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Vernonia baldwinii - The Underused Ironweed

By Mitch Fitzgerald (MitchFNovember 9, 2013

With tall stalks rising from the grassy prairie Vernonia baldwinii is a stunning plant with simple leaves and stems that are crowned from the heat of summer to early fall with wonderful purple blooms. A great plant that needs to be in more gardens - let me introduce you to the wonder that is Ironweed.

Gardening picture

(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on November 4, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)  

First let's get past the name. This plant is not made of iron or colored black but it does have a tenacity to grow in places other plants have given up on. The weed part of the name should not strike fear in the heart of the gardener. It does not look or act like any type of weed at all. It is a slow growing plant that will send up new shoots much the way goldenrod does. It is not as fast-growing as goldenrod and will be easy to keep in a perennial flower bed.


So what does it need? Soil. Really, any old soil you can give it will do. This plant lives in the wild on high and dry areas with thin soil. You can plant this in any area of the garden with full sun and it will grow and thrive. It loves compost and will thrive on a good layer of compost over the root zones in the fall of the year.


It is easy going. This plant loves a good watering but it likes its root zone high and dry. Give this plant the same care you would give bearded iris and it will grow with glee. Keep it with water all summer and it will live and thrive in the heat of summer and bloom with such force in the fall you might need to stake the stalk.

This plant is single stemmed. Even with pinching back the stem will not make more little stem readily. They have wonderful rich green leaves that look stunning in the border even when not in bloom. You really need a good sized clump to make the impact, so take time and grow that first little plant and let it grow into the clump it can be. Just mark it and wait for spring.

ImageWhat to plant?

Do not mess with seeds. They take too long to grow and over all they are too hard to get going. Cuttings are hard to get growing and they often rot before they root. The only sure way to grow ironweed is to find a plant growing at a nursery or a wild group that you can gather from. If you are gathering from a legal place, you can gather the roots in the fall after the flowers bloom. Cut the stalks all the way down to the ground and water them well in their new, sunny, home.

This simple plant is a member of the Aster family. It is a wonderful and under-used addition to the home garden that needs to be planted more in homes and gardens. Add it to the garden and wait for the wonderful show.

Thank you to Frostweed for the images.

  About Mitch Fitzgerald  
Mitch FitzgeraldI am a pentecostal preacher, gardener,husband, and a father. I love natives, daylilies, iris, and roses. I love teaching others, be they children or adults, about the garden and plants.

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