New York Ironweed – Facts, Identification, Growing Info

New York Ironweed is a herbaceous perennial wildflower with dark purple-to-pink blooms native to Eastern North America.  Blooming in late summer to early fall, this tall plant will draw in the butterflies with its tubular flowers.  I often see this plant growing in ditches and along roadsides.  But you can also find it in open woods, clearings, anywhere moist that gets at least partial sun.NY Ironweed

 Ironweed Facts

Physical Description

This is a tall, erect herbaceous perennial flower that is typically around 5-6′ tall (1.5-1.8 m), but can range from 4-8′ depending on conditions.  It generally can stay vertical and will not flop over, which is a nice benefit in a garden.

Stalk / Stem

The stalk is stiff and green, normally reaching heights of 5-6′.  There will not be any branches until the last 6″-12″ of stalk, where it will make branches into a panicle to produce flowers.

Leaves

The leaves are large, from 3-12″ long.  Leaves of NY Ironweed are generally lance-shaped to oblong / oval, almost resembling a spear tip.   They are alternate along the stalk.

Flower

There will be many flowers heads along the panicle at the top of the plant.  The size of the flat-top cluster of flowers is roughly 6″-12″ (15-30 cm).  There will be numerous small purple-to-reddish purple, or even pink colored blooms.

Root

This plant has short rhizome roots and fibrous roots.  Small colonies are formed through the short rhizomes, but it isn’t too aggressive.

Growing Conditions

New York Ironweed will grow well in full sun to partial shade.  I’ve observed it in both conditions, as they grow in the ditches, and the available sunlight seems to have a large effect on the final height.  In general though, this plant likes moist to medium moisture soil.  As far as soil types, it can grow well in loam and clay (yes, clay).  It may have trouble in sandy soil if it drains too much.  However, I have seen this plant to just fine in drought conditions, as roadside ditches experience drought the same as anywhere else.

Some New York Ironweed (left) growing in a ditch along a road. With an abandoned farm field in the background. This plant was mowed in July, and is only a couple of feet tall.  New England Aster is on the right.

How to care  for

As with most plants, the best way to care for them is to plant them in their preferred growing conditions!  Give it partial-full sun (4-6 hrs per day), and moist spot in the garden and it should do just fine.

Maintenance

You can cut the plant back in Spring after insects have emerged from dormancy.  But other than that, no maintenance is really required.  If you feel that your plants grow too tall, you can cut them back in late Spring to reduce the final height.Vernonia noveboracensis

How to Establish New York Ironweed

Plant Ironweed seedlings in the early Spring or Late Fall before the ground is frozen.  In that way, the roots will have plenty of time to get established while there is little water demand from the plant.  This is because the cooler temperatures allow the plants to grow without using water to cool themselves.

How to Grow Iron Weed from Seed

Ironweed is somewhat difficult to establish from seed.  The trouble is, the seed from Ironweed may need to be refrigerated to stay viable.  Furthermore, I think fresh seed must be sown, and you cannot store it year to year.

ironweed seedhead seeds
Green seed heads from iron weed. The seed resembles small twigs.

So, you collect some seed – dry it, then refrigerate it in a sealed container.  Then finally you can stratify it for probably 2-3 months, or just winter-sow it.  I generally plant it anywhere from 0-6 mm.  I’ve found that most of the seed doesn’t seem to be viable when starting in pots, as my germination rate has been very low.

Ironweed Seedling
1st year Ironweed seedlings.

The best success I’ve had with this plant was direct sowing in fall, right after seed collection.  I got approximately 5-6 plants to grow to seedling form, and a couple even bloomed the first year.  But the time to germination was loooong.

Ironweed Garden Uses

This plant can be excellent at the back of a well manicured flowerbed.  Its tall and erect stature will provide a late summer / early fall wall of purple blooms that is long lasting.   Also, Ironweed is a perfect plant for a rain garden.  It loves moisture (but not flooding), and does great in partial shade.  Just make sure it doesn’t block the view of other plants.  So, put it in the back, or as a central focal point to walk around.

This plant is approximately 4′ tall, and is facing East. So it probably gets less than 6 hours of sun per day in the summer.

It can be an integral part of a moist micro prairie, or even in just a ‘moist part’ of one.  We grew about 5 seedlings this year from direct sowing in the previous fall.  We were even treated to a single bloom!  I think a certain herbivore species decided they needed to trim these off for us (more on that later).

Side note – click below to see how to make your own backyard Micro-prairie!

How To Make a Micro-Prairie

Companion Plants

New York Ironweed would grow well with other moisture loving, partial shade to full sun plants.  Placing a layered flower bed with Ironweed in the back, Swamp Milkweed in front, and Blue Lobelia in front of that would be striking from July through September.  Adding in some Virginia Bluebells would further provide color for almost the whole year.

Fauna

This plant is a host to numerous moth caterpillars.  The foliage is also eaten by other insects and aphids.  Flowers are beloved by bees, butterflies, and skippers.

Pests and diseases

Ironweed generally does not get diseases.

For deer/rabbits, most references you will find list this plant as being deer resistant.  In my experience, deer will browse this plant.  It was quite frustrating, but I lost the tops of plants (where the flowers were), and I assume they were deer.  I don’t think it was rabbit damage, as they generally consume the whole plant, or just snip off the top and leave it laying beside the plant.

NY Ironweed Reference Table

Common Name New York Ironweed
Scientific name Vernonia noveboracensis
Bloom Time Late Summer / Early Fall
Bloom Duration Approximately six weeks
Color Dark Purple to Pink
Bloom Size Cluster of small flowers 6-12” diameter (15-30 cm)
Characteristics A cluster of small individual flowers, on small branches forming a panicle
Height 4-8’
Spacing/Spread 3’ spread (1 m)
Light Requirements Full Sun / Partial Shade
Soil Types Clay, Loam
Moisture Moist to Medium
Maintenance None.  Cut back in Spring after insects have emerged
Typical Use Meadow, prairie, roadside
Fauna Associations Caterpillars and other insects feed on foliage
Larval Host Numerous moths
Sowing Depth 0-1/8” (0-3 mm)
Stratification 60 days cold stratification.  Or direct sow in Autumn/Winter – You need fresh seed!
Native Range USDA Zones 5-9
Notes Growitbuildit.com

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