About a week ago I published a post starting my treatment on the Vernonia genus in Ohio and its four members. It can be found by clicking the link HERE for those interested in getting a grasp on the Tall Ironweed (V. gigantea) and the Prairie Ironweed (V. fasciculata). I mentioned in that post that I would be attempting to collect, photograph and study the two remaining species that have been recorded from our state. A difficult task when taking into consideration the rarity of the latter two species; Missouri Ironweed (V. missurica) and New York Ironweed (V. noveboracensis) inside Ohio's borders. This past Sunday I made the journey to Daviess County in southwestern Indiana with high hopes of finding the third species of Ironweed I'd like to discuss, the Missouri Ironweed (V. missurica).
|Missouri Ironweed in native habitat|
|Flowehead(s) of Missouri Ironweed|
My destination was one of the areas most pristine and diverse nature preserves in the state known as Prairie Creek Barrens. A large expanse of wet prairie containing numerous rare and fascinating plant species has survived years of land abuse from the surrounding agricultural landscape to remain intact and well managed to keep the rare ecosystem thriving. I plan on doing a separate post about my experiences with the other gorgeous flora of the preserve but my focus was directed at the tall wands of purple swaying in the morning breezes. At first glance Missouri Ironweed looks almost identical to the much more common Tall Ironweed. As I mentioned in the previous Ironweed post, habitat differentiation goes out the window with these species as they all prefer wet to moist expanses of open ground with plenty of sunlight and commonly grow together. In fact, there was Tall Ironweed to be found growing amongst the Missouri in Prairie Creek Barrens.
Taking a look at the corymb of flowerheads it's still not too easy to differentiate from the more common Tall Ironweed. Both have very similar rayless disk flowers of a magenta color, tightly overlapped phyllaries that look very much alike as is the spacing and density of the flowerheads. The number of individual disk flowers per flowerhead can be used to separate the two. Missouri tends to have more, with an average over 30, while Tall Ironweed typically has a number less than 30. A close glance at the inflorescence's stem or peduncle can begin to clear the air. On Tall Ironweed the stem is generally finely pubescent if not a bit more smooth and glabrous. On Missouri Ironweed the stem is noticeable hairy with a dense covering of wooly hairs. Hair is the name of the game with Missouri Ironweed as you'll come to see when looking at the rest of the plant.
Glancing at the distribution map for this species it's pretty evident this species is most common in the Mississippi river region, with some disjunct populations to the east and west. Ohio lies at the eastern edge of the range where it's only known to occur in the Oak Openings area (Lucas County) as well as a remnant tall grass prairie patch along the railroad (Clark County). There have also been recorded collections of a natural hybrid between Missouri and Tall Ironweed in several northwestern counties. This has lead to some botanists and authors to question the true genetic integrity of Missouri Ironweed in Ohio. Having never seen Ohio's alleged true V. missurica I really have no opinion in the matter but can understand the skeptical outlook of the doubting minds.
|Missouri Ironweed's leaves|
|heavy pubescence on underside of leaf|
The best means to tell the two nearly identical Tall and Missouri Ironweeds apart is to take a look at the stem and the undersides of the leaves, especially at the petiole. The leaves are arranged alternately and lanceolate in shape with serrated margins like all other Ohio Vernonia's. Where the differences begin is very noticeable and heavy pubescence of the undersides of the leaves, especially at the petiole. The numerous small hairs run along the veins and give off a crystalline look to the emerald leaves. If you remember the picture of the underside of the Tall Ironweed's leaves they lack the obvious pubescence with just a very conservative scattering of hairs, if any at all.
|Missouri Ironweed leaves|
|Missouri Ironweed leaves|
The pictures above really drive the nail home at just how hairy the undersides of the Missouri Ironweed's leaves are. From a ways back the leaves give off a silvery-green sheen from all the hairs. The stem is another great place to look for the persistence of hairs on the Missouri Ironweed. Tall Ironweed's stems can range from glabrous to finely pubescent but rarely anything like the display of hairs the Missouri Ironweed puts on.
|Missouri Ironweed's stem|
|Magenta flowerheads of the Ironweed|
In my experience the hairs on the stems of Missouri Ironweed are a whitish-clear color while the hairs of the Tall Ironweed are a purplish-brown color. I've never read or seen where this is a definitive difference and used in the genera's keys, just an observation I've made in my careful examination and breaking down of the species. I hope to make a trip down into Kentucky to get the fourth and final Ohio Vernonia, the New York Ironweed (V. noveboracensis) that I can add to this treatment and breakdown of the species. New York Ironweed was only collected once in Ohio over a century ago and has since been marked as extirpated. It's very distinct phyllaries end in a long, thread-like hair that can quickly separate itself from the rest of the Ironweed's. Once again I'm sure this wasn't the most fun post for the majority of the faithful readers but it's been fun for me to delve into this genera and really get a hands on understanding of what sets these beautiful and unique plants apart. Until next time!