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:

Grainger County Tomato Festival
Grainger County Tomato Festival...
Grainger County Tomato Festival is going to be a delicious way to spend a summer weekend! This Smoky Mountain event was organized in 1992 to pro[Read More >>]
Cades Cove Loop Lope
Cades Cove Loop Lope...
Cades Cove Loop Lope is a Great Smoky Mountain Special Event! The Cades Cove Foot Race (AKA - the Cades Cove Loop Lope) hosted by Friends of t[Read More >>]
Dollywood Season Of Showstoppers
Dollywood Season Of Showstoppers...
Dollywood Season Of Showstoppers in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Stars shine bright in Dollywood during the 2018 Season of Showstoppers. Dollywood’[Read More >>]
Update: Clingmans Dome observation tower closes
Update: Clingmans Dome observation tower closes...
Update: Clingmans Dome observation tower closes. Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that the Clingmans Dome Observation Tow[Read More >>]
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Celebrates Cosby: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Celebrates Cosby: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow...
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Celebrates Cosby: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow! National Park officials announced the “Celebrating Cosby: [Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Fourth Of July Celebrations
Smoky Mountain Fourth Of July Celebrations...
Smoky Mountain Fourth Of July Celebrations. Celebrate the Fourth of July in these Smoky Mountain Communities! Gatlinburg, Tennessee Get a jump[Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Region Travel Advisories
Smoky Mountain Region Travel Advisories...
Smoky Mountain Region Travel Advisories. Upcoming Single-Lane Closure on Southbound Spur between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Great Smoky Mount[Read More >>]
Cades Cove Storytelling
Cades Cove Storytelling...
Cades Cove Storytelling. Great Smoky Mountains National Park Cherokee Storytelling Series in Cades Cove. Great Smoky Mountains National Park in[Read More >>]
Biltmore Estate Chihuly Glass Exhibit
Biltmore Estate Chihuly Glass Exhibit...
Biltmore Estate Chihuly Glass Exhibit. Chihuly glass creations brighten the day and light up the night during Chihuly at Biltmore. Famed glass [Read More >>]
Synchronous Fireflies Great Smoky Mountains June 2019
Synchronous Fireflies Great Smoky Mountains June 2019...
Synchronous Fireflies Great Smoky Mountains June 2019. It's never to early to start making plans to see the Synchronous Fireflies (and the Blue [Read More >>]
Back Porch Old Time Music Jam
Back Porch Old Time Music Jam...
Back Porch Old Time Music Jam at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center Saturdays at 1:00 p.m. June 16th; July 7th and 21st; August 4th and 18th; and Se[Read More >>]
National Park Hosts  Appalachian Women's Work Event
National Park Hosts Appalachian Women's Work Event...
National Park Hosts Appalachian Women's Work Event. Great Smoky Mountains National Park will host the annual Women’s Work Event at the Mountain [Read More >>]
Eight Smoky Mountain Fall Events
Eight Smoky Mountain Fall Events...
Eight Smoky Mountain Fall Events. Fall is a special, beautiful time in the Great Smoky Mountains! The leaves are changing and the air is crisp. [Read More >>]
Stars shine bright in Dollywood during 2018 Season of Showstoppers
Stars shine bright in Dollywood during 2018 Season of Showstoppers...
Stars shine bright in Dollywood during 2018 Season of Showstoppers. Dollywood’s 33rd season kicked off with an amazing array of entertainment e[Read More >>]
Smoky Mountain Service Day Volunteers Needed
Smoky Mountain Service Day Volunteers Needed...
Smoky Mountain Service Day Volunteers Needed.  Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials are excited to announce the popular “Smokies Servic[Read More >>]
Grandfather Mountain Slates Rhododendron Ramble
Grandfather Mountain Slates Rhododendron Ramble...
Grandfather Mountain Slates Rhododendron Ramble. Grandfather Mountain is set to showcase the iconic plant that ushers summer into the mountain’s[Read More >>]
Dollywoods Aunt Granny's Restaurant Serves Good Eats
Dollywoods Aunt Granny's Restaurant Serves Good Eats...
Dollywoods Aunt Granny's Restaurant Serves Good Eats! Dollywoods Aunt Granny's Restaurant partners with Lodge Manufacturing Company and announce[Read More >>]
20th Annual Sevier County Relay for Life
20th Annual Sevier County Relay for Life...
20th Annual Sevier County Relay for Life slated for Saturday, June 2, 2018. The Annual Sevier County Relay for Life, which celebrates cancer sur[Read More >>]
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Closes
Clingmans Dome Observation Tower Closes...
Clingmans Dome observation tower closes. Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that the Clingmans Dome Observation Tower will [Read More >>]
5 Great Smoky Mountain Fathers Day Ideas!
5 Great Smoky Mountain Fathers Day Ideas!...
5 Great Smoky Mountain Fathers Day Ideas!  Fathers Day in The Great Smoky Mountains is right around the corner on Sunday, June 17, 2018. The Gre[Read More >>]