Native Plant of Steel

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on September 13, 2013 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.

It is a joy to find butterflies such as this gray hairstreak enjoying the Giant Ironweed
It is a joy to find butterflies such as this gray hairstreak enjoying the Giant Ironweed

Giant Ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), a member of Aster family  (Asteraceae) is a perennial native plant which can reach heights of 4-6 ft. With its showy purple flowers, it is a great addition as a backdrop in the pollinator garden.

Some time ago, I wrote a piece on The Biodiversity of a Single Native Plant.  That article featured Thistle (Cirsium spp.) and highlighted just how much one plant species provided for native fauna.

After much observation the same holds true for Ironweed.  Once again, the photos speak for themselves.

Brightly Colored Diptera in the form of this Longlegged Fly (Condylostylus mundus) contrast with the rich dark leaves:

npwgBluefly
Thorn Flatid Planthopper (Cyarda spp.)  disguise themselves giving the illusion that the Ironweed has thorns on the stems:
npwgthornplanthopperAug2013B

It serves as one of the larval hosts for Emerald Moth Caterpillar (Synchlora spp.) who makes its own attempt at disguise by covering itself with plant material:
npwgEmerald

Leaffooted Bugs and Grasshoppers alike hang out in the bright green leaves:
npwgleaffootgrasshopper

But not to worry…this Jagged Ambush Bug (Phymata fasciata) nymph will grow up to grab them and keep them in control
npwgjaggedambushnymphIronweedAug2013

Gallinipper Mosquitoes (Psorophora ciliata) with their fancy headdress  may like emerging on fresh buds:
npwgmosquitoJuly2013B

But treefrogs patiently wait to make a meal of them:
npwgtreefrog

Ants are usually a sign that there are aphids since ants love the honeydew they provide:
npwgSeptants

But the larvae of a Syrphid fly is waiting in the wings to munch up the aphids, a favorite meal of this future pollinator:
npwgsyrphidAphids

This gang of leaffooted bugs may seem like a problem, but birds or anoles likely will come along to make short order of them as they feed on necessary protein:

Note the exuvia hanging on the bottom. As they grow into the next instars they shed
Note the exuvia hanging on the bottom. As they grow into the next instars they shed

Bumblebees are drawn to this nectar source:
npwgironweedBeeAug2013

Skipper butterflies also appreciate all that ironweed has to offer:
npwgSeptSkipper

In addition to our insect friends, I have also observed the hummingbirds stopping by for a taste of nectar.  Birds enjoy the prolific seeds in the fall.

Ironweed provides a good winter source of bird food with its prolific seeds
Ironweed provides a good winter source of bird food with its prolific seeds

There is a native species of Ironweed (click on the “Subordinate Taxa” tab to bring up the maps of native species for your area). in just about every state east of the Rockies.  Find one appropriate for your conditions and add this workhorse to your garden.  The bees and their flying friends will thank you with a display of color all their own.

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