • Seed: Tiny, tan, oblong seed (< 1 mm) with hairs attached for wind dispersal.
  • Blossoms: Bright yellow blooms appear in terminal clusters, often panicle in form, atop erect stems. Flowers are composites, with a dense, central disc of tiny flowers surrounded by up to 20 petal-like rays.
  • Height: Variable. Some species up to 8 ft.
  • Width: Variable. Up to 3 ft.
  • Native Habitat: Primarily North America, but some species endemic to South America and Eurasia.
  • Native Growing Zone: USDA zones 2 through 8

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Ranking

Least Concern


Although several related species are also sometimes called Goldenrods, only Solidago species are true Goldenrods.16 Most Goldenrod species are native to North America, but some originate in Eurasia and South America.13,16

How To Identify Goldenrod and Distinguish Goldenrod vs Ragweed

Knowing how to identify Goldenrod is a useful skill to have, particularly in areas where it grows in the wild. It is especially important to be able to differentiate Goldenrod vs. Ragweed, as one plant is beneficial and the other is a nuisance.

Both plants can reach heights of 6 feet and grow freely along roadsides, meadows, and disturbed sites.

Both plants bloom in the fall, with small yellow flowers. However, Ragweed is an annual plant that is considered a weed, while Goldenrod is a perennial wildflower that is often mistaken for a weed.

Ragweed primarily attracts birds that enjoy its small, oily seeds, while Goldenrod flowers attract all sorts of pollinators, including butterflies, bees, and birds.1,4,16

Graphics showing how to identify goldenrod with text and images of a full-grown Goldenrod plant on the right and Goldenrod seed, Goldenrod flower, and Goldenrod leaf images inside circle frames.

The following sections focus on the defining characteristics of plants and how Goldenrod and Ragweed can be distinguished by their traits.

Identifying Goldenrod Flowers

Goldenrod flowers are what give the plants their distinctive fall color. Each fall, the blooms burst forth in a profusion of bright yellow, the standard Goldenrod color.

The individual flowers of Goldenrod plants are a lot like tiny sunflowers, but they more closely resemble very small dandelions. They are composite flowers, radial with densely packed disc florets surrounded by many ray florets.

In most Goldenrod species, the number of petal-like rays will range between 10 and 20. However, the blossoms are not born singly.

Rather, they bloom in thick terminal clusters, forming a showy inflorescence, often pyramidal.

The flowers of the Ragweed plant are much different. They are even smaller than those of the Goldenrod.

They are primarily green with a slight yellow tint in the center. The tiny flowers are borne densely on upright racemes with no visible petals.1,16

Identifying Goldenrod Leaves

Goldenrod leaves typically have a long, slender profile. They are generally larger at the base of the plant and gradually smaller further up the stalk.

The lance-shaped leaves grow up to 6 inches long but are rarely wider than 3 inches, and in many species, the leaves resemble blades of grass. Leaves are arranged alternately, are mostly smooth to the touch, and may have finely toothed edges.

The leaves of Ragweed are vastly different. Similar in size to Goldenrod, Ragweed leaves can grow up to 6 inches in length and 4 inches in width.

They may be arranged alternately or oppositely. However, that is where the similarities end. Ragweed leaves are wide at the base, gradually tapering to a narrow tip.

The leaves are usually hairy and deeply lobed. The leaves may appear fern-like, particularly from a distance.1,16

Identifying Goldenrod Seeds

The plant fruit is another way to easily differentiate Goldenrod and Ragweed. The fruits of Goldenrod are achenes: Goldenrod seeds which are small, dry, brown, and tipped with white hair to aid in wind dispersal.

When ripe, they somewhat resemble dandelion or milkweed.

Ragweed fruit is also an achene, but it looks quite a bit different. The single, woody achene contains several seeds and can have up to 7 spiky projections.

They are dispersed by wildlife rather than wind.1,16

Is Goldenrod a Weed?

One commonly asked question “Is Goldenrod a weed?” can be difficult to answer. Many people would consider Goldenrod a weed because it tended to pop up in areas where it was not deliberately sown and its ability to spread by rhizomes.

However, Goldenrod is an extremely useful wildflower, and it is also beneficial to the environment, leading many to reconsider its consideration as a weed.11

What Does Goldenrod Look Like?

Many people have wondered “What does Goldenrod look like?” and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has the answer.16 The MDC describes Goldenrods as plants with usually erect stalks and slender stems with narrow, alternating leaves.

What Does Ragweed Look Like?

Because of the common confusion about Goldenrod and Ragweed and its impact on the reputation of Goldenrod, every person should ask the question “What does Ragweed look like?”

Close up of a common ragweed showing the plant's green fern-like leaves.

(Image: R. A. Nonenmacher37)

The common Ragweed, Ambrosia artemisiifolia, is a tall growing weed (up to 5 feet) that has deeply lobed leaves that create a fern-like appearance. Its flowers, which appear in fall, are tiny and green (slightly yellow), growing on terminal racemes.1

Best Growing Conditions for Goldenrod

Goldenrods thrive in open spaces with plenty of air circulation and sunlight. The absolute best growing conditions for Goldenrod are in full sun and well-draining soil.

