Here they come — startlingly early, it always seems — the late summer/early fall wildflowers! One of the earliest to bloom is ironweed, Vernonia. This one was captured roadside on Roark’s Cove Road, just off the Sewanee Domain. It’s been interesting watching these blooms “creep” up the side of the plateau over the past couple of weeks — the earliest bloomers were low on the slopes, the next a bit higher. It won’t be long before they will reach the top of the plateau.
This beautiful “liturgical purple” inflorescence (“flower”) is composed of many small flowers (called “florets” because they’re so small). And they are all “discoid”; that is, they are structurally similar to the florets in the center of a sunflower. Ironweed is often confused with Joe-Pye weed, which this writer hasn’t yet seen in bloom this year. One easy way to tell them apart is that Joe-Pye’s leaves are in whorls around the stem, whereas ironweed’s are arranged alternately. Look for this beauty in meadows and abandoned fields, and on roadsides.