New York Ironweed – A Wonderful Native Wildflower

If I were to list some of the best butterfly attracting plants in my garden, New York Ironweed would be near the top. This tall beautiful flower just has that magical something that brings in lots of large species of Swallowtail and Monarch butterflies in late summer (as well as dozens of other pollinators).

I’ve been growing this plant for years in my gardens, and am always impressed with it’s ability to attract large butterflies for long periods of time. Many plants that are listed as ‘attracting butterflies’ do so, but the butterflies don’t always hang around for long periods. But over the years I’ve observed that New York Ironweed will not only attract them, but get them to stay for 15-30 minutes at a time.

In this article:

What is New York Ironweed

New York Ironweed is a perennial wildflower native to Eastern North America. Scientifically known as Vernonia noveboracensis, it will grow up to 8′ tall in full sun and moist to medium soil. Blooming numerous pink to purple blooms for four to eight weeks in late Summer to early Fall, it is one of the BEST plants to attract butterflies to your yard.

While there are many different species of Ironweed, New York Ironweed is special in that it is very showy, but doesn’t spread by underground rhizomes. This makes one of the more ‘garden-friendly’ Ironweeds that is easy to incorporate into formal flowerbeds, border gardens, native plant gardens, rain gardens, or meadows & micro-prairies.

Related==> Interested in more types of Ironweed? Read our comprehensive guide to different species of Ironweed

Native Range of New York Ironweed

The native range of New York Ironweed is primarily from Massachussettes to Alabama, with some populations extended through Pensylvania and into Southern Ontario Canada. There is also an isolated population reportedly in New Mexico (not shown), which makes one wonder how this plant naturally crossed Texas and the Rockies without leaving any other populations. [2][3]

Native Range of New York Ironweed, Vernonia noveboracensis. Reference [1][2]

Reference Table

Scientific NameVernonia noveboracensis
Common Name(s)New York Ironweed
Native Range, USDA ZoneEastern United States, USDA Hardiness zones 5-9
Bloom TimeLate Summer
Bloom Duration, Color4-8 weeks, pink to purple blooms
Height4-8′ tall (120-240 cm)
Spacing / Spread2-3′ (60-90 cm)
Light RequirementsFull sun to partial shade
Soil TypesLoam to Clay
MoistureMoist to medium-moist
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsBees, Butterflies, Hosts American Lady Butterfly caterpillars
Sources [1][2][3]

What are the Benefits of New York Ironweed


New York Ironweed produces numerous flowerheads making it a very showy flower from a distance or close up. The small purple to pink fuzzy flowers are interesting to look at, and the foliage generally looks good all season.

Standing tall

True to it’s common name, New York “Ironweed” grows a stout stalk that stands tall all season through storms and just about anything else. Even in irregular light the plant is generally upright, not flopping or reaching for the sun.

Long bloom time

The individual flowerheads begin opening up in late Summer (late July in zone 6) and continue for 6-8 weeks with a four-week ‘super bloom’. During this time you can expect lots of pollinator activity.


New York Ironweed is by far one of the best attractors of butterflies I’ve seen in my yard. And I grow lots of different species of native plants. And these butterfly visits aren’t quick “in and outs”. Once Swallowtails arrive, they just sort of seem to ‘hang out’ and stick around for a long time – as in 15 minutes of more!

Identification and Characteristics of New York Ironweed

Like other species of Ironweed, New York Ironweed needs to be carefully examined to ID. The presence of other species of Vernonia nearby will complicate matters, as they can readily hybridize.[4]


The stalk of New York Ironweed is vertically ridged, generally smooth to having very sparse fine hairs, and green to reddish-purple in color. There may be some branching near the top where the flowers occur. In general, the stalk is very strong and should stand tall in nearly all lighting conditions and against storms. [3][2]


Leaves of New York Ironweed are alternating along the stalk, 2-6″ long and elliptic to lanceolate in shape with serrated margins. Often the serrations along the edges are tiny, but noticeable. The leaves are usually a dark green color with veins. [2][3]

Leaves alternating up the stalk of New York Ironweed
New York Ironweed leaves are lanceolate to elliptic in shape


Panicles or corymb of flowerheads arranged in a flat-top or conical arrangement will occur at the terminus of the stalks. Each flowerhead is approximately 1/4-3/8″ diameter (6-10 mm) and roughly 1/2″ long (12 mm). Flowerheads will contain 10-50 disc florets. [3]

Close up of New York Ironweed flowerhead
Bracts of New York Ironweed

How to save seed from New York Ironweed

Saving seed from New York Ironweed is easy, in fact it is one of the easier plants to save seed from. About 3-4 weeks after blooming the seeds will form. The flowerheads will begin to dry out and the petals will be replaced by hairs/feathers.

