Smoky Mountain Ironweed

Giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) is one of the most striking and beautiful wildflowers in the HeySmokies.com region!

Smoky Mountain Ironweed is a beautiful flowering plant commonly found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If a hike takes you through a sunny meadow in the Smokies during the late summer or autumn, you are likely to see a tall graceful wildflower with a head of deep purple flowers and bright green spear-shaped leaves growing along the meadow’s wet margins, often accompanied by goldenrod. This will be ironweed. You might also see it growing along roadsides and in pastures in Cades Cove, largely unnoticed until it begins to bloom in late July, with flowers continuing into late October. Orange and brown skipper butterflies are also likely to be flitting about the plant’s flowers, feeding on its nectar, which they greatly favor. But as you approach ironweed and look more closely, you’ll find that its beauty disguises its truly tough nature.

First, ironweed is tall. The most common variety in the Smokies, giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), grows up to 9 feet in height, though 7 feet is more normal. Next, it has a coarse, stiff, rather thick stem, reddish in color, that easily supports the plant’s great height and gives it its name. At its base, the plant forms a clump of stems that hold tenaciously to the soil mostly by way of a long tap root, making it difficult for farmers to eradicate the plant from their pastures, where its toxicity poses a threat to livestock. (Native Americans, however, used the dried tap root in a bitter drink to combat fevers and purify the blood.) The plant propagates itself over an extensive area through the thousands of seeds it produces each autumn. A single plant can produce up to 19,000 seeds.

While farmers view ironweed as a pest, gardeners favor it as a background plant for butterfly and native plant gardens, especially when partnered with sunflowers, milkweed, or hollyhocks. It is relatively easy to grow in East Tennessee, requiring a sunny spot, some compost to amend the clay soil, regular watering until established, and mulch to prevent drying out. Gardeners may wish to consider New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) as their ornamental of choice instead of giant ironweed since it is a more prolific bloomer.

Ironweed is easy to find this time of year no matter what part of the Smokies you visit. Keep your eyes peeled for it’s showy blooms in Sugarlands, Oconaluftee, Cataloochee, Greenbrier, Cosby, Smokemont, and Tremont.

HeySmokies.com is honored to have Carl Parsons as a contributing writer. Carl is Deputy Editor for Storyteller Magazine, a member of the Writers’ Guild of Sevier County, TN, and a Tennessee Master Gardener.

 

Sources: GardenKnowhow,

Ironweed, and Ohio State.

More Hey Smokies Features:

