Vernonia arkansana 'Mammuth'
Common name: Ironweed
Vernonia arkansana 'Mammuth' looks exactly like its common name - indestructible and weedish. Native to northern and central US, this 2 m (6 ft) tall perennial towers over the other plants beside the Floating Bridge. Its stems with narrow lance-shaped leaves are tough. Its roots are too. You can bend an Ironweed plant all the way to the ground, and it bounces right back. A lover of full sun and moist soil, Ironweed can grow close to 3 m (9 ft) in the wild.
Ironweed flowers from August to October. It has loose clusters of fluffy reddish-purple flowers followed by rusty-tinged faded ones - then rusty-brown seed pods. From colours to toughness, Ironweed is well-named. Nobody knows for sure how this plant got its common name. Native Americans used it as a blood tonic and also for hemorrhaging, so that is another possibility.
We do know the genus name honours William Vernon, a British botanist who collected the species in Maryland in 1698. And we do know that butterflies and bees love this plant - they need long-blooming autumn flowers on tall, wild plants.
Text and photos by Hughie Jones