Skip to main content

Riddell's Goldenrod

Everyone should have a favorite goldenrod. I certainly do, and it is unequivocally Riddell's Goldenrod, Oligoneuron riddellii, a true star of the prairie.

A note before we move on: if you dabble in botany on any serious plane, you'll note that I use Oligoneuron as the genus - not good old Solidago, which is what you've likely learned. The large catch basin of Solidago has been sliced and diced, and a few "new" genera have spewed from the taxonomists' spout. Most of our species are still Solidago, but we've got to learn about Oligoneurons and Euthamias, too.

On my way up to Lakeside today, it was impossible to pass right by Caledonia Prairie and not stop by. This long, linear strip of unplowed virgin prairie sod is bookended by a set of railroad tracks and a country road. If left unmolested, and particularly if the soil is not disturbed, native prairie does a remarkable job of fending off invading plants that don't belong. Caledonia Prairie, although small, may be the best remaining example of the original vegetation of the once vast Sandusky Plains wet prairie.

Easily the most charismatic plants in this scene, a pair of Riddell's Goldenrod jut from the tangled snarl of prairie species. The big leaves down low, already fading to brown, are those of Prairie-dock, Silphium terebinthinaceum.

I have been on a quest to photograph goldenrods. I am to give a lecture on all of the wonderful attributes of their lot, both biological and aesthetic, at next year's Midwest Native Plant Conference. This is a fun assignment, as goldenrods are among the most interesting and valuable of our native flora.

And none of their rank can match Riddell's Goldenrod for glamorous panache. It's too bad more gardeners don't know of it, and more nurseries don't sell it. The inflorescence is a large dome-like affair filled with lemon-yellow elfin sunflowers. A happy, well-fed specimen can tower two feet or more; the blooms acting like a vegetative billboard to all pollinators passing by.

A mouthful of multisyllabic botanical jargon shall now tumble from my keyboard: conduplicately falcate. Those two words sum up the leaves, which are the coolest thing going in the goldenrod world. Conduplicate = folded longitudinally; in essence looking as of the leaf has been folded in half from stem to stern. Falcate = sickle shaped. Riddell's Goldenrod leaves have a graceful scimitar curve to them.

This species has major roots in Ohio, if you'll forgive my bad pun. The above is a photo of the original, or type, specimen callected by John Leonard Riddell in 1834 or thereabouts. The goldenrod is one of 98 or so vascular plants that were originally collected and described to science from Ohio. This type is housed at the New York Botanical Garden.

Riddell was living in my hometown, Worthington, and teaching medicine at the defunct Worthington College, when he discovered Riddell's Goldenrod growing in wet prairies somewhere west of Columbus. His point of discovery, which is termed a "type locality", is long obliterated as has been the case with so many plant and animal type localities. I sometimes rue that so many of our most interesting and diverse habitats were destroyed before I - and others - had a chance to see them.

Quite a character was John L. Riddell, and he packed a lot of living into a life truncated in his 58th year. He wore many hats - so broad were Riddell's interests that it scarcely seems possible that he could have dabbled in them all, let alone mastered most. Itinerant lecturer on the sciences; chemist; politician; numismatician; author; medical doctor; and of course botanist - these were some of the pursuits of Riddell.

In 1835 he published the awkwardly titled Synopsis of the Flora of the Western States, in which Riddell's Goldenrod was first published. I have a copy, and it is by turns both fascinating and depressing to page through. How cool it would have been to have lived in an era in which it was still possible to discover such remarkable, distinctive plants as Riddell's namesake goldenrod.

And how depressing to acknowledge that, in the short 174 years since Riddell published his flora, we've wiped out nearly all of the habitats where he collected his subjects.

Comments

Interesting to know the history, Jim. Who knew Riddell was from Ohio? (Besides you? :)

Those beautiful blooms were covered with butterflies last Sunday, making Claridon Prairie an extra cool place.
Wil said…
Very interesting. What are the chances of these prairie remnants being protected by the state for years to come? Is there funding at the state level to protect them or is it up to local groups to keep watch over them?
Thanks for the fascinating post.
Jana said…
I think this prairie remnant is owned by the railroad and overseen by the Marion Historical Society. I hope it will be preserved because it is a very special place.
Robin M said…
I'm a birder and my husband is a beekeeper and we both think goldenrod is beautiful. For him, it is food for his bees to make honey for the winter. It doesn't make the hive smell very good, though, phew! Love to see a whole field of it.

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Ballooning spiders

Fear not, ye arachnophobes. The subject of this entry is indeed about spiders, but the star of the show is about as cute as a spider can get. And you'll want to know what we're about to learn...

On my recent West Virginia foray, we were strolling down a seldom-used lane, when a bright yellow object caught our eye. It was a goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, on top of a post! Not only that, she - it is a girl - was acting extraordinarily goofy. The spider would stilt up as high as she could go on her legs, weave back and forth, jig side to side, and otherwise engage in what appeared to be spider break-dancing.

Click the pic for expansion, and you can see two columns of silk issuing from her spinnerets. This is an important point, as we set about determining what this non-web-making spider is doing.


So fixated was our spider on her task that she even rejected what would seem to me to be a perfectly scrumptious meal. This little caterpillar climbed rapidly up the post and dire…