Busy Afternoon on the Vernonia

Bees are buzzing, butterflies are nectaring, and beetles are mating on the Vernonia (ironweed) this afternoon. Although several plants bloomed earlier in the season, the Vernonia has truly come into its own this week. We have two species on the Domain – Vernonia gigantea (L.) Michx. and V. flaccidifolia Small —  and could have at least one more, according to the University of Tennessee Herbarium. A member of the aster family, Vernonia produces heads that are composed of disk flowers only – no rays. But this is as showy an inflorescence as there is. And what about the color! It’s easy to see why this deep, rich hue is often referred to as “liturgical purple.”  The genus Vernonia is named for English botanist William Vernon. Native Americans are said to have used the leaves and roots to make a tea drunk during pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum.

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