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A Comprehensive Guide to New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)

New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to the eastern United States and adventive in the west. This plant is a host to the American Lady butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis). Growing from 2.5 to 8 feet tall, this species grows in fields, roadsides, and marsh areas, and has purple flowers that bloom from August to October. This plant is hardy in zones 5-9.

Taxonomy and Naming of New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)

Herbarium specimen of New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis).
Herbarium Specimen — Vernonia noveboracensis (L.) Michx. collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) was named and described by Carl von Linnaeus in Species Plantarum in 1753 as Serratula noveboracensis. Later in 1803, the species was renamed to Vernonia noveboracensis by Andre’ Michaux, a French botanist. Since 1803, this species has had numerous synonyms because of taxonomic confusion with other species. However, this species still has the Michaux name and is a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae).

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Vernonia, is in honor of William Vernon, an English botanist. The species name, noveboracensis, is a Latin for of New York.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name comes from the original collection location in New York. Other common names include Ironweed, Tall Ironweed, Devil’s-bit (McAtee 1937), Flat-top.

Physical Description

Purple flowers of New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis).
Flowers of New York Ironweed (Vernonia novabroacensis) — Becky, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Description

  • Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial.
  • Height: This plant is 2.5 to 8 feet tall.
  • Stem: The stem is erect and hairy.
  • Leaves: The leaves are alternate, simple, serrate, and lanceolate in shape. The leaves are 3.5-10 inches in length and 0.6-2.5 inches in width.
  • Flower color: Purple to lavender
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from August to October.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has achenes that mature in the late summer to fall.

Range of New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) in the United States and Canada

Range map of New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) in the United States and Canada.
Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023.(website http://bonap.org/). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2023. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]

This ironweed is native to the eastern United States, except for Maine and Vermont. It is adventive in Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Habitat

Roadside in Europe with wildflowers.
Roadside of Wildflowers — Roadside verge full of wildflowers by Christine Johnstone, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows in fields, roadsides, and marshy areas (Flora of North America), wet meadows and streambanks (Jones 1972), and pastures (Weakley, et al 2022).

Hosted Insects

American lady butterfly on white flower.
American Lady Butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis) — ALAN SCHMIERER, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is a host for the American Lady Butterfly (Vanessa virginiensis). It also hosts a fly (Melanagromyza vernoniae), which burrows in the stem (Steyskal 1980), the ironweed clearwing moth (Carmenta bassiformis) (Engelhardt 1946), a wasp (Platygaster vernoniae) (Viereck 1916), and an aphid (Aphis vernoniae) (Pepper 1965).

Other Supported Wildlife

Close-up of yellow flowers of canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) with a bee.
Flowers of Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) — AnRo0002, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is a nectar source to other butterflies, skippers, bees, and wasps during the growing season. Birds, such as goldfinch, like to eat the seeds in the fall.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethobotanical Database states that this plant has been used for pain medicine, stomach disorders and a gynecological aid.

How is this plant distinguished from other Ironweeds?

This species is most similar to the stemless ironweed (Vernonia acaulis) and the broad-leaf ironweed (Vernonia glauca). However, V. acaulis, has mostly basal leaves and V. glauca has a straw to white colored pappus, whereas New York ironweed has mostly cauline leaves and a purple pappus (Jones 1970). It can also be separated from giant ironweed (Vernonia gigantea), by having a filiform pappus (Johnson and Joosten 1977).

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has been noted as being weedy in bottomlands (Meehan 1879).

Is this plant deer resistant?

This plant has been noted as being deer resistant, likely because of the presence of sesquiterpene lactones that give a bitter taste (Jones 1982).

Gardening with New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis)

Add New York Ironweed to Your Garden

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Flowers of New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) in the McMullen House garden.
Flowers of New York Ironweed — Robert Coxe, Image

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 5-9. If your garden is within these zones and you have the right growing conditions (soil, moisture and exposure), you may well be able to grow this plant. However, if planted outside of its range, the hosted species may not recognize the plant or be harmed by ingesting a different species with an unfamiliar chemical composition.

Optimal Conditions

This species grows in places with full sun with medium to wet soils and can tolerate flooding.

References

  • Engelhardt, George Paul. 1946. The North American Clear-wing Moths of the Family Aegeriidae. Bulletin of the United States National Museum 190: 1-222.
  • Johnson, Miles F. and Josie Joosten. 1977. Vernonieae (Asteraceae) in Virginia: Elephantopus and Vernonia. Castanea 42(3): 181-190.
  • Jones, S.B. 1982. The genera of Verononieae (Compositae) in the southeastern United States. Journal of the Arnold Arboretum 63: 489-507.
  • Jones, Samuel B. 1970. The Taxonomy of Vernonia acaulis, V. glauca and V. noveboracensis (Compositae). Rhodora 72: 145-163.
  • McAtee, W.L. 1937. Some local names of plants – VI. Torreya 37: 93-103.
  • Meehan, Thomas. 1879. The native flowers and ferns of the United States in their botanical, horticultural and popular aspects. (Boston: L. Prang).
  • Pepper, J.O. 1985. A List of the Pennsylvania Aphididae and Their Host Plants (Homoptera). Transactions of the American Entomological Society 91(3): 181-231.
  • Steyskal, George C. 1980. Six New North American Species of Melanagromyza Hendel (Diptera, Agromyzidae). Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences 70(1): 36-43.
  • Viereck, Henry Lopez. 1916. Guide to the insects of Connecticut. Part III. The Hymenoptera, or wasp-like insects of Connecticut. Bulletin of the State Geological and Natural History Survey of Connecticut 22: 1-824.
  • Weakley, A.S., and Southeastern Flora Team 2022. Flora of the Southeastern United States. University of North Carolina Herbarium, North Carolina Botanical Garden.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

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