A Closer Look at Wingstem

Wingstem in bloom shows double-looped pistils, 1 August 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

7 August 2021

When wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) blooms in August, its mop-like flowers reach as high as 8 feet tall. Wingstem often grows in clumps because it spreads by seeds and rhizomes. From a distance it looks ragged (below) but its double-looped pistils and insect pollinators (at top) are worth a closer look.

A clump of wingstem (photo by Kate St. John)

Wingstem takes its common name from the vertical ridges (wings) that run down its stem.

Stem of wingstem (photo by Kate St. John)

The flower disc resembles a pin cushion topped with brown anthers and yellow double-loop pistils. So far I have not found a floret whose anthers and pistils are protruding simultaneously, but I’ll have to look again.

Wingstem pistils and anthers on central disc flowers (photo by Kate St. John)

The disc florets are so deep that long-tongued insects such as bees, wasps and butterflies sip the nectar.

Wingstem is attractive to bees and other long-tongued insects (photo by Kate St. John)

The plant is host to the silvery checkerspot butterfly (Chlosyne nycteis), the gold moth (Basilodes pepita) and a few aphids.

Aphids feasting on wingstem stems (photo by Kate St. John)

Wingstem is easy to find in southwestern Pennsylvania because its leaves are bitter — deer don’t eat it. There are lots of opportunities this month to give wingstem a closer look.

(photos by Kate St. John)

1 thought on “A Closer Look at Wingstem

  1. We have lots of Wingstem along the edge of our woods, and yesterday my husband and I saw a small orange and black butterfly on our deck. It didn’t sit long enough for us to get a picture of it, but I looked up the Silvery Checkerspot and I think that must be what it was. Your timely post helped us ID the butterfly!

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