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Baldwin's Ironweed

Baldwin's Ironweed
All photos by Jim Mason

Common Name:
Baldwin's Ironweed

Scientific Name:
Vernonia baldwinii

A.K.A.:
Inland Ironweed

B aldwin's Ironweed is an early blooming "fall" wildflower of the prairie.   It is a member of the Sunflower family that may be found from Illinois to Arkansas and Texas and west to Colorado.  Ranging from 2 to 4 feet tall, it is a perennial that sends a cluster of stems up from a woody rootstock.  The stems are unbranched for most of their length, then make numerous flower-bearing branches near the top.  The vivid purple flowers begin to open in mid-July.

Ironweed got its name from being very fibrous and hence tough to pull or cut.  It is also very bitter.  Cattle won't eat it, making it an increaser species in overgrazed pastures.  In general, it does best in low, moist ground, but may be found in most any prairie situation.

Baldwin's Ironweed is one of several members of the genus Vernonia that may be found on the Great Plains.  The different species frequently interbreed, making positive identification difficult.   The characters most important for separating the different species are the shape of the floral bracts and the number of individual flowers in a flower head.

Bracts of Baldwin's Ironweed
Ironweed flower buds

Bracts are leaflike structures that occur either just beneath the flowers or at the point where a flower branches off the main stem.

In this close-up the bracts (red arrow) may be seen enclosing the unopened flower buds.   In Baldwin's Ironweed, the bracts come to a tapered point that curls away from the bud.  They make the buds look like little pineapples!  In other ironweeds, the bracts may have a rounded tip or one that is long and threadlike.

The amount of fuzziness on the bracts and elsewhere on the plant varies also.

 

The different species of ironweed have either less or more than 30 individual flowers in a flower head.  Baldwin's Ironweed has less than 30.   Ironweeds do not have ray flowers (like the petals on a sunflower), only disc flowers.

The leaves of Baldwin's Ironweed are up to 7 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide, with toothed margins and very short petioles.  They are simple and arranged alternately on the stem.

Ironweed habit

Like most members of the Sunflower family, Baldwin's Ironweed is very attractive to nectar-feeding insects such as butterflies and bees.  It is a good candidate for a prairie butterfly garden.

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