Monday, September 26, 2011

Fantastic Flower of Fall: Ironweed


Bells Bend Park

Tiger Swallowtail on Ironweed

One doesn't even have to leave Metropolitan Nashville to see this Fall bloomer's deep magenta hues. Ironweed grows along roadsides and interstates, as well as in people's backyards. It blooms for about four weeks between August and October. Ironweed loves a moist habitat and can grow up to 12 feet. Its large purple flower cluster can reach a measurement of 3' by 3'. The genus name Vernonia Gigantea honors William Vernon, an English botanists who collected a variety of plants in Maryland from the 1680s-1710s. Cattle do not like the taste of the plant and leave it alone in their pastures.
Many butterflies get nectar from Ironweed. The tiger swallowtail, diana, great spangle fritillary and monarch are just a few of its frequent visitors. Birds also make use of the plant. When the plant has ceased blooming, goldfinches eat the seeds.
Edwin Warner Park, near Nashville, has a spectacular show of Ironweed, Goldenrod, and Thoroughwort in the Fall in the field near the Nature Center. There is a mowed path so visitors can walk through the flowering field and experience the plants, butterflies, and birds up close. Another great place to see this beautiful Autumn plant is Bells Bend Park, just North of Nashville. Bells Bend has a 2.6 mile loop that winds through rolling fields of old farm pastures along the Cumberland River. Nashville purchased this land in 1989 for use as a landfill. Former mayor, Bill Purcell had different plans and now it is an 800-plus-acre park with trails. The park's view of the Fall wildflower display featuring purple Ironweed and showy yellow Goldenrods seems to go on infinitely.
Ironweed is also a powerful medicinal and magical wildflower. Ironweed's leaves and roots have been used medicinally by Native Americans to ease pain during pregnancy and after childbirth and to regulate menses. According to folklore, one can gain control over bosses and co-workers if Ironweed is carried wrapped in purple flannel.

No Longer Endangered: The Tennessee Coneflower

The Tennessee Coneflower (Echinacea Tennesseensis), the first wildflower in Tennessee to qualify as a federally endangered species, was removed from the list on August 4, 2011 almost three decades after it was accidentally rediscovered by Vanderbilt Biology professor, Elsie Quarterman at Mount View Cedar Glade in 1968. The Tennessee Coneflower is rare because it is endemic to Middle Tennessee and is only found in Davidson, Rutherford, and Wilson Counties. Endemic plants are plants that are native to a particular area and don't grow naturally anywhere else.
The coneflower grows in cedar glades found in the central basin of Tennessee. Cedar glades are open, rocky areas that are surrounded by Eastern Red Cedar trees as well as Hickory and Oak. The sunny openings are susceptible to harsh conditions, very hot and dry in the summer and wet in the winter. There is little to no soil in cedar glades and often plants grow right out of the limestone rock. The glades are home to many endemic plants that have become conditioned to the glade's harsh environment and shallow soil depth.
The Tennessee Coneflower is not only endemic but medicinal as well. There is evidence that Native Americans used the plant by pulverizing the root and mixing it with oil or honey to help speed the recovery of wounds and other skin ailments. The root has also been used to help fight different types of infections including the urinary tract, mouth sores, athlete’s foot and hay fever.
Due to conservation and effort the Tennessee Coneflower has made a comeback and is once again thriving in Middle Tennessee. The flower blooms from May to October and can be viewed at Couchville Cedar Glade, Mount View Cedar Glade, Vesta Cedar Glade, Cedars of Lebanon State Park and Long Hunter State Park in Middle Tennessee.