Wildflower Wednesday: How Ironic
Tall Ironweed (Vernonia altissima), like the other Ironweed species, has many virtues and is a good plant for the true native plant enthusiast. Which is to say, if you are looking for a plant that delivers a major ornamental punch proportionate to the space it takes up, Ironweed may not be for you.
Tall Ironweed grows 5-8′ and will form large clumps, especially if you let it self-sow. Some related species will not grow quite so tall.
The red-pink flowers are showy, but not very long-lasting. My own Tall Ironweed is blooming for the first time this year and has not yet formed a large clump. Flowers began opening in late July and were pretty well done by the last week in August. The Missouri Botanic Garden website sniffs that other than the flowers, ironweeds are “somewhat unexceptional” as ornamentals.
Tall Ironweed is a very good plant to have if you are into wildlife gardening and want a diversity of native species that are beneficial to pollinators. Ecologists have recognized the species as being particularly attractive to native bees, and butterflies are drawn to the flowers as well.
It is possible that Ironweeds will emerge from their “somewhat unexceptional” ornamental status. The Chicago Botanic Garden is testing a number of Vernonia varieties for home garden use.
Also, Tall Ironweed is a pretty easy care plant without serious insect or disease problems. It likes moisture, but is adapts well to ordinary garden soil. Despite the name, I find that it does require staking. Most Ironweeds want full sun, Tall Ironweed can tolerate part shade.
Actually, there is some confusion about the origin of the common name. Some people thinks it refers to the sturdiness of the stems, others to rusty colored flowers or seeds. The genus is named after a 17th Century English botanist, William Vernon.
I had a funny experience with my Ironweed. I planted it in the fall of 2011 but it seemed invisible in 2012. Suddenly this year it is popping up 8′ tall and blooming.
Have you tried growing Ironweed?
Wildflower Wednesday is hosted by Gail at Clay and Limestone. For more wildflowers, check out her site.