Welcome to floral sunshine in the native garden! Solidago velutina ssp. californica, or California goldenrod, is not well known among the species, perhaps in part due to a misconception that they are terrible for hay fever. Sunset claims allergies to this species are actually caused by other plants, which suggests its residency in a larger plant community may need examination (2012 p. 606). After having this native reside at a cabin we once owned on the side of Mt. Shasta, I decided it needs more attention, which is one reason why I am discussing it here. The second reason, is that I successfully planted it in my own garden and am appreciative of its benefits.
California goldenrod, similar to its eastern siblings, is a wonderful addition to pollinator gardens. The California Native Plant Society notes numerous insects attracted to it but highlights bees and various colorful moths in their plant profile. As much as I would like to observe the insect activity around this plant, I instead can attest to its attractiveness when in bloom.
Yellow paint on upright paint brushes. That is what I think when its at peak bloom. The so-called paint brushes, the erect limbs terminating and countless showy, tiny flowers, tend to topple every which way. When dense, they support each other; its the outliers that need additional support. If readers have not seen already, I combined this mass planting with another native, Aster chilensis 'Purple Haze' that blooms at the same time. Their habits are similar, too.
Both are dormant during the winter but will soon regrow with late winter, early spring rains. They become a mat of foliage covering the soil, spreading by underground rhizomes. Once summer has set in, they spike upright in preparation for their floral display. Unfortunately, I skimp on their water in our fast draining, rocky soil, so their bloom cycle is all too brief. Of the two, the goldenrod is more showy but brief; the aster will continue to bloom but the color recedes, sometimes undetectable. The yellow turns to light brown producing countless seeds ready for dispersal, but it has not popped up in other places except by rhizomatous expansion.
Our native S. velutina ssp. californica is not quite as showy as its eastern counterparts, which have more open and seemingly larger bloom spikes. This makes sense if they are receiving more water; our Mt. Shasta cluster was quite lush and showy as well. While goldenrods can be used as cut flowers, florists will more frequently carry x Solidaster luteus, possibly a cross between Solidago canadensis and Aster ptarmicoides, though this should be verified. Solidasters have similar flowers but branch outward lending to more showy displays. Altogether, goldenrods, asters, and something of a mix offer color to perennial borders late in the season, providing opportunities for succession from spring to summer bloomers.
Botanical Name: Solidago velutina ssp. californica
Solidago: Latin, solidus, and ago, for whole becoming, respectively, or for us, becoming whole, attributed to its medicinal value
Velutina: Like velvet, as in the texture of the leaves
Californica: Associated with California
Common Name: California goldenrod
Family Name: Asteraceae
Origin: Native; throughout California, particularly in meadow conditions
Positioning: Foreground, interspersed, slopes
Garden Themes: Pollinator, perennial, native, drought, meadow/prairie, cottage, rain
Uses: Accent, border, mass, container, floriculture, erosion control, green stormwater infrastructure
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Form: Mat, erect
Size: 6" tall when young to up to 3' in right conditions and spreading
Outstanding Feature(s): Flower
Stem: Red-green, pale
Shape: Oblong to oblanceolate
Margin: Entire to slight serrate
Color: Gray-green, yellow-green
Surface: Slightly pubescent
Flower: Summer to Autumn. Tiny, daisy-like bright yellow flowers in terminal clusters. Showy.
Fruit: Autumn. Aerial seeds
cultural requirements, tolerances & problems
Sunset Zones: 1-9, 14-23
USDA Zones: 6-10
WUCOLS SF Bay Area Hydro Zone: Moderate
Texture: Sand, loam, clay
Moisture Retention: Well-drained, performs best with even moisture
pH: Highly acidic to neutral
Branch Strength: N/A
Insects: Not observed at time of posting
Disease: Not observed at time of posting
citations & attributions
Bayton, R. (2019). The Royal Horticultural Society's the Gardener's Botanical: An Encyclopedia of Latin Plant Names. London: Mitchell Beazley.
Blogger. (2014, September 1). "Plant of the Month (September) : California goldenrod – Solidago velutina ssp. californica (Solidago californica)." Mother Nature's Backyard: Water-wise and life-friendly gardening, (Unknown location). Accessed on October 12, 2021 from http://mother-natures-backyard.blogspot.com/2014/09/plant-of-month-september-california.html.
Calscape. "California goldenrod." California Native Plant Society, Sacramento. Accessed on October 12, 2021, from https://calscape.org/Solidago-velutina-ssp.-californica-(California-Goldenrod).
Cut Flower Exports from Africa. "X Solidaster Wehrh." United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspections Service, Plant Protection and Quarantine Division, Identification Technology Program, Washington D.C. Accessed on October 12, 2021, from http://idtools.org/id/cutflowers/key/Cut_Flower_Exports_of_Africa/Media/Html/Fact_sheets/Solidaster.htm.
Extension Gardener. "Chrysanthemum x morifolium." North Carolina State University, Raleigh. Accessed on October 9, 2021, from https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/chrysanthemum-x-morifolium/.
Home and Garden Information Center. "Chrysanthemum Diseases and Insect Pests." Clemson Cooperative Extension, Clemson. Accessed on October 9, 2021, from https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/chrysanthemum-diseases-insect-pests/.
Native Plants. "Solidago californica." Las Pilitas Nursery, Santa Margarita. Accessed on October 12, 2021, from https://www.laspilitas.com/nature-of-california/plants/1308--solidago-californica.
Norris Brenzel, K. (Ed.). (2012). The New Sunset Western Garden Book. New York: Time Home Entertainment, Inc.
Taxon Report. "Solidago velutina DC. ssp. californica (Nutt.) Semple." Calflora, Berkeley. Accessed on October 12, 2021, from https://www.calflora.org/app/taxon?crn=11088.
Water Use Classification of Landscape Species. "WUCOLS IV Plant List." University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Davis. Accessed on October 12, 2021.
Water Wise Plants for Santa Barbara County. "California Goldenrod." The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Santa Barbara. Accessed on October 12, 2021, from https://www.sbbg.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/plant_booklet_web_optimized.pdf.
All photos by TELCS.