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.