To test if the seed is viable, grab the base of the flowerhead and pinch the tufts of hair and pull. If ripe, the seed will come right out of the flowerhead. If not, then you will need to wait another week or two.

Once seeds are ripe, simply cut off the flower heads and set them somewhere dark/dry for a day or two to let any surface moisture evaporate. Then, place in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator until you are ready to Winter Sow or cold-moist stratify the seed. The refrigerator seems to help keep the seeds viable, similar to Liatris seed.


In general the root system of New York Ironweed is fibrous and shallow, typically running 6″ deep or less. This may be due that it likes moist soil, in which deeper roots may not ever be required. Unlike other species of Ironweed, New York Ironweed roots are clump forming and do not spread via rhizomes.

How to Grow New York Ironweed from Seed

New York Ironweed seeds need to undergo a 60 day cold moist period to break dormancy.[2][5] And they may require access to sunlight to germinate. I’ve also learned over years of experience that you will have better luck with germinating fresh seed rather than seed that is a couple years old. The seed should be stored in a sealed plastic container in a refrigerator.

Process to germinate New York Ironweed seeds

I’ve used the following steps to successfully germinate New York Ironweed seeds multiple times. As previously stated, since it needs a cold-moist period you should consider Winter Sowing (my preferred method) or cold-stratifying in the refrigerator before sowing.

The steps below assume you are either Winter Sowing the seed or are sowing stratified seed.

  1. Fill a suitable container with moist potting soil, leaving a 1/2″ gap (12 mm) at the top. The soil should be moist enough so that when you squeeze a handful a few drops of water will fall out.
  2. Press 4-5 New York Ironweed seeds into the soil. Ensure there is good contact.
  3. Apply a light dusting of soil, but don’t bury the seeds.
  4. Sprinkle several more seeds on top.

You should now have 5-8 seeds planted per container. Place this container in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. Germination should occur by mid-Spring once temperatures are warming up.

New York Ironweed cotyledons / seedlings.

Direct sowing

You can direct sow New York Ironweed seed as well. Simply broadcast seed on a disturbed area in Fall or Winter. Walk over the seed to ensure good contact with the soil. Germination should occur in the Spring. Do know that some seed will be lost to bird/rodent predation.

Large New York Ironweed seedlings ready for transplant out into the garden!


When grown from seed, you should expect New York Ironweed to bloom by it’s second year. It may be possible to obtain blooms from first year plants, but it is more common for second year plants to bloom. By the plants 3rd year of life, it should be putting out 3-5 stalks if grown in full sun with good access to moisture.

New York Ironweed emerging in Spring

Grow and Care for New York Ironweed

Sunlight Requirements

For sunlight, New York Ironweed will grow best in full sun, which is at least six hours a day. It can tolerate partial sun which is 2-6 hours per day, however the plant will not grow as tall or produce as many flowers. [2]

Moisture Requirements

New York Ironweed needs moist to medium moist soil to look it’s best. And New York Ironweed can tolerate occasional flooding.[2]

It can also experience occasional drought, but the lower leaves are likely to crisp up and fall off, which is unsightly. A similar effect happens to New England Aster when it experiences a drought.

Soil Requirements

For soil, New York Ironweed can tolerate a wide variety of soil textures. Anything from sandy loam to clay will be suitable. The key is that the plant has regular access to moisture.


For maintenance, New York Ironweed will self-seed in ideal growing conditions. So in a mulched flower bed you may have to pull occasional seedlings. In disturbed wild & wetter areas, New York Ironweed may form a dense colony.


New York Ironweed should not require any supplemental fertilizer. As a native plant it should be able to thrive in poor soils.

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with PLANT


Numerous species of bees and butterflies will pollinate and visit New York Ironweed.[2][4][6] There are tons of butterflies who have been documented visiting New York Ironweed for a primary energy source [7][8]. And this matches my own experience in my backyard, as this plant is very busy with butterflies.

Chrysalis on New York Ironweed

There are also some species of aphid and other members of Homoptera that will produce honeydew on New York Ironweed. [9]


Since it hosts the American Painted lady, you may notice some damage to the foliage. Rest assured that this is from caterpillars and other native insects feeding themselves, thus it is just furthering the food chain.

