Five-feet-tall stems bear deep purple-blue flower heads in loose terminal clusters in August-October, providing important late season nectar that attracts a wide array of pollinators. Flowers are followed by red, velvety seeds that persist until late winter, when they provide important food for finches and song sparrows.
The common name refers to the toughness of the stem. Tall ironweed will readily self-hybridize with other vernonia spp. like common, Missouri, New York or western ironweed, which can make plant ID challenging.
Typically grows 4-6' tall and 2-3' wide. Self-seeds and spreads.
Grows best in at least 4 hours of sun.
Prefers dry to moist soil, but is hardy and adaptable to other soil conditions.
This plant tastes bitter, so is deer-resistant.
The caterpillars of 22 species of moths and buttferflies feed on ironweed species, including Parthenice tiger moth, red groundling, and ironweed borer moth (pictured here in that order). Other insect feeders include the larvae of midges, which form galls on the buds and flowerheads, four-spotted tree cricket and short-winged meadow katydid.
Medicinal, Edible and Other Uses:
Ironweed has been used traditionally for stomach ailments.
Though bitter, the plant is edible to humans.
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