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.
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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