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Anise-scented goldenrod (Solidago odora) is a member of the sunflower family (Asteralaceae). This sweet-smelling perennial is also known as sweet goldenrod or fragrant goldenrod. Solidago odora is native to eastern and southern North America. It inhabits dry and sandy soils in thickets and wood edges. Its wide distribution extends from New Hampshire to Florida, inland to Missouri and Texas, and continues along the gulf coast as far south as Veracruz, Mexico.
Two subspecies are recognized. Salidago odora odora occurs throughout the full distribution. The other subspecies, called Chapman’s goldenrod (Salidago odora chapmani) lives only in Florida. When the narrow, dark green leaves of S. o. odora are crushed, they smell strongly of licorice. It is the only one of the 110 goldenrod (Solidago) species that has this scent. Chapman’s goldenrod does not produce the anise scent. This is a good way to distinguish the subspecies in Florida where their ranges overlap.
The plant sprouts multiple stalks from a common underground rhizome (root-like shoot). The stalks reach 2-5 ft (0.6-1.5 m) tall. Its tiny yellow flowers cluster on the upper side of arching flower branchlets. They bloom between July-October. In habitats with frequent fire (for example, Florida scrub), the rhizomes respond to fire disturbance by producing a greater density of shoots that produce a dramatic array of flowers.
A late season bloomer, anise-scented goldenrod produces nectar that attracts many insects. These include the honeybee Apis mellifera, paper wasp Polistes fuscatus, ladybugs, lacewings, small butterflies and hoverflies. Goldenrod pollen is often accused as being responsible for hay fever. However it is insect, rather than wind, pollinated and its pollen is too heavy for this. Many varieties of songbirds eat the grey, fluffy seeds once the flowers are done. Mice and deer eat the leaves and flowers.
Native Americans, such as the Cherokee and Ojibwe, used flowers and leaves of this species for a large array of purposes. Tea infusions were used as a remedy for colds, tuberculosis, measles, diarrhea, to promote menstruation and abortion, and as a stimulant and relaxant. Early American settlers added it to their home remedies and as tea. Settlers also exported the flowers to China for tea starting in the 1800s.
Essential oil from anise-scented goldenrod flowers has been used in the perfume industry and for flavorings in candy and root beer. In 1996, anise-scented goldenrod became the state herb of Delaware, partly to promote Delaware’s herbal industry.
An attractive flowering plant, varieties of S. odora are cultivated for gardens and sold commercially. It is an aggressive grower and will dominate in competition with other species for nutrients in the soil.
(Elliot and Elliot 1994; Floridada 2015; LBJ wild flower Center 2013; LaPlante 2015; Menges and Root 2004; Tucker et al. 1999; Wikipedia 2015)