White Haired Goldenrod (Solidago albopilosa): Threatened Red River Gorge Wildflower in Kentucky

by DerdriuMarriner

White-haired goldenrod beautifies gray caves and cliffs. It has bright yellow and deep green looks. But the beautiful wildflower leads a threatened life in its own Kentucky home.

Plants in less accessible, more remote areas are less likely to be known other than to occasional visitors.
• They blend sometimes less or more easily in the landscape.
• Unassuming size and unobtrusive coloration can make the difference between high and low-profile existences.

So why does none of the above facilitate the survival and sustainability of one of Kentucky’s most reclusive wildflowers, the white-haired goldenrod? Natural habitats in shallow caves and on rocky cliffs ironically encourage visits by:
• ambient light-altering loggers;
• fire-building, garbage-dumping, ground-trampling campers, climbers, and hikers;
• plant-uprooting archaeological artifact diggers.

Not one of the above-mentioned visitors finds the time to notice how much their seemingly necessary activities shorten the white-haired goldenrod’s life cycles and natural histories.

Solidago albopilosa received its official description in 1942 from pioneer plant ecologist E. (Emma) Lucy Braun, who first discovered the species in Kentucky's Menifee County in 1940:

ca. 1950 portrait by Mary Hufford (born 1952)
American Folklife Center/Coal River Folklife Collection
American Folklife Center/Coal River Folklife Collection


Generations upon generations of local residents appreciate Kentucky’s beautifully tenacious white-haired goldenrods. But the plucky perennial’s formal, official recognition only dates back to 1942. The prevailing binomial, Greek/Latin, scientific, taxonomic identification indeed draws upon the extensive experience and expertise of Emma Lucy Braun (April 19, 1889 – March 5, 1971), as:

  • Cincinnati-born Ohio expert on botany, ecology, geology of the eastern United States of America’s forests;
  • Co-operator of experimental gardens with her sister, entomologist and first female University of Cincinnati Ph.D. recipient;
  • Co-researcher with Annette of Appalachian Mountain flora and East Coast environments;
  • Mentor of thirteen M.A. students and one Ph.D. student;
  • University of Cincinnati teacher of biology, ecology, geology;
  • Writer of four books and 180 journal articles.


Emma Lucy Braun collaborated in research with her sister, Annette Frances Braun (August 28, 1884 - November 27, 1978), entomologist and first female University of Cincinnati Ph.D. recipient.

"Color Patterns in Lithocolletis": illustration by AFB (Annette Frances Braun)
Annette F. Braun, Evolution of the Color Pattern in the Microlepidopterous Genus Lithocolletis (1914), Plate III
Annette F. Braun, Evolution of the Color Pattern in the Microlepidopterous Genus Lithocolletis (1914), Plate III


Gaining the attention of such an eminent academic acknowledges:

  • Dr. Braun’s results-oriented perspicacity;
  • White-haired goldenrod’s attention-getting uniqueness.

Today’s environmental scientists indeed benefit from such fact- and specimen-gathering as that realized from 1930 onward by the Braun sisters. The National Museum in Washington, D.C., in fact claims the herbarium of eastern North American flowers preserved and pressed by Professor Braun from high school onward. Countless naturalists likewise esteem Professor Braun’s:

  • Advocating nature conservation and reserves;
  • Founding the Wildflower Preservation Society of North America;
  • Pioneering female professionalism with Ecological Society of America and Ohio Academy of Science presidencies and Ohio Conservation Hall of Fame inductions;
  • Releasing The Woody Plants of Ohio: Cat-tails to Orchids;
  • Respecting Appalachian culture and wildlife.



Cultural anthropologists and geographers acknowledge Kentucky’s inclusion within the eastern United States of America’s Appalachian region. Appalachia’s mountains traditionally act as protectors to:

  • Diverse wildlife;
  • Unique culture.

Environmental awareness, scientific breakthroughs, and technological advances nevertheless become ironically double-edged swords in regard to Appalachian mountain fauna and flora. Ecological threats indeed cannot be considered the monopoly of such resource-seekers as logging and mining companies. They also come from wildlife-loving campers, climbers, and hikers who unknowingly contribute to:

  • Environmental contamination through fire-building and littering;
  • Habitat reconfiguration through altered lighting levels and stressed water bodies and wildlife populations;
  • Soil compaction through ground-trampling and trail-blazing.

