Iron and Purple Fuzz

I planted Prairie Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata) all the way back in 2010, but it wasn’t until the last couple years that it started to be a real presence in the Driveway Boarder.

Ironweed with Cup Plant in the upper right corner.

To be honest, I’m only pretty sure that it’s V. fasciculata. I ordered it from Prairie Nursery, which also sells the taller V. altissima, and I can’t find the invoice online. So for the purposes of this post let’s just call it Ironweed.

Ironweed is a prairie native that likes sun and moist soil, though it will tolerate average soil. It’s got stiffly upright stems topped by fuzzy purple flowers. In our garden it grows to about 7′, which is a little taller than the normal height for V. fasciculata (3′ to 6′) but plants tend to grow extra tall in our rich soil. V. altissima grows 5′ to 8′.

DSC_0839Our Ironweed started to bloom towards the end of July. The flowers are very attractive to pollinators, especially bumblebees and other long-tongued bees, and butterflies.

American Painted Lady

It’s also a host plant for the American Painted Lady butterfly.

DSC_0825Ironweed is considered pretty aggressive, and some would say it is too aggressive for the home garden. I’m beginning to see its expansionist tendencies this year. I have the straight species of Ironweed, but there may be some cultivars that are easier to manage.

In the driveway border, Vernonia has some tough neighbors that it won’t be able to push around – Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium), Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) and Blue Wild Indigo (Baptisia australis).  So there’s that.

Also, Ironweeds are supposed to have a very bitter taste, so deer and other herbivores tend to leave it alone.

Ironweed stems are unbranched, so a single plant has a fairly narrow profile. Some have described it as torch-like when in flower. The thing is, you’re not likely to have just a single plant – not for long, anyway.

Have you tried growing Ironweed in a garden? And do you have any idea if I have V. fasciculata or V. altissima?

That’s all for now.

45 Comments on “Iron and Purple Fuzz

  1. I’ve got ironweed, along with baptisia, bergamot, and .joe pie…along with wild quinine, purple cone flowers, and some grasses. It will leap across the yard, but I like it best when it mixes into the others, and pokes its head above them. It also helps the bergamot stay upright.

    • I have many of the same plants, but not the wild quinine or purple coneflowers. The Wild Quinine never appealed to me that much, and the Coneflowers kept getting diseased.

  2. I have New York Ironweed. Mail ordered about 3 years ago. It’s been slow going. This year is the 1st year that it got tall. It’s finally 2 stems instead of one too.

  3. I love love love Iron weed. Ever since I found a comma butterfly chrysalis on some iron weed in a field I have tried a couple of times to start it here. Hmmmmm I will check out your source and try again.

  4. I love my Ironweeds, even though they self-sow. I have (I think) Vernonia noveboracensis (New York Ironweed) and V. altissima (a Central U.S. species). They pop up occasionally around the pocket meadow, but are easy to edit.

  5. I don’t know what variety of ironweed I have. It popped up many years ago and returns in various parts of the garden. It looks just like yours, same height, and in bloom right now. I do like it for the colour and as a pollinator favourite.

  6. This is really interesting. I’m accustomed to seeing fuzzy (or silver) ironweed (V. lindheimeri) on our prairies. The USDA map shows it native only in Texas and Arkansas, which is too bad, since this page describes it as shorter and “well behaved.” Our native species also is a host for the American painted lady, which makes sense. The growth habit of yours reminds me of our blue mistflower — another butterfly magnet.

  7. I’m not growing either variety of ironweed. I need to look into it. It’s awfully pretty.

  8. They are so pretty! I’m always wary of planting anything that has the tendency to take over or is difficult to control – I’m fighting with too many of those already and I’m not necessarily winning the battle.

  9. I started Vernonia lettermannii from seed this year, and got two seedlings. I’ve babied them all summer and will probably plant them out this fall. V. lettermannii is supposed to be drought-tolerant. We shall see.

  10. wonderful wildflower, looks vigorous, not surprised it tends to weediness. I’ve never heard of it here in Australia. Gorgeous butterfly photo, it’s attracted to its own colour scheme.

  11. Tried cultivar Veronica lettermanii ‘ iron butterfly ‘ did not survive but I have starts of ironweed that grow along our country roads Illinois . Want to increase it this fall , our county is thankfully not cutting all summer our roadsides. Love my walks in the morning

  12. I planted Tall Ironweed (Veronica altissima) last year. Of course everything has been coming up tall this year so I don’t know what will happen in the future, but it is starting to burst out in this beautiful color. The blooms are a bit more dispersed, not as tightly bunched as yours. I’m still in the battling-grass-and-invasives mentality so I’m happy to see anything thrive but sooner or later I’ll probably have to start exercising more control. Painted Lady is lovely.

      • I like that, flaming torches. Whatever it is, I had a Monarch attracted to it yesterday afternoon so that makes me even happier with it.

  13. I enjoyed the post and comments, Jason. I am no help to you in identifying the ironweed. I have at least a couple kinds, one, the prairie kind, I’m pretty sure. I have them self sow around, but not aggressively. I am wondering if they cross with each other, and I now have my own cultivars. For those afraid of them, they are easy to transplant in the spring, and also if you pull them out, they stay pulled, unlike some plants that spread a lot. I do not consider them hard to control.

  14. I am not familiar with different ironweeds, and always thought they were Verbena, so I’m afraid I can’t help. Yours look lovely reaching for the sky, but I have to admit it was the glimpse of Tithonia that got my heart racing – I will have to buy several different seed packets next year to make sure I get some decent seedlings! (Hope you will post about them again this year!) 🙂

  15. I’ve planted ironweed several times with no luck; maybe it will appear one of these days like several other of my natives that seemed to take a couple of years to get going. I usually see it blooming around the area later in the year, however.

  16. No idea what kind you have but it’s beautiful. I have 2, both much shorter (including the famous Lettermannii). That doesn’t self sow but the other does, and it’s nearly impossible to pull it out. So it’s good that you like it!

  17. It is a beautiful plant, and I remember it form back east. I haven’t seen any ironweed out here in my part of the country.

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