They are tolerant of drier soils and more compacted soils and can even survive periods of drought, with some interspecies variability.16

When growing a Goldenrod plant, the most important step is to choose the right one. Choosing the Goldenrod species or variety that hosts the most local butterfly and bee species is a terrific environmental choice.

Some gardeners may want to prioritize disease-resistant cultivars, less aggressive spreaders, or more compact plants. Choose species and cultivars that thrive in your area and will support local ecosystems.

Goldenrod Growing Zone

As the Goldenrod begins to gain popularity as a perennial ornamental plant in gardens across the United States, many people find themselves wondering about the growing zones for Goldenrod (where to grow for best yield and environmental benefit).

Eye-level shot of a field showing tall Goldenrods with blooming yellow flowers, with trees and the sky in a distance.

Image: Jeffrey Hamilton38

The Goldenrod growing zone has a large range, and though there is some species variability, most native species are hardy to USDA zones 2 through 8 (See USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Maps).16,35

Growing a Goldenrod From a Seed, Cutting, or Seedling

Starting wildflowers in a backyard garden should be relatively easy; the most important thing to remember is to allocate adequate space and ensure adequate sunlight. When the available space is limited, choose plants that are more compact and less aggressive seeders/spreaders.

To cover a larger, open area quickly, a weedier variety such as S. canadensis may be an excellent fit.33

As Goldenrods naturally propagate so readily, gardeners may not know much about growing a Goldenrod from a seed, cutting, or seedling. When growing from seedling, ensure the soil is healthy, dig a hole two times wider and an inch deeper than the container, loosen the plant roots, and place the plant in the hole, backfilling so that the plant is slightly lower than the surrounding area.

When propagating from seed, plan to sow more seed than plants desired. For direct-sow, fall is the best time, as seeds benefit from colder, damp soil.

Sow in an area that has been weeded, pressing the seeds gently into the topsoil. Mist regularly and allow three weeks for germination.8

What about planting tips for Goldenrod divisions?

Firstly, divide the plant in early spring after a recent watering. After digging new holes, divide the plant with a sharp tool, cutting small sections with attached roots.

Plant the divisions following the same steps for seedlings.8

Wondering when to plant Goldenrod for the best yield? Planting in either the early fall or late spring should produce excellent results.

In answer to the question of how far apart to plant Goldenrod, most sources suggest allowing 3 to 6 feet for planting, as most species of Goldenrod are either clump-forming or rhizomatic.16 Very tall growing species, such as S. gigantea and S. altissima, may benefit from staking.21

The watering needs for Goldenrod plants change as the plant grows. Young plants should be watered weekly to ensure they thrive.

Once established, they require less water. Some species, such as S. canadensis and S. rugosa require more water than S. rigida.8

Goldenrod Growth Rate

There are several reasons why an individual might need to know how long it takes to grow Goldenrod, perhaps because they are planning a home garden featuring native wildflowers and perhaps because they want to be sure and contain their Goldenrod plants in one area. Whatever the reason, the Goldenrod growth rate is moderate, and the plants typically reach their mature size within 3 to 4 years.8,16

When Does Goldenrod Bloom?

Part of the appeal of Goldenrod is its long blooming season, but exactly when does Goldenrod bloom?

Goldenrod is a late-blooming wildflower, showing its golden color between July through October in most regions. Thus, it adds some much-needed color, variety, and nectar when other sources are beginning to die out!16

Companion Plants for Growing Goldenrod

Gardeners may be interested in the best companion plants for growing Goldenrod in a wildflower garden or pollinator garden.

Goldenrods and New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are natural compliments to one another, often growing together in wild meadows. Not only do they bloom around the same time, blending their golds and purples perfectly, but they are also both wildflowers that are very attractive to many types of bees.10

Combining Goldenrods with mistflowers (Conoclinium coelestinum) creates a similar effect, and the mistflower is known for attracting many types of butterflies. Goldenrod also pairs well with annual flowers such as Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia).16

How To Stop Goldenrod Disease

Solidago species can succumb to various types of diseases. The most common diseases that impact Goldenrod plants are rust, caused by fungi such as Coleosporium, Puccinia, and Uromyces, and powdery mildew, caused by fungi such as Golovinomyces, Erysiphe, Uncinula, Phyllactinia, and Sphaerotheca.12

The first step to Goldenrod disease prevention is to plant resistant varieties of Goldenrod, and cultivars such as ‘Fireworks’ and ‘Golden Fleece’ are reportedly resistant. The next step is to plant the Goldenrod where it will receive good air circulation.32

The third step is to water the plant at its base rather than from above.

Fungicides are usually the go-to method for how to stop Goldenrod disease. Pruning and removing diseased plant parts and diseased plants is crucial to preventing disease spread.3

Graphics showing common Goldenrod diseases with text and images of a caterpillar, aphids, tarnished plant bugs and gall-forming insects inside circular frames.

