Letterman’s Ironweed

Have you ever grown the traditional ironweed? The first time that I met this plant was in 1998. I was amazed that Vernonia noveboracensis could grow to almost 10′ in height. I have since had a special place in my brain for Vernonia because it is a wonderful, native perennial that has striking, purple flowers in late summer. But, it is a huge plant. And if the soil is rich and moist, it can seed around the garden. Besides, there aren’t many plants that can step down a 10′ tall (or taller) perennial.

Vernonia lettermannii 'Iron Butterfly'

Fast forward to last year when I first started working at CMBG. I was walking through the garden when I was stopped in my tracks by what appeared to be a purple flowered Amsonia hubrichtii. After looking closer at the flowers, I saw the label that said Vernonia lettermannii. My first thought was, wow, this is cool… a small Vernonia. This would be perfect for the garden. My second thought was wondering if this plant was named after David Letterman. It was actually named after George Letterman, a reclusive botanist who spent most of his life exploring for plants while living in a one-room shack in Missouri.

Letterman’s ironweed is found in the wild along rocky floodplains in Arkansas. It can withstand long periods of drought once established. An established clump can reach up to 30″ in height and width. We cut our plants back after they go dormant each fall.

Vernonia lettermannii

In late August and into early summer, Vernonia lettermannii is covered with purple flowers. These flowers are sought after by butterflies for nectar. One of the most successful cultivars is V. lettermannii ‘Iron Butterfly,‘ which was introduced by Dr. Allan Armitage from the University of Georgia. This selection is supposed to more upright than the straight species with even more flowers. We have a clump in our Alfond Children’s Garden. I will definitely keep an eye on it this fall to see how it compares to the species.

As you go around your garden this fall looking for holes to fill in your garden beds, consider Vernonia lettermannii for any open, sunny site.

-Rodney

Images: utgardens.tennessee.edu, bustaniplantfarm.com

Share this!Share on FacebookPin on PinterestTweet about this on TwitterShare on StumbleUponShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Email this to someone

6 Responses to Letterman’s Ironweed

  1. I love Ironweed…but you’re right…it’s pretty big…and mine always flopped over by the time they bloomed. I was excited to get a variety of Vernonia lettermannii this spring and it’s such an improvement! Love the foliage (almost looks like Amsonia) and it’s just starting to bloom. I may have to find room for a few more :-)

  2. Debbie, thanks for leaving a comment and good luck with the Vernonia. Solidago, Aster, Chrysanthemum are just a few of the great fall flowering perennials.

Leave a reply

Chelsea Flower Show 2011: Cleve West: Best In Show

Chelsea Flower Show 2011: Cleve West: Best In Show

Without looking at all the other gardens, I can say I am not surprised that Cleve West won Best in Show at Chelsea. His gardens are always the beautiful but slightly unexpected perfectly executed visions that you would expect from a Chelsea Show Garden. There are so many things to talk about related to what…

Autumn 2015 issue of Pith + Vigor Coming Soon! (Subscribe now!)

Autumn 2015 issue of Pith + Vigor Coming Soon! (Subscribe now!)

The next issue of Pith + Vigor will ship to subscribers the week of September 8th.  In order to get yours on time, yourself subscribe by September 1st. Here’s a sneak peek at the beautiful cover by Ellen Hoverkamp.  It’s our ‘back to school’ issue with stories about kid’s gardens and gardening kids, gardening summer…

Before & After: Priscilla & Ivan’s Artamus Hall

Before & After: Priscilla & Ivan’s Artamus Hall

This before and after definately makes into the Studio ‘g’ before and after hall of fame (that doesn’t currently exist — but when it does…..) Here is the before: Oh this is so exciting….. I wish every homeowner had this level of vision, sense of personal taste and sheer guts. Of course it helps that…

Join @PITHANDVIGOR on Instagram