Make your fortune in Smoky Mountain-opoly!
Make your fortune in Smoky Mountain-opoly!...
Make your fortune in Smoky Mountain-opoly! Relay for Life of Sevier County acquired exclusive rights to create a Smoky Mountain version of the b[Read More >>]
Celebrating Fall During Ober Gatlinburg's 8th Annual Oktoberfest September 22, - October  29, 2017
Celebrating Fall During Ober Gatlinburg's 8th Annual Oktoberfest September 22, - October 29, 2017...
Celebrating Fall During Ober Gatlinburg's 8th Annual Oktoberfest September 22, - October 29, 2017 will be a "beery" good time! Take an amazing s[Read More >>]
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Hosts Star Gazing Event at Cades Cove
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Hosts Star Gazing Event at Cades Cove...
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Hosts Star Gazing Event at Cades Cove. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in cooperation with the Smoky Mo[Read More >>]
4th Annual Wears Valley Fall Festival October 20th-22nd, 2017
4th Annual Wears Valley Fall Festival October 20th-22nd, 2017...
4th Annual Wears Valley Fall Festival is fun for the entire family! Sixteen acres of family fun including crafters, storytelling, interactive ac[Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Monarch Migration
Smoky Mountain Monarch Migration...
Smoky Mountain Monarch Migration is an annual event. Monarch butterflies migrate south each summer and spend their winter hibernating in parts o[Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Solar Eclipse Tips
Smoky Mountain Solar Eclipse Tips...
Smoky Mountain Solar eclipse tips. The HeySmokies team is excited about the upcoming solar eclipse viewing in Great Smoky Mountains National Par[Read More >>]
Cades Cove Foot Race
Cades Cove Foot Race...
Cades Cove Foot Race (AKA - the Cades Cove Loop Lope) hosted by Friends of the Smokies and the Knoxville Track Club is scheduled for Sunday Nove[Read More >>]
Welcome Home Veterans Parade, Pigeon Forge August 26, 2017
Welcome Home Veterans Parade, Pigeon Forge August 26, 2017...
Welcome Home Veterans Parade, Pigeon Forge August 26, 2017. Who does not love a parade? And what better reason to have one than to honor our e[Read More >>]
Six Great Synchronous Firefly Viewing Areas For 2018!
Six Great Synchronous Firefly Viewing Areas For 2018!...
Six Great Synchronous Firefly Viewing Areas For 2018! A spectacular display by the Synchronous Fireflies and the Blue Ghost Fireflies will light[Read More >>]
Tick Safety Tips!
Tick Safety Tips!...
Tick Safety Tips! Ticks and what you need to know to stay safe! It is that time of year in the Smoky Mountains. Summertime and outdoor activitie[Read More >>]
Great Smoky Mountains Solar Eclipse Road Closure Update
Great Smoky Mountains Solar Eclipse Road Closure Update...
Great Smoky Mountains solar eclipse road closure update. Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are reminding visitors that Clingmans[Read More >>]
Grainger County Tomato Festival 2017
Grainger County Tomato Festival 2017...
Grainger County Tomato Festival 2017 at 7480 Rutledge Pike, Rutledge, TN is scheduled for Friday July 28 through Sunday July 30, 2017. The festi[Read More >>]
Carolina Jessamine: Vine of the South
Carolina Jessamine: Vine of the South...
Carolina Jessamine: Vine of the South. Carolina Jessamine or the Vine of the South is commonly found in the Smoky Mountain region and is a great[Read More >>]
July 4, 2017 Free Fishing Day In North Carolina!
July 4, 2017 Free Fishing Day In North Carolina!...
July 4, 2017 Free Fishing Day In North Carolina! This coming Tuesday will be free fishing day throughout North Carolina. Beginning at 12:01 [Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain July 4th Fun!
Smoky Mountain July 4th Fun!...
Smoky Mountain July 4th Fun! Join us in the Smokies for a family-friendly, mind-boggling day of patriotic fun on Tuesday, July 4, 2017, as w[Read More >>]
The Annual Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival
The Annual Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival...
  The Annual Roan Mountain Rhododendron Festival will be held Saturday-Sunday, June 17-18 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at Roan Mountain State Park,[Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Fathers Day Fun Activities!
Smoky Mountain Fathers Day Fun Activities!...
 Smoky Mountain Fathers Day Fun Activities! Ten ways to celebrate Father’s Day in The Great Smoky Mountains Sunday, June 18, 2017. The Great Smo[Read More >>]
Great Smoky Mountains National Park "Womens Work" Day Saturday, June 17, 2017
Great Smoky Mountains National Park "Womens Work" Day Saturday, June 17, 2017...
Great Smoky Mountains National Park "Womens Work" Day Saturday, June 17, 2017. On Saturday, June 17, Great Smoky Mountains National Park will ho[Read More >>]
Art sale to benefit Wears Valley Ranch Saturday June 10, 2017
Art sale to benefit Wears Valley Ranch Saturday June 10, 2017...
Art sale to benefit Wears Valley Ranch Saturday June 10, 2017. Local artisans and residents of Wears Valley Ranch will offer unique crafts a[Read More >>]
HeySmokies.com blog owner puts spare change to good use!
HeySmokies.com blog owner puts spare change to good use!...
HeySmokies.com blog owner puts spare change to good use! Brad Knight, the owner of HeySmokies.com recently presented Pets Without Parents a dona[Read More >>]