Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ironweed, Beautiful Ironweed

The Ironweed in my garden, blooming purple today, is sturdy, tall, rich in nectar. A butterfly magnet, especially for Monarchs who can't resist it in the fall, when they flutter back down Mexico way. If anyone tells you it's a "weed" don't believe it. Or, believe it, but be glad that weeds are easy to grow and to seed and to share. Ironweed is indigenous--which, you know, is just a high falutin' term for native. It can grow over six feet. I read that people used to use the stems to make kites. Native Americans used Ironweed to ease post-childbirth pain.

Another reason to love Ironweed? It's the title of one of my favorite books: the Pulitzer-prize winning novel by William Kennedy about the drifter Francis Phelan's search for redemption. A novel that has one of the best opening lines ever:
"Riding up the winding road of Saint Agnes Cemetery in the back of the rattling old truck, Francis Phelan became aware that the dead, even more than the living, settled down in neighborhoods."

And here's the definition of Tall Ironweed that opens the novel--and reveals a lot about Francis, really--adapted from The Audubon Society's Field Gide to North American Wildflowers:
Tall Ironweed is a member of the Sunflower Family (Asteraceae). It has a tall erect stem and bears deep purple-blue flower heads in loose terminal clusters. Its leaves are long and thin and pointed, their lower surfaces downy. Its fruit is seed-like, with a double set of purplish bristles. It flowers form August to October in damp, rich soil from New York south to Georgia, west to Louisiana, north to Missouri, Illinois and Michigan. The name refers to the toughness of the stem.
That last line? The toughness of the stem? Perfect.

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