Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tall Ironweed

The fields at Blue Jay Barrens are overflowing with yellow flowers. While this makes an attractive display, it’s nice to have something to break the monotony and highlight the pattern. This role is admirably handled by the Tall Ironweed, Vernonia gigantea.

The blooms are arranged in clusters of several flowers. Colors are basically a dark purple, but that varies between plants and with age. They’re great for cut flower arrangements. I used to work in a very depressing office space and grew to brighten up the work space. Occasionally I would add a couple of natives to add variety to the arrangement. People often commented on the beauty of the Ironweed and asked how they could grow some in their gardens. They seemed slightly offended when I explained that they had the same plant growing in the fields around their homes.

These plants are perfectly suited to the open field environment. I once had the idea that I could pinch back a plant and create something resembling a giant Cushion Mum. I was vigilant in my pinching and the plant fought to gain its height. The result was a pretty sorry looking plant. There were many flowering stalks, but they were very thin and only bore one or two flowers.

This is a tall plant and can hold its own against anything growing in the prairie. Here’s the champion at slightly over 14 feet. The more typical plant tops out at six to eight feet.

The rate of growth is amazing. Within a couple of weeks you go from not noticing the plant to having a towering giant above your head.

Of course, a tall plant like this requires a strong, thick stalk. This type of stalk attracts many types of insects that like to eat their way through the tasty center. Downy woodpeckers spend a lot of time removing these insects from the stalk. Sometimes to the detriment of the plant.


  1. Even though I'm not fond of the HOT weather that invariably accompanies the blooming of Ironweed, it is my favorite late summer/early fall wildflower. It's a special treat to come across areas where they grow en masse (if they are lucky enough to escape getting mowed down, which always happens along the grassy fields on our road!).

    By the way, I really enjoy your blog, Steve. I'm learning so much from what you have to share - thank you!

  2. Thanks for the nice comments, Heather. I'm still learning about blogging, but I enjoy showing people what I'm seeing and thinking about.