They contribute to the precariousness of white-haired solidago’s existence in just three of Kentucky’s Appalachian counties.


Daniel Boone National Forest, which includes Red River Gorge, homeland of Solidago albopilosa, honors frontiersman extraordinaire, Daniel Boone:

portrait of Daniel Boone, 84 years old: June 1820 oil sketch by Chester Harding (September 1, 1792 - April 1, 1866)
Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts
Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston, Massachusetts


Menifee, Powell, and Wolfe are the central-eastern Kentucky counties of white-haired goldenrod’s distributional range. The counties embrace two beloved, world-famous natural landmarks:

  • Daniel Boone National Forest;
  • Red River Gorge.

The forest honors Pennsylvania Colony-born explorer, folk hero, frontiersman, naturalist, and pioneer Daniel Boone (November 2, 1734 – September 26, 1820). It hosts:

  • Bear, cougar, red wolf introductions;
  • Buckhorn, Cave Run, Laurel River Lake reservoirs;
  • Clifty, Creek Wilderness areas;
  • Endangered gray, Indiana, Virginia big-eared bats and red-cockaded woodpeckers;
  • Great Falls;
  • Herb-gathering woodlots;
  • Natural Bridge State Resort Park;
  • Pioneer Weapons areas for crossbow, flintlock-/percussion-loading firearm, longbow deer-hunting;
  • Rock Creek Research Natural Area national landmark;
  • Sheltowee Trace Trail;
  • Yahoo Arch, Falls.

Red River Gorge Geological Area is the white-haired goldenrod’s homeland.


Solidago albopilosa's endemic habitat requirements necessitate open caves with overhanging rock formations and rock shelters in Red River Gorge.

"caves with color": November 2008
"caves with color": November 2008


Rock-house, white-haired goldenrods accept altitudes of 800 – 1,300 feet (243.84 – 396.24 meters) above sea level. They associate biologically and geologically with:

  • Bees and syrphid flies (because of super-viable pollen);
  • Cliffs with dry, part-shaded rock-house and Pottsville sandstone overhangs;
  • Mixed mesophytic (fibrous-rooted, flat-leaved, rhizomatous) vegetative companions of maples, mountain-laurels, oaks;
  • Sands with acidic soil pH ranges of 4.5 – 5.0.

They also can be linked with the healthy sustainability of:

  • Bristle fern;
  • Christmas fern, clearweed;
  • Flowering dogwood, four-leaf yam;  
  • Great laurel;
  • Indian cucumber-root;
  • Intermediate wood, maidenhair ferns;
  • Jack-in-the-pulpit;
  • Little-flower alumroot;
  • Little-mountain, mountain meadow-rues;
  • Maple-leaf arrow-wood;
  • Partridgeberry, poison ivy;
  • Round-leaf catchfly;
  • White baneberry, wild hydrangea;
  • Yellow fairy-bells.

They do not overlap with invasions by:

  • Garlic mustard;
  • Japanese stiltgrass;
  • Maiden grass.


Solidago albopilosa synecology: Little-flower alumroot (Heuchera parviflora) is a frequent associate of White-haired Goldenrod.

plants in typical rocky habitat
plants in typical rocky habitat


Within their craggy, sandy habits, rock-house white-haired goldenrods are recognizable by:

  • Flowers;
  • Foliage;
  • Form.

Thirty or more bright, fragrant, tiny flowers cluster in golden pettiness along plant tops. They complement the likewise spectacular beauty of:

  • Conspicuous bloom, September - November;
  • Copious brown, dry, oblong, single-seed achenes, October - December;
  • Elliptical, toothed, veined leaves dark above, pale below, 2.36 – 3.94 inches (6 – 10 centimeters) long;
  • 1 – 3+ arching stems 1 – 3+ feet (0.31 – 0.92 meters) each;
  • Plenteous hairs whitening above-ground shoots;
  • Reclusive location behind drip-lines, leaf-litter in sandy cave and cliff bases, ledges, recesses, walls;
  • Smart propagation by pollen, rhizomes 0.39 – 0.79 inches (1 – 2 centimeters) underground, seeds water- and wind-dispersed;
  • Tenacious elusiveness from full light, full shade.


