Found in the wild only in the Southern Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina, this little-known species in the Solidago (Goldenrod) genus is an extremely garden-worthy plant.
In the wild, Clustered Goldenrod grows in moist, high-elevation hardwood and spruce-fir forests. It can form a solid ground cover under clearings within Red Spruce and Fraser fir forest, and really proliferates in sunny mountain glades.
Clustered goldenrod is quite different from other goldenrods, in that it is relatively low-growing and the flowers occur in clusters along the flower stalks instead of in the typical sprays of flowers at the very tops of the stems.
The leaves are also very different from most goldenrods - They are large, wide, and strap-like, while most goldenrods have thin, small leaves. The name skunk goldenrod comes from the tendency of the plants to give off a strong, musky aroma in humid weather and on warm days when the sun first hits them. The smell is a blend of skunk, coffee and lemon - Quite a potent mixture!
In the mountains, particularly the Great Smokies, this scent diffuses and mixes with the balsam scent of fraser fir and the sweet hay smell of drying mountain grass and the spicy smell of Rhododendron carolinianum to create that rich, unmistakable woodsy smell of the Southern Appalachian high country.
Clustered goldenrod does have a number of uses. It is especially useful as a nectar plant - Bees and butterflies cover the airy blooms in Late Summer! As a Goldenrod family member, all manner of caterpillars feed on the plants, providing the necessary food for nesting songbirds. Herbivores don't seem very interested in it, possibly because of the skunky smell it gives off.
The plant itself makes a nice groundcover in moist shade, and mixes well with Appalachian Sedge (Carex appalachica). The bright yellow blooms rise up a full month before other goldenrods start to bloom.
Clustered Goldenrod does make a nice plant for the garden - Use it as a groundcover under evergreens or in partial shade (such as the East side of the house). Plants seem to perform best in moist, shady areas, though they will bloom much heavier with a little sun. Too much sun or a hot location will cause the plants to perform poorly; they also don't take alkaline soils at all. A mucky to sandy acidic soil that never dries out completely is best for luxuriant growth.
We have some at the nursery growing under the shade of Eastern White Pines and Norway Spruce, and they make an excellent groundcover. Some of the plants disappeared in the drought of 2012, only to reappear with vigor as the rains returned in the fall.
These plants are very pretty planted with evergreens, especially Firs. You might use them as a ground cover in between young conifer plantings, as they can take both sun and shade.
|Common Name:||Skunk Goldenrod|
|Botanical Name:||Solidago glomerata|