Deer and Rabbits

Once this plant is mature, deer and rabbits tend to leave New York Ironweed alone. But first year seedlings and new growth may be at risk from browsing damage. I can say that the first year I grew this plant I did experience some damage from deer browsing the foliage.

So, for first year plants I strongly recommend you protect the plants with Liquid Fence. It is a deer/rabbit repellent that I have had great success with, just make sure you follow the instructions and keep up with applications.


It is possible for New York Ironweed to get some foliar disease, but it is not that common. I’ve not noticed powdery mildew or other diseases on my plants, nor on others I’ve observed. In general New York Ironweed should be disease free.

Video Guide to New York Ironweed

Below you will find a video we did profiling New York Ironweed in our garden. It covers all aspects of this article, but shows you with footage. I hope you enjoy it.

Where you can buy New York Ironweed

New York Ironweed is not typically sold in large garden centers. But it can be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.

Where to buy seeds

New York Ironweed is available from a variety of online stores. Make sure you are specific in the seeds you select! The botanical name Vernonia noveboracensis should be somewhere in the description. Be certain!

Uses of New York Ironweed

Garden Uses

New York Ironweed is an excellent addition to many types of gardens. From rain gardens, border gardens, meadows and micro-prairies and even formal flowerbeds. Make sure you grow at least three specimens to ensure lots of butterfly action. [10]

Ironweed growing with Purple Coneflower and False Sunflower.

In formal flower beds make New York Ironweed a focal point in the open, or towards the North Side so it doesn’t shade out smaller perennials.

Other landscape uses

Besides garden uses New York Ironweed has been successfully used as a plant in storm water management. It’s love of moist soil and tolerance of occasional flooding make it an excellent choice for a plant to survive and thrive in a storm water basin.

New York Ironweed with Hollow Joe Pye Weed

Companion Plants

New York Ironweed will grow well with any moisture-loving full sun plant. Some excellent companion plants for New York Ironweed are listed below:

Medicinal Uses

Due to it’s bitter and toxic foliage, New York Ironweed isn’t used medicinally today, and wasn’t used much by Native Americans. Nonetheless I was able to locate a few uses by the Cherokee tribe. Some medicinal uses by them include as a pain reliever, digestion issues, a blood medicine and a toothache remedy.[11]

Final Thoughts

Every year I am amazed by the number of butterflies that visit my New York Ironweed. And not just by the sheer number of species, but by how long they stay. The flowers of New York Ironweed must be able to replenish their nectar faster than most other species based on how long the Swallowtails and Monarch’s hang out on the blooms. You’ve got to trust me on this, you want this plant growing in your yard!

Find more native plants here


[1] – Vernonia noveboracensis. USDA NRCS. Accessed 08FEB2023.

[2] – Jonely, Janna. “Vernonia noveboracensis-new crop summary and recommendations.” (2012). Accessed 08FEB2023.

[3] – Vernonia noveboracensis (Linnaeus) Michaux. Flora of North America, FNA Vol.19,20,21 pp207,209,210. Accessed 08FEB2023.

[4] – Jones Jr, Samuel B. “Hybridization of Vernonia acaulis and V. noveboracensis (Compositae) in the Piedmont of North Carolina.” Castanea (1972): 244-253. Accessed 08FEB2023

[5] – Davis, Kathy M.; Kujawski, Jennifer. 2001. Propagation protocol for production of Plug + (container-field grown hybrids) Vernonia noveboracensis plants USDA NRCS – Norman A. Berg National Plant Materials Center Beltsville, Maryland. In: Native Plant Network. URL: (accessed 2023/02/09). US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, National Center for Reforestation, Nurseries, and Genetic Resources.

[6] – Tallamy, Douglas W. Bringing nature home : how native plants sustain wildlife in our gardens, Portland, Or. : Timber Press, 2007, pp.290

[7] – Iftner, David C. Butterflies and skippers of Ohio, Columbus, Ohio : College of Biological Sciences, Ohio State University, 1992, pp.214.

[8] – Butterflies. London : Quantum Pub., 2004, pp.321

[9] – Bristow, Catherine M. “Differential benefits from ant attendance to two species of Homoptera on New York ironweed.” The Journal of Animal Ecology (1984): 715-726. Accesed 09FEB2023

[10] – Phillips, Roger. Perennials, London : Pan, pp.258

[11] – “Vernonia novaboracensis“. North American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 09FEB2023.

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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