Thursday, September 3, 2015

Wednesday's Wildflower: Tall Ironweed

In the fields and pastures of Eastern North America, there towers a purple-crowned plant, easily recognized by all.

Tall Ironweed is so ubiquitous, I think we often take its presence for granted.

It usually prefers moist, rich bottom lands, but doesn't mind drier soils.

It makes its home in moist pastures, scrubby fields, roadsides, abandoned fields, wetlands and even wooded areas.

Unpalatable to cattle, it is usually growing in large patches throughout their pastures, sometimes even obscuring them in a haze of purple.

It makes its home from Canada to Florida to Texas, adapting to a wide range of climates.

Often towering 10 feet tall or more, it is easily recognized by its sturdy stems, lanceolate leaves, and purple blooms.

Some may find Ironweed just that - weedy.

However, it truly is a spectacular, showy plant.

The flat-topped flower panicle can measure up to three feet across, and has a distinctive V-shape.

Its true beauty is revealed when you lean in closer and really study the flowers.....

As many as 30 disc flowers are enclosed in little baskets of overlapping bracts.

The bifurcated styles are nearly transparent, and practically glow when the setting sun filters through them.

While it is glorious enough to stand alone, it rarely has to.

It is almost inseparable from its common companion, Goldenrod (Solidago).

These complimentary flowers are almost always found blooming in unison, providing such a treat for the eyes in late summer and early fall.

It also keeps company with a few other late season favorites, such as Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium), Crownbeards (Verbesina), Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum), Tickseed (Bidens) and sometimes even Swamp Milkweed.

Its Latin name is Vernonia gigantea. Vernonia was given in honor of William Vernon, who was an English botanist during the late 1600's. Gigantea obviously translates as "giant," describing its substantial height.

While there aren't any medicinal uses listed specifically for this species, other Vernonia have been used as a blood tonic throughout the ages.

This bitter plant has been used to regulate menstruation, relieve postpartum pain, and treat stomach pain and internal bleeding. The roots were brewed into an infusion used as a mouth wash to help firm up loose teeth.

Wildlife also appreciate Ironweed's contributions.

It provides nectar for bees, butterflies and many other pollinators.

Its towering height makes it a preferred food source for Tiger Swallowtail butterflies, who feel safer nectaring at heights of five feet or greater.

The seeds provide food for Goldfinches and other small, hungry critters, once the winter chill sets in.

Tall Ironweed will continue its bloom for at least a month, gracefully escorting us to the brink of Autumn. Be sure to feast your eyes on their purple blooms while they last.

Be sure to join us for next Wednesday's Wildflower!

Click here to read about last week's wildflower, Swamp Milkweed

Medicinal information herein is shared strictly for anecdotal purposes. Do not attempt to self-medicate with wild herbs. Please consult a doctor first.

Next flower->


All About Tennessee Wildflowers - Jan W. Midgley

Wildflowers of Tennessee, The Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians - Dennis Horn & Tavia Cathcart


  1. Oh cool...I've seen this by the roadside here in Pa and was wondering what it was. Thanks for the information!

    I just wanted to stop by and thank you for linking up with Green Thumb Thursday last week….sorry I’m late though, I’ve been working 11 hour days! Hope you’re having a great weekend!


  2. Great post, lovely photos! This is one of my faves this week onWake Up Wednesday. Thanks for sharing.

  3. What a beautiful wildflower. I had one of these wildflowers growing in my flower garden for a couple of years and then it was taking up so much room I dug it up. I love your pictures - they are beautiful. Shared on twitter & google. Thanks for sharing the health benefits of it. I was not aware of them. Visiting from Wildcrafting Wednesday.