Ironweed is plentiful this year

Published 6:15 am Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Ironweed (Veronia altissima) is the purple flowers you see growing on a tall, slender stalk in pasture and hay fields while driving down the road. It seems particularly plentiful this year.

Ironweed can grow to a height of 7 to 10 feet in deep moist soils, but usually averages around 5 feet. The stem of the plant is very hard and stiff, hence the name. Spear shaped leaves around 6 inches long grow all along the length of the stem. The purple flowers bloom from late July to early October and form in clusters at the top of the plant. Ironweed is in the Composite family, meaning the individual purple flowers you see are not the true flowers. Like daisies and asters, the real flowers are a cluster of small tube-like structures that form the “disk” at the center of what looks like a single purple flower.

Though pretty to look at, ironweed is considered a weed to farmers. In pasture fields it can be an indicator of overgrazing but is easily controlled with herbicides or clipping. Cattle won’t eat it, but it is a highly valued source of nectar for pollinator species, especially bees and butterflies. Native Americans used the root of ironweed as a pain reliever following childbirth, for stomach ailments, and to control bleeding.

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Steve Roark is a retired area forester from Tazewell, Tennessee.