What Is the State Flower of Kentucky?

Jan Fletcher
Jan Fletcher
Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The goldenrod is the state flower of Kentucky. Its scientific name is solidago altissima, and the goldenrod is native throughout Kentucky. Almost 100 species of goldenrod exist, and 30 species populate the Kentucky landscape. This yellow flower blooms in the fall.

Though many believe the state flower of Kentucky triggers allergic reactions in humans, another plant is the actual culprit. Ragweed, a plant that also blooms around the same time as goldenrod, is what produces the allergy symptoms. As the gardening movement entered the 20th century, garden enthusiasts began to search for and designate the perfect flower for their respective states. The state flower of Kentucky is part of a nationwide acknowledgment of the heritage of the nation's horticulture.

The Kentucky state flower has some fascinating ecological relationships with insects. Early in the growing season, goldenrod gallflies (eurosta solidaginis) deposit their eggs on the goldenrod's newly emerging shoots. These flies then burrow inside the stem of the plant. The plant responds to the assault by forming a gall, which is a hard shell that can grow to a couple of inches in size during the plant's growing season.

Inside the gall's hard shell, formed by the plant's irritation at the insect's presence, the fly larva actually produces an antifreeze-like substance. This amazing biological response enables the larvae to survive the winter, and they burrow their way out of the protective winter quarters in the spring. It's a short life, as the larvae mate, then die, within two weeks.

The goldenrod secured a place in American history, as the Boston Tea Party movement created a new "liberty tea," which was made from brewing the golden flowers. The state flower of Kentucky was also considered to be an omen of good luck, as American colonists believed it a sign pointing to underground springs, or even buried treasure. It became the state flower of Kentucky in 1926.

The movement to officially designate state flowers in the U.S. arose from the nascent nation's garden clubs. Due to the massive destruction to the nation's civic infrastructure as a result of the U.S. Civil War in the 19th century, women formed garden clubs to address conservation and restoration issues. Another outflow of the garden clubs was to encourage the women's suffrage movement. Washington State became the first U.S. state to designate an official flower in 1892, allowing women to make the selection of the Rhododendron through a vote. It is not a coincidence that Washington State was also the first state to grant women general voting rights.

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