There’s no lack of texture or interest with wingstem. It grows 5-to-6 or even 8 feet tall, and the length of the main stem sports ridges of wing-like appendages. The central disk of the flower head looks like a pincushion with fat needles projecting outward, and a ragged scattering of yellow ray flowers extends down and out from the disk. Wingstem prefers rich, average-to-moist soil in full or partial sun. It can grow in less-fertile, drier soils if provided with additional shade. Once established, it is drought tolerant.
Blooming late summer to early fall, wingstem is a source of late-season nectar for honey bees, native bees, and butterflies (another common name is golden honey plant). While it has been cited as an aggressive plant that forms monocultures, biologists explain that aggressive native species usually support a huge array of insect biodiversity, which helps to support the ecosystem. In the wild, an area dominated by wingstem will eventually be kept in check by other competing plants. One tactic when landscaping is to plant wingstem alongside similarly aggressive plants, such as common milkweed, New England aster, Indian hemp, and Indian and big blue stem grasses.
Native habitats include moist prairies, moist meadows near rivers and woodlands, woodland openings and borders, thickets, savannas, partially shaded areas along rivers, abandoned fields, and roadside ditches. It needs room to spread, so resist planting it in formal or small gardens.
Grows 5-8’ tall.
Prefers full sun or light shade.
Prefers average-to-moist fertile soils high in organic matter.
Yellow flowers 1-2” across with numerous greenish-yellow tubular florets in the center disk appear in dome-shaped panicles of flower heads August-October. The fertile disk flowers bloom successionally from the outer edge of the domed disk inward. The stamens and brown anthers open with a supply of pollen for the female double-looped pistils and stigmas.
Seeds are oval, flat, winged achenes.
Bright green leaves are ovate when young, becoming narrow and lance shaped as they grow. The rough-textured leaves are up to 10” long on an erect stem that is usually winged with long white hairs between the ridges.
Wingstem is a host plant to 17 species of lepidoptera larvae, including silvery checkerspot, Dysodia oculatana moth, and specialists gold moth and goldenrod stowaway. Long-tongued insects are especially well adapted to drinking nectar from the tubular disk flowers. Bees drink the nectar and eat the pollen, collecting additional pollen to feed their young. Mary Anne Borge, a freelance naturalist, writer, photographer and educator, living in New Jersey, has given permission to use her photo, and has published a beautiful article detailing some of the wide diversity you can expect to observe on wingstem on her website The Natural Web. You can find her article here.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Wingstem has been used to treat gastrointestinal issues and joint pain.
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