Growth Facts

Iron Butterfly Ironweed
Vernonia lettermannii 'Iron Butterfly'
A cool, funky native that you and the butterflies will love.
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A textural treat! Iron Butterfly Ironweed is a little-known Spirit that brings a unique look to the garden. Its bright green, superfine leaves radiate around strong, wiry stems, creating a fine-textured mien. The foliage is almost needle-like, yet soft to the touch, and the plant ripples and sways in the breezes that blow. So lovely. But that’s not the end of the show! In late summer, bright violet-purple flower clusters like fuzzy pompoms appear at the ends of the stems. This sturdy native Spirit is easy to grow in nearly any sunny site and suits both formal and informal styles.

Growth Facts

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The Story

Narrowleaf Ironweed is an American native found in the wild only in isolated spots in Arkansas and Oklahoma. Its botanical name is Vernonia lettermanii, in honor of a botanist named George Letterman. Letterman lived from 1841 to 1913 and spent much of his life in the Ozarks, searching for new plants. Twice he was offered Harvard professorships in botany, but he refused them, preferring his one-room cabin in the Missouri woods. Highly esteemed horticulture professor, Allan Armitage, selected Iron Butterfly Ironweed from the University of Georgia Trial Gardens. The plant was more compact, vigorous, and floriferous than the typical species.

The Details

Pollinator party! Iron Butterfly is well named. Butterflies flock to this lovely native Spirit when the nectar-rich flowers open in late summer. Hummingbirds and all kinds of other pollinators are fans of the perky purple blossoms, too.

How to Grow

Iron Butterfly Ironweed is easy to grow and adaptable. Its one requirement is full sun. Ideally, it would like a soil that is moist but well drained, although it tolerates poor, dry, sandy soil once established, as well as clay soil that floods briefly. You might consider it for your rain garden. The strong stems generally do not need staking, and plants are pest- and disease-free. Leave seedheads standing for the birds over winter and cut back spent stems and foliage any time before new growth resumes in the spring.

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