Purple and Golden Glory

August 19, 2023

Author: Phyllis Root
Photographer: Kelly Povo

Late summer flowers are gracing the prairie in purples and yellows. One morning before dawn we headed east to Lost Valley Prairie Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) to catch the early morning light.  The sun didn’t disappoint, sending long rays across the prairie by the time we arrived.  Dew sparkled on the grasses and flowers, and the top of one hill was dotted with dotted blazing stars blooming brightly.  (All five of Minnesota’s blazing stars grow in this SNA, and we saw four of them that morning–cylindric, northern plains, rough, and dotted.) 

The valley between two bluffs was a sea of goldenrod.  For years we’ve simply nodded at any kind of goldenrod we saw and said, “Yep, that a solidago.”  This year we decided we would tackle learning to tell Minnesota’s eighteen different goldenrods apart, and what better time to try to learn them than when hills and prairies are turning gold? 

Some goldenrods are easier to identify than others. Upland white goldenrod is a slam-dunk,  the only non-golden goldenrod.  Riddell’s goldenrod has long, arching leaves that fold in on themselves. Hairy goldenrod has hairy leaves and stem.  Cliff goldenrod usually grows on cliffs, bog goldenrod in bogs.  

A few still elude us, though, even with a cheat sheet we’ve created from information in guide books and web sites. Unfortunately, a frequent description for identifying characteristics is “variable.” Toothiness? Variable.  Height? Variable.  Flower cluster shape?  Variable. We suspect  (and a little online research confirms) that at least some goldenrods  hybridize promiscuously, which might account for some  of the variations and for our confusion.   

But we’re determined. We think we can now tell Canada goldenrod from tall goldenrod, and we’re pretty sure about giant goldenrod, whose leaves seem exceptionally toothy.  

The next afternoon we headed west to Yellow Bank Hills SNA, arriving in time to catch the long, low light of evening.  near the western edge of the state, arriving in time to catch the long, low light of evening on the goldenrods and sunflowers that filled the site’s low areas. On the hillsides blazing stars, both dotted and northern plains, bloomed in purple glory. We wandered the dry hill prairie until the light left, then headed to our camper cabin at Lac Qui Parle State Park, where the stars in the night sky blazed like brilliant white flowers in a vast, dark prairie.  

See more of what we are seeing now…..

Author: Phyllis Root and Kelly Povo, flowerchasers.com

Phyllis Root is the author of fifty books for children and has won numerous awards. Kelly Povo, a professional photographer for over thirty years, has exhibited in galleries and art shows across the country. She and Phyllis Root have collaborated on several books. This is their first book on Minnesota's Native Wildflowers.

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