Winter Weeds: Ironweed

Lifting its tufted seed heads into the blue, Ironweed is not as easy to identify right now as it was last summer.

In August, Ironweed is truly impressive.  Three to ten feet tall, it’s topped by 30 to 50 deep purple flowers in a cluster 3″ to 4″ wide.  Its leaves are arranged alternately on the stem — long, lance-shaped and toothed.

Ironweed grows in ditches, moist meadows and along streambanks and is the only flower left standing in cow pastures because the stem is so tough the cows refuse to eat it.  The tough stem gave it its name:  the “iron” weed.

Ironweed is a perennial plant with two native species in Pennsylvania: New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) and Tall Ironweed (Vernonia altissima).  These are best distinguished in summer by their flower bracts but since they hybridize — and since I’m an amateur — I don’t bother figuring out the exact species while I’m standing in the snow.

Click here for more photos of ironweed in summer and winter.

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

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