June 2018 – Native Plant of the Month
Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode
Ironweed species – Vernonia baldwinii and Vernonia lindheimeri are the two species most commonly found in central Texas.
Family: Asteraceae – Aster Family
Ironweeds begin to bloom profusely in the heat at the start of summer in June. Their showy and vibrant flowers can keep blooming all summer and well into fall when they are happy, and they can send out new stalks and blooms if the old ones are cut down in late summer. Ironweeds are beloved by all pollinators, and their shape makes a perfect landing pad for large butterflies. Their relatively small individual flowers produce prolific amounts of little tufted seeds that float away in the wind. They are particularly useful plants for pollinator habitat restoration in areas with high deer pressure, as they are not favored for eating by herbivores.
– The first three photos below are Western Ironweed; The latter five are Woolly Ironweed –
Western Ironweed (Vernonia baldwinii) is a tall and hardy perennial plant that readily spreads into large patches from its seeds and rhizomes. By the time it blooms the stalks are typically anywhere from 3-6 ft tall. It is a wonderful plant for pollinator gardens, and works best where its spreading growth habit won’t become a problem. It grows very well with similarly-spreading plants, such as Goldenrod, Frostweed, American Germander, Artemesia ludoviciana, and Maximilian Sunflower, to create a symbiotic prairie ecosystem and give each other structural support to stay standing straight. This guild of plants will also create a succession of blooms through the summer and into fall, helping bridge the temporal fragmentation of food sources.
Woolly Ironweed (Vernonia lindheimeri) is hardier in rocky and dry soils, much smaller in stature and leaf size, and does not spread as vigorously as Western Ironweed. It is a beautiful plant for well-draining and dry areas and low-growing pollinator gardens, and makes a beautiful display in the heat of summer along with other hardy small perennials like Calylophus, Engelmann and Blackfoot Daisy, Short Goldenrod, Fall Aster, Wedelia, Mealy Blue Sage, Stillingia sylvatica, Damianita, Lantana, etc.
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