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Late Summer Wildflowers: A Spectacular Purple Giant.

August 17, 2013


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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Medicinally, Native Americans used to use Ironweed as a painkiller.  There’s nothing toxic about this plant, supposedly.

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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!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2013 7:49 pm

    Do you know if it is an invasive species or native to the area?

  2. August 17, 2013 8:53 pm

    It is a favorite of mine as well. Love the color it adds to the landscape.

  3. August 18, 2013 10:07 am

    Beautiful. I think I love the dried seed heads almost as much as the blooms.

  4. August 18, 2013 12:06 pm

    I love this plant, Tracy – a great native. I had a select form, ‘Iron City’ in my garden, with pale pink flowers that the bees and butterflies loved but I think I lost it this year after I moved it to a new location last fall. Have to replace it; one of my favorite late summer plants.

  5. August 18, 2013 2:58 pm

    I’ve never seen or heard of Ironweed – I’m pretty sure it’s not in the UK, anyway! But what a lovely colour and I am sure it does draw the eye if it’s that tall! I like the dried flower heads too.

    • August 19, 2013 2:15 pm

      There are a few species of Ironweed that are South American Jo, but most of them are North American. I’ve seen some wonderful UK plants on your blog, it’s always fun to see something interesting across the sea!

  6. August 20, 2013 8:05 pm

    These are supposed to grow here but I’ve never seen one. The closest I’ve come is knapweed.

    • August 20, 2013 9:29 pm

      Sorry to hear that Gardener- keep an eye out, if you see one you’ll know. They’re usually as tall as a person.

  7. August 21, 2013 6:00 pm

    Hi Seasons, We had Ironweed plants back in Tennessee. I have not noticed any here where I now live in Florida. They are beautiful! Have a wonderful Thursday tomorrow!

  8. EllieMaGoo permalink
    September 12, 2014 9:50 pm

    I just spotted Ironweed today in Pittsburgh, PA. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before and sort of sad it’s a weed. I was thinking about adding it to my yard, the color is so gorgeous. I stopped and took a couple pictures and took a couple blossoms for my Mom. The plant was in a lonely empty place where a house once stood. I’m still tempted to go back with a shovel and take a clump. I have the same affection for purple common aster. It always makes me smile when I see it softly lighting up a dark overgrown place.

    • September 13, 2014 12:10 am

      It’s a beautiful plant, Ellie- maybe planting some of its seeds that show up late in the year might work!


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