Daniel Boone National Forest: Red River Gorge Geological Area
Dr. Thomas Barnes/University of Kentucky
Dr. Thomas Barnes/University of Kentucky



The name white-haired (albopilosa) goldenrod calls up images of plants with:

  • Healing properties in traditional medicine;
  • Strengthening (Solidago) consequences for habitats.

Environmentalists indeed deem white-haired goldenrods keystone obligates. White-haired goldenrod decline or disappearance therefore derives from the uncontrolled environmental stress of:

  • Air, land, water pollution;
  • Global-warmed climate change;
  • Human, vehicular traffic;
  • Soil compaction.

Their sustainability fortunately finds substantial inputs from:

  • Area, commonwealth, federal recovery programs;
  • Environmental sciences and studies in curricula;
  • Scientific research.

But educational and legal measures must be bolstered by the environmental prioritizations of wildlife-loving activism. Committing to litter- and trample-free behaviors throughout urban – wildland interfaces represents the critical first steps whose steady serialization culminates in 1,000-mile (1,609.34-meter) journeys of sustainability for nature and people.


Red River Gorge Geological Area
Dr. Thomas G. Barnes/University of Kentucky
Dr. Thomas G. Barnes/University of Kentucky



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) is considered as a close relative of Solidago albopilosa:

White-haired goldenrod reportedly hybridizes with zigzag goldenrod.
USDA Soil Conservation Service, Midwest Wetland Flora (Lincoln NE: Midwest National Technical Center, 1989)
USDA Soil Conservation Service, Midwest Wetland Flora (Lincoln NE: Midwest National Technical Center, 1989)

Sources Consulted


Andreasen, M.L.; and Eshbaugh, W.H. 1973. “Solidago albopilosa Braun, a Little Known Goldenrod from Kentucky.” Castanea 38:117-132.

Barnes, Thomas G., and S. Wilson Francis. 2004. Wildflowers and Ferns of Kentucky. Lexington KY: The University Press of Kentucky.

Beaudry, J.R. 1959. “Solidago albopilosa and S. flexicaulis.” Castanea 24:53-54.

Braun, Annette Frances. 1914. Evolution of the Color Pattern in the Microlepidopterous Genus Lithocolletis. Philadelphia PA: n.p.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at: http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/38577585

Braun, E. Lucy. 1942. "A New Species and a New Variety of Solidago from Kentucky." Rhodora, Vol. 44, No. 517 (January): 1 - 4.

  • Available via Biodiversity Heritage Library at: http://biodiversitylibrary.org/page/608543

Esselman, E.J.; and Crawford, D.J. 1997. “Molecular and Morphological Evidence for the Origin of Solidago albopilosa (Asteraceae), a Rare Endemic of Kentucky.” Systematic Botany 22:245-257.

Floyd, Dr. Michael A. White-haired Goldenrod (Solidago albopilosa) 5-Year Review: Summary and Evaluation. Frankfort, KY: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Southeast Region, Frankfort Ecological Services Field Office. Retrieved January 9, 2015.

  • Available at: http://www.fws.gov/southeast/5yearReviews/5yearreviews/WhitehairedGoldenrod20090305%20.pdf

Pence, Valerie C. 11 June 2010. “Solidago albopilosa.” Center for Plant Conservation National Collection Plant Profile: CPC Number 4040. St. Louis, MO: Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved January 9, 2015.

  • Available at: http://www.centerforplantconservation.org/collection/CPC_ViewProfile.asp?CPCNum=4040

Recce, Susan. 1987. "Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Proposed Endangered Status for Solidago albopilosa (White-haired Goldenrod)." Federal Register, Vol. 52, No. 79 (April 24): 13798 - 13800.

  • Available at: http://ecos.fws.gov/docs/federal_register/fr1252.pdf

Recce, Susan. 1988. "Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Determination of Threatened Status for Solidago albopilosa (White-haired Goldenrod)." Federal Register, Vol. 53, No. 67 (April 7): 11612 - 11615.

  • Available at: http://ecos.fws.gov/docs/federal_register/fr1412.pdf

Shea, Margaret. 28 September 1993. Recovery Plan for White-haired Goldenrod (Solidago albopilosa). Atlanta, GA: Southeast Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved January 9, 2015.

  • Available at: http://www.fws.gov/ecos/ajax/docs/recovery_plan/930928.pdf

Solidago albopilosa.” Compilation. Retrieved January 9, 2015.

