Weed producing vibrant pop of color at lake

by Sue Hokanson, Quartz Mountain Nature Park

September 25, 2013

The Western Ironweed (Vernonia baldwinii) is blooming everywhere but it is really noticeable in Cedar Valley due to the July 13 fire. The gorgeous purple flowers Western ironweed produces are a vibrant “pop” of color in an area dominated by shades of black and gray.

This plant is a perennial that grows about 2 to 3 foot high, preferring full sun to partial shade. In moister more fertile soils, it may even grow to be 4 to 6 feet tall. It doesn’t need a lot of moisture but does better in “moist” not “wet” soils. Western ironweed grows in a wide variety of soils but you might not want it in your flowerbed.
The references have warnings like “Can be rampant colonizer when planted in garden soils” and “Difficult to control once plant is well established.” This plant is a perennial with roots that spread in all directions and are about a foot deep. Those roots may send a shoot up in a totally different flowerbed-one you do not want ironweed in. It is named “ironweed” for strong, deep, fibrous root system that makes it very difficult to remove.
Growing in the wilds of Cedar Valley, we have plenty of room for ironweed to roam. Western ironweed also is listed as “a plant of Special value to Native Bees”. Some bees visit the plants for pollen but unless they are long tongued bees they do not pollinate the flowers. Long-tongued bees, butterflies, and skippers visit the flowers for nectar. References mention this plant is particularly attractive to Swallowtail Butterflies and Skippers. Luckily for the bees and butterflies this plant will continue to bloom until frost.

If you haven’t been out to Cedar Valley since the fire, this weekend would be a great week to visit. Daytimes high temperatures are forecast for the mid 80s to low 90s and morning lows in the 50s and 60s. Why not plan on a amble around Cedar Valley this weekend?