Western Ironweed (Baldwin's Ironweed)

Vernonia baldwinii

western_ironweed_02-19-14.jpg

Photo of western ironweed flower clusters and leaves
Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org
Family

Asteraceae (daisies and sunflowers)

Description

Ironweeds are tough, grayish-green, branching perennials known for their fluffy-looking clusters of reddish-purple florets. Flowerheads are very numerous, rose-purple with many florets (to 34) in each head. Bracts at the base of the heads are broad, long-pointed, and spreading. Blooms May-September. Leaves alternate, hairy, lanceolate, sharply pointed at both ends, with short stems and fine teeth, to about 6 inches long.

Similar species: There are 5 Vernonia species in Missouri, and they often hybridize, making identification tricky. This species prefers drier habitats and blooms earlier than the others. The broad, long-pointed, spreading bracts at the base of the flowerheads identify this species.

Size

Height: to 4 or 5 feet.

Habitat and conservation

Occurs in upland prairies, glades, upland forests, sometimes on banks of streams and edges of ponds, also pastures, fencerows, old fields, railroads, roadsides, and other open, disturbed areas. This is by far the most abundant ironweed species in Missouri. Ironweeds are a familiar sight on roadsides and pastures. They often indicate overgrazing, as cattle apparently avoid eating them.

image of Western Ironweed Baldwin’s Ironweed distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Scattered to common nearly statewide.

Human connections

Ironweeds were used medicinally by Native Americans, mostly as pain relievers. Some species of ironweeds are being researched for possible use in modern medicines. Ironweeds are generally unwelcome on pastures, where their bitterness makes them distasteful to cattle.

Ecosystem connections

Although herbivorous mammals such as deer and rabbits apparently find the foliage distasteful, butterflies, bees, and other insects are attracted to the flowers. Goldfinches and other seed-eating birds eat the seeds when they develop in late summer and fall.