Goldenrod pollen is highly attractive to many types of insects, and it is a host plant for many insects, becoming in effect, a miniature ecosystem. Most of these insects are beneficial for pollination or as food sources for wildlife and other insects, and little control is needed.

However, some common pests of the Goldenrod include:22

  • Aphids
  • Tarnished plant bugs
  • Caterpillars (asteroid and flower moth)
  • Gall-forming insects

Natural pest control for Goldenrod usually involves the physical removal of pests or removal by spraying with water. Again, this is not typically needed, as part of the appeal of Goldenrods is how they support local ecosystems.9

More people are beginning to realize the value of Goldenrods in replenishing native ecosystems. Highly prized by various insects and host plants to many pollinators, Goldenrod species are integral to a thriving, living garden.

Goldenrod is a benign plant, not to be confused with its distant relation, Ragweed, which is known to cause problematic seasonal allergies.

Differentiating Types of Goldenrod

With more than 100 species of Solidago, there is a lot of interspecies diversity. Individual species often host unique species of butterflies, moths, bees, etc.16

They have varying growth preferences and growth habits, and they also differ somewhat in appearance.

Graphics of types of Goldenrod showing Canadian Goldenrod, Showy Goldenrod, Stiff Goldenrod, and Tall Goldenrod images in round frames on green background.

The following sections explore the characteristics of four prominent North American Goldenrod species.

Canadian Goldenrod

The Canadian Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis, is native to Canada and the United States.15 This species can grow up to 6 feet tall and as wide as tall.

Its bright yellow flowers are held in pyramidal clusters (panicles). Its long, slender leaves have serrated margins.

This species spreads by underground rhizomes, making it more weedy than some of its close relatives.15

Showy Goldenrod

The Showy Goldenrod, Solidago speciosa, is endemic to the Eastern US. It usually grows to about 4 feet in height.18

This species of Goldenrod produces foot-long panicles of golden flowers atop its stems, often creating a club-shaped cluster.

Leaves grow up to 10 inches long and have dentate margins. Leaves are a bit wider than many other species, tapering to a point.18

Stiff Goldenrod

The Stiff Goldenrod, sometimes called the Stiff-leaved Goldenrod, has the scientific name Solidago rigida.34 This species is common in the Eastern U.S. as well where it grows to a height of approximately 5 feet.

It can be distinguished by the arrangement of its flower clusters. On the Stiff Goldenrod, the yellow flowers cluster in a denser, flat-top form (corymb or umbel).

Basal leaves grow up to 8 inches long with shorter leaves further up the stem.17,19

Tall Goldenrod

Solidago altissima, sometimes known as the Tall Goldenrod and sometimes as the Canadian Goldenrod, grows up to 6 feet tall in North American countries, including Mexico. It spreads by seed and rhizomes.14

Bright yellow flowers grow in panicles through the fall.20

This plant reaches heights of 6.5 feet. It has slender, smooth, grass-like leaves.3,9

Other Types of Plants With the Common Name “Golden Rod”

The common name “golden rod” has long been applied to distantly related species that are similar in appearance, such as:5

Things To Know About the Goldenrod Plant

Some interesting Goldenrod facts follow here:2,9,13,16

  1. The giant Goldenrod, Solidago gigantea, is both the Nebraska state flower and Kentucky state flower23
  2. The tall Goldenrod, Solidago altissima, is South Carolina’s state wildflower14
  3. The sweet Goldenrod, Solidago chilensis, is Delaware’s state herb25
  4. Concerning Goldenrod symbolism, the genus name ‘Solidago’ is derived from the Latin word for “to make whole,” speaking to the healing benefits of the plant7
  5. Goldenrod flowers are spread by seed and some species are spread by underground rhizomes
  6. Goldenrod is often confused with Ragweed (Ambrosia), specifically Ambrosia artemisiifolia, a bearer of pollen that contributes to allergic rhinitis for a large percentage of Americans every fall14,29
  7. A tea made from the flowers and leaves of Goldenrod has been used for centuries as a remedy for allergies and fever, and the leaves were also used to make a poultice for skin ailments
  8. Several insect species rely on Goldenrods as host plants and golf-ball-sized prominences (“galls”) along the stem may be observed when larvae are growing in the plant

Can You Eat Goldenrod?

A question that is still being asked is “Can you eat Goldenrod?” Tradition has it that Native Americans used Goldenrod medicinally in teas, even chewing the leaves to reduce inflammation and fever.

Goldenrod tea is still drunk today, and the flowers may be used as a garnish, but sources recommend sticking with the aboveground parts of the plant and using young leaves.16

The plants bloom clusters of golden flowers resembling tiny sunflowers in late summer through fall.6

Knowing how to spot and grow Goldenrod plants in your own backyard can transform your landscape.

Frequently Asked Questions About Goldenrod

How Much Sunlight Does Goldenrod Need Each Day?

Before planting, it’s important to understand how much sunlight does Goldenrod need each day. Goldenrod grows best in full sun conditions, and a Solidago plant should be placed where it receives a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight each day.16


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