White-haired Goldenrod

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White-haired Goldenrod

Solidago albopilosa

ListedApril 7, 1988
FamilyCompositae (Asteraceae)
DescriptionHerbaceous annual with prominently veined dark green leaves and clusters of yellow flowers.
HabitatRocky cliffs and shallow caves.
ThreatsRecreational use of habitat.


White-haired goldenrod, Solidago albopilosa, is an herbaceous annual with upright or slightly arching stems, 12-39 in (30 to 100 cm) tall. The thin, soft leaves are prominently veined, dark green above and pale beneath, and up to 4 in (10 cm) long. Stems are densely covered with fine white hairs. Clusters of fragrant, small bright yellow flowers bloom from mid-August through September. Single-seeded, winged fruits (achenes) appear in October.


This shade-loving plant grows inside shallow caves, called rockhouses, or beneath overhanging sandstone ledges in a deep gorge along the Red River in Kentucky. Plants root in loose sand on the floor of rockhouses or in soil-filled crevices beneath overhanging cliffs. The climatic conditions within the gorge are consistently cooler and more humid than the surrounding plateau. Several other rock-house species are closely associated with the white-haired goldenrod, including the round-leaved catchfly (Silene rotundifolia ) and alumroot (Heuchera parviflora ).


This species is adapted to scattered outcroppings of Pottsville sandstone in the Red River Gorge, comprising sections of Menifee, Powell, and Wolfe Counties, Kentucky.

The majority of population sites are scattered along the length of the gorge within the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF). The population was estimated at about 10,500 plants in 1980; by 1990, with the discovery of additional populations, the total number of stems was estimated to be 45,000 in 90 populations in Meniffee, Powell, and Wolfe Counties. All populations are within the proclamation boundary of the DBNF, which covers approximately 2,047,789 acres (830,000 hectares) in Kentucky, 669,379 acres (271,000 hectares) of which are owned by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The Red River Geological Area of the DBNF covers approximately 25,662 acres (104,000 hectares) and contains 39 populations of the plant; the Clifty Wilderness of the DBNF, an 11,666-acre (4,725-hectare) area within the eastern half of the Red River Gorge Geological Area, contains two populations. There may be additional population occurrences in unexplored sandstone rock-shelters in the Red River Gorge Area. Many of these areas are remote and have not been explored by botanists.


Over 260,000 visitors come to the Red River Gorge each year for hiking, picnicking, camping, rock climbing, and rappelling. Rockhouses offer a special attraction for visitors, and plants growing there are often trampled or uprooted. During a 1980 survey, it was noted that only two rockhouses in the entire gorge were undisturbed. Thus, human interference with the species and its habitat is considered the primary threat to its survival.

Another serious threat is digging by archeological looters. Indian tribes once inhabited about half of the rockhouses in the area. Looters in search of ancient artifacts also dig up stolons and seeds. Plants may not recover from such a disturbance. All rockhouses containing both white-haired goldenrod and Indian artifacts had, by 1990, already been pillaged by looters. Rockhouse soils were also mined for saltpeter in the past. Logging near rock-houses is considered an additional, continuing danger to the goldenrod. It is believed that some of the species populations may have been extirpated by such activities.

Conservation and Recovery

USFS personnel are actively cooperating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to preserve the white-haired goldenrod. The management plan for DBNF has fully considered the needs of the white-haired goldenrod and recommends several steps to diminish habitat disturbance, including fencing of the more important rockhouse sites, posting of signs, and implementation of a more active public education program. Also, the USFS has acted to acquire goldenrod sites that fall outside the boundaries of the national forest. The logging policy for the USFS land is designed to protect the species from immediate effects of logging. Two population occurrences within the Clifty Wilderness are protected because of existing logging bans in that section of the forest. Private landowners on whose property the species occurs have also been informed of the need to protect the species.

The 1993 recovery plan for the species notes that the species will be considered for delisting when at least 40 self-sustaining, protected occurrences have been maintained for 10 years. An occurrence will be considered self-sustaining if it is observed to be reproducing and the population size is stable or increasing; an occurrence will be considered protected if all necessary management techniques are being used to protect the species at that location.

The plan calls for five basic actions to be taken: the protection of at least 40 occurrences; the continuance of inventory; the study of the plant's life history and ecological requirements; the maintenance of plants and seeds; and the development and implementation of educational programs to inform the public and landowners of the plant's status and recovery needs. If funds are available to implement the recovery actions, the species could be delisted by the year 2004.

The unique characteristics and habitat of the white-haired goldenrod have attracted the scrutiny of many botanists, and the results of ongoing research into the plant's biology will assist its recovery.


Regional Office of Endangered Species
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1875 Century Blvd., Ste 200
Atlanta, Georgia 30345


Andreasen, M. L., and W. H. Eshbaugh. 1973. " Solidago albopilosa Braun, a Little Known Goldenrod from Kentucky." Castanea 38(2):117-132.

Kral, R. 1983. "A Report on Some Rare, Threatened, or Endangered Forest-Related Vascular Plants of the South, Vol II." Technical Publication R8-TP2. USDA, Forest Service. Atlanta.

Martin, W. H. 1976. "The Red River Gorge Controversy in Kentucky: A Case Study in Preserving a Natural Area." Association of Southeastern Biologists Bulletin 23(3):163-167.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1993. "White-haired Goldenrod Recovery Plan." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.