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.
- Native to Eastern North America, from roughly New Hampshire to Alabama
- Read more on why native plants are important here
- Grows 4-8′ tall depending on sunlight and soil/moisture
- A favorite of pollinators, songbirds will eat seeds. This plant has a high value to our ecosystem.
- Thrives in moist open woodlands and roadside ditches
- Has long bloom time of six weeks
- Is hardy in zones 5-9. Check your USDA zone here.
- The Scientific Name of New York Ironweed is Vernonia noveboracensis
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.
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.
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.
This plant has short rhizome roots and fibrous roots. Small colonies are formed through the short rhizomes, but it isn’t too aggressive.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
UPDATE (APR 2020) for Germinating Ironweed Seeds!
I have figured it out! I used to following process to get a decent number of seeds to germinate! Finally! Ok, so my new updated process for germinating Ironweed is as follows;
- Gather Wild Seed. Gather seed from the wild, or a known population if you can. I found that getting YOUR hands on fresh seed seems to be very important. I think the shorter the time from harvest to storage, or sowing the better.
- Store in sealed container in fridge. Store the seeds in the refrigerator in a zip-lock bag or plastic container until you are ready to plant (at least by January). Make sure you get them stored right away after collecting them! I have a strong suspicion that if they dry out, most seeds may lose their viability.
- Winter-Sow / Plant seeds. Plant the seeds just under the soil surface, and just on top! I know, why both? Since I’ve never had much luck planting seeds 1/4″ deep, I figured why not try shallower? So, I placed about 5 seeds per cell, then covered with ~1/8″ of soil (3 mm). Then, I scattered and pressed in some more seed. I did this in January, then it was time to put the seeds out for winter sowing.
- Keep moist . During the winter you may need to water a couple of times. If the temperature is far below freezing, then don’t worry about it. But just try to maintain a bit of moisture in the soil around the seed.
- Place Winter Sow container in the correct location! When temperatures begin to warm up (50F high temp), place in morning sun/afternoon shade location. I’ve found this to be critical with some native perennials. I’ve found that placing my seed flats or jugs so they get hit by the sun for at least a few hours in the morning (early March) gives the best success. And by best success, it isn’t even close. I have gotten the highest germination rates this year for all seed types, not just Ironweed.
- Have Patience. I found that Ironweed (and Joe-Pye) germinated much later than most other species that I grew this year. While Fall Phlox germinated in really cold temperature, Ironweed needed consistently warmer temps before germinating. Just my observation.
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.
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!
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.
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|
|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|
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