  • Available via JSTOR at: http://plants.jstor.org/compilation/solidago.albopilosa

Solidago albopilosa.” uBio: Universal Biological Indexer and Organizer NamebankID 2657727. Woods Hole, MA: Marine Biological Laboratory Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Retrieved January 9, 2015.

  • Available at: http://www.ubio.org/browser/details.php?namebankID=2657727

Solidago albopilosa E.L. Braun.” GRIN Taxonomy for Plants: Nomen number 319855. Beltsville, MD: United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Germplasm Resources Information Network. Retrieved January 9, 2015.

  • Available at: http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?319855

Solidago albopilosa E.L. Braun.” ITIS Report: Taxonomic Serial No. 36227. Reston, VA: Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved January 9, 2015.

  • Available at: http://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=36227&search_kingdom=every&search_span=exactly_for&categories=All&source=html&search_credRating=All

Solidago albopilosa – E.L. Braun.” NatureServe Explorer. Arlington, VA. Retrieved January 9, 2015.

  • Available at: http://explorer.natureserve.org/servlet/NatureServe?searchName=Solidago+albopilosa

Solidago albopilosa E.L. Braun.” Tropicos.org. Saint Louis, MO: Missouri Botanical Garden. Retrieved January 9, 2015.

  • Available at: http://www.tropicos.org/name/2711069

Solidago albopilosa E.L. Braun whitehair goldenrod.” USDA: Plants > Plant Profile. United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.  January 9, 2015.

  • Available at: http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=SOAL3

Solidago albopilosa, white-haired goldenrod.” Forest Service: Wildflowers > Rare Plants > Profiles > Threatened, Endangered, and Proposed (TEP). Retrieved January 9, 2015.

  • Available at: http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/Rare_Plants/profiles/TEP/solidago_albopilosa/index.shtml

Solidago albopilosa (White-Haired Goldenrod).” ZipcodeZoo: Species Identifier 63260. Retrieved January 8, 2015.

  • Available at: http://zipcodezoo.com/Plants/S/Solidago_albopilosa/

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1993. White-haired Goldenrod Recovery Plan. Atlanta GA: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

  • Available at: http://ecos.fws.gov/docs/recovery_plan/930928.pdf

Walck, J.L.; Baskin, J.M.; and Baskin, C.C. 1996. “Sandstone Rockhouses of the Eastern United States, with Particular Reference to the Ecology and Evolution of the Endemic Plant Taxa.” The Botanical Review 62:311-352.

White, Deborah L.; and Drozda, Nicholas C. June 2006. “Status of Solidago albopilosa Braun (White-haired Goldenrod) [Asteraceae], a Kentucky Endemic. Castanea 71(2):124-128.

  • Available via JSTOR at: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/4034269?sid=21105034382741&uid=3739936&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256

“Whitehair Goldenrod (Solidago albopilosa).” All Things Plants: Goldenrods Database. Retrieved January 9, 2015.

  • Available at: https://allthingsplants.com/plants/view/202132/Whitehair-Goldenrod-Solidago-albopilosa/

“White-Haired Goldenrod (Solidago albopilosa).” U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Environmental Conservation Online System. Retrieved January 9, 2015.

  • Available at: http://ecos.fws.gov/speciesProfile/profile/speciesProfile.action?spcode=Q21T


Solidago albopilosa is endemic to Red River Gorge, one of the most visited areas in Kentucky's Daniel Boone National Forest.

view from sandstone Natural Bridge
view from sandstone Natural Bridge
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Wildflowers and Ferns of Kentucky by Thomas G. Barnes and S. Wilson Francis

Full color, 344-page guide with 634 of most common species of native ferns and seed-bearing wildflowers in Kentucky.
Solidago albopilosa in books

World watercolor map: black t-shirt ~ Available via AllPosters

With all the world from which to choose, Solidago albopilosa is found only in three counties in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, in south central United States.
World Watercolor Map 6
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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 10/19/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 01/14/2015

paperfacets, The Red River Gorge is gorgeous, as is the forest in which it is located, Daniel Boone National Forest. I hope that you are able to visit there some day soon: you will not be disappointed.

paperfacets on 01/10/2015

East coast plants are new to me. I am only familiar with the dry CA terrain. I so much want to see the area and Red River Gorge.

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