Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A very hoary Ironweed: Vernonia larseni

The ironweeds may be one of the largest genera of plants in North America: although the USA only has a dozen or two species (many of which look rather similar to one another) there are nearly 1000 species scattered across Eurasia, Africa and South America. Rather like Senecio and Aster, Botanists one day will likely try to hack this genus into smaller bits. There is something gratifying about seeing how a genus adapts over such a vast area. I was enchanted with several species of Vernonia I found on my late summer visits to South Africa, some of which rather closely resembled this one from the Big Bend: Vernonia larsenii has a rather restricted distribution in West Texas (and something tells me it isn't that common there even)...

Mike Kintgen must have put this in several years ago: this year it has produced a stunning sheaf of blooms that were very striking in late summer and fall, and continue to provide terrific color even now in late November. I have a hunch the show will go on through winter...I imagine it would make a top notch dried flower for arrangements. Alas, the seed doesn't look very viable on these plants (maybe our early frosts got them?). I suspect it will come easily enough from cuttings. I am anxious to try one out at my home, which will be a greater hardiness test. We grow a large number of Zone 6 and even 7 plants well at the Gardens which homeowners who live a bit further from the Urban Heat Island sometimes find difficult: Caesalpinia gilliesii, Arizona Rosewood; Chilopsis and suchlike that seem to thrive everywhere at DBG but are a tad fussier in real Zone 5 gardens. I suspect that most of Big Bend is a solid Zone 8, although this past winter was likely a test for them as well! And winters like that are probably the reason this Vernonia has made it for us. Why "hoary"? Throughout the summer the narrow leaves are wonderfully silvery gray. That's why! Plus it does catch people's attention...


  1. I must have it! Seriously, though...I adore Ironweeds...they are such great plants...easy to grow and generous in bloom.

  2. Scott! Tony Avent mentioned to me in a different setting that he has something that seems identical as Vernonia lindheimeri: that may be where you have to get it. While you are at it, see if you can find Vernonia lettermannii: I saw this last summer at the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains, and also locally at Kendrick Lake Park: it's another perfect compact one (only 2' or so, larseni is a tad bigger): both fill a whole new niche for the genus!

    Thank you, Landbohaven, for your kind comment: thanks to Google Translate, I understood! Perhaps my one Danish speaking friend will log on one day and respond to you! (Jeff...that's YOU)...

  3. Fantastic looking speciman! I have a 12' tall ironweed, forget the latin at the moment, and the monarch love to ride it in the breeze.

  4. This is petite by contrast, to be sure, Benjamin. And it still looks good this week!


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