Purple tufted flowers on a weedy looking plant
Ironweed. Photo by David Hume.

Florida native ironweed (Vernonia gigantea) is a long-lived perennial that reaches 3 to 10 feet tall. This member of the Asteraceae (sunflower) family is found in the eastern United States and in Puerto Rico.

In the wild, ironweed flourishes in moist areas and can be found growing on prairies, grasslands, in old fields, along roadsides, in savannas and woodlands, and along the banks and exposed sand bars of streams. From July to October dark purple flowers can be seen flowering in large masses. Flowers bloom at the tops of the plants, so if you encounter a 6 foot tall ironweed plan, be prepared to look up for blossoms. In the garden, plants can be maintained at a shorter height by pruning them in late winter.

Ironweed is a great pollinator plant and nectar source and will attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. It grows though most of the state—zones 8b to 10b—and can be planted in areas with full sun to partial shade.

A number of plants use the common name “ironweed” so for clarity it’s often a good idea to use the Latin name of a plant.

Speaking of names be warned, the name “ironweed” references how tough this plant is. Ironweed strongly competes in the garden and can become weedy if not maintained. The stem itself is tough and the roots are difficult to dig up. Additionally sometimes these plants produce lots of seeds which may spread in the garden.

UF/IFAS Publications

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