Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie
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  • Prairie Ironweed

    SCIENTIFIC NAME: Vernonia fasciculata

    COMMON NAMES: Ironweed, Common Ironweed, Prairie Ironweed, Smooth Ironweed

    BLOOM TIME: July, Aug, Sept

    Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie credit: R. Kapala


    • Grows 3-6 ft. tall with unbranched green reddish purple stems.
    • Late summer into fall displays clusters of flat-topped or dome shaped brilliant purple flowers on stems tops.
    • Each flowerhead composed of 10-30 tubular purple flowers.
    • ¾ in. flowers have 5 spreading lobes that curve at tips.
    • 6 in. leaves are dark green & coarsely toothed.
    • Fluffy brown seed heads disperse with wind.
    • Habitat: sun to part sun in wet to moist black soil prairies, river bottom prairies, marshes, sloughs along railroads, & edges of fields.
    • Can withstand occasional flooding for short periods.
    • Common in northern half of Illinois.
    • Common English name “Ironweed” derived from the rigid stem.
    • Called bear paw (sagedi’tæ) by the Yuchi Nation by root’s resemblance to a bear’s paw.
    • Used for Green Corn Ceremonial & associated with harvest of corn & redroot as well as flowering of horsemint.
    • Medicinally root is pounded & boiled, using steam in the treatment of pain in the upper or lower leg.


    • Host plant to American Painted Lady butterfly.
    • Flowers attract long-tongued bees, butterflies, & skippers. Bees that seek nectar & collect pollen include bee flies & Halictid bees.
    • Caterpillars of several moths feed on Ironweed.
    • The bitter foliage of Ironweed deters consumption by mammalian herbivores.
    • Known as an 'increaser' because it is one of the last plants to be eaten in overgrazed pastures.