Late summer has a colorful array of flowers displayed across the fields, but this particular one is a favorite of mine. Long before I knew what it was, I’d look for the first signs of its tall richly-colored blooms in July. It was a sign that summer is at its peak, but that autumn was on the way.
This impressive plant is Ironweed, a member of the very large Aster family of plants that grows in the eastern half of North America. It is such a striking plant for two reasons- it is quite tall, growing up to 7 feet, and it has deep purple colored flowers. There’s something impressive about things that are taller than people.
The plant gets its name from the fact that its reddish stem is quite tough to dig up, and they persist through the winter even after they’ve turned brown. And studies have shown that mowing over this plant will result in no long-term reduction in its numbers. It is a persistent ‘weed’. I wish all weeds looked this fantastic!
By far, the most numerous species of Ironweed in Ohio is Tall Ironweed. I must say it is suitably named. Not only is it tall, but it is quite prolific. The flower head of one plant can produce between 6,000 and 19,000 seeds in one season.
When you look at the flower heads closely, you can see the resemblance to certain Aster flowers, such as the New England Aster. They’re all in the family, so to speak.
Here’s one that’s just starting to flower. In Ohio, they flower from July to October, covering high summer and much of autumn. Notice the lance-shaped leaves. This flower will be recognizable through winter, even when its blooms are long gone, as a memory of warmer times.
Here’s a group of them I saw earlier this week (all of these pictures were taken in the last several weeks). August is probably their peak month for blooming. Ironweed likes to grow in fields and along woodrows and pathways. It likes moderately moist soil.
To me, these wildflowers are like a beacon in late summer and early autumn. My eye is immediately drawn to them when looking at a field. The rich violet purple color seems to be some carefully-bred gardener’s creation, but they are all natural.
Medicinally, Native Americans used to use Ironweed as a painkiller. There’s nothing toxic about this plant, supposedly.
Here’s a photo from late last year. As you can see, they still look quite impressive after they’re done growing. Truly one of my favorite all-time wildflowers. I hope wherever you are that you have some of these beauties to enjoy!