Wingstem
Verbesina alternifolia
Asteraceae (Aster family)

Description: This native perennial plant is up to 8' tall and unbranched. The central stem is strongly winged, with scattered white hairs between the ridges. The alternate leaves are up to 10" long and 2½" across. They are lanceolate to narrowly ovate, and rather coarse-looking, with a rough texture. The margin of each leaf is smooth or slightly serrated, and there are white hairs along the major veins on the underside. At the apex of the plant are numerous daisy-like composite flowers with a ragged appearance. Each flower is about 1-2" across, and has 2-10 yellow ray florets that droop downward. The greenish yellow disk florets are prominent and numerous, projecting outward from the center like a pincushion with thick needles. The blooming period occurs from late summer to early fall, and lasts about 1-1½ months. Sometimes the flowers have a mild fragrance. The achenes are broad, flat, and winged, each with two slender awns; they are distributed to some extent by the wind. The root system produces long rhizomes, often causing the formation of vegetative colonies.

Cultivation: The preference is full or partial sun, and moist conditions. Wingstem typically grows in fertile soil that is high in organic matter. The lower leaves may fall off the plant during hot dry weather. Foliar disease, such as powdery mildew, doesn't appear to affict this plant very often. Some standing water is tolerated, if it is temporary.

Range & Habitat: Wingstem occurs occasionally in most counties of Illinois; it is a little less common in the southern and NW areas of the state (see Distribution Map). Habitats include moist black soil prairies, moist meadows near rivers and woodlands, openings and edges of floodplain forests, thickets, moist savannas, seeps, borders of lakes, pastures, abandoned fields, and along ditches. This plant usually doesn't wander far from woodland areas or bodies of water. The deciduous woodlands where this plant occurs often contain such moisture-loving trees as American Sycamore, American Elm, Hackberry, and Silver Maple. Wingstem competes well against other plants in both high quality and disturbed habitats.

Faunal Associations: The flowers are visited primarily by long-tongued bees, especially bumblebees. Some short-tongued bees and butterflies also visit the flowers; the long tubes of the disk florets make the nectar inaccessible to many insects with shorter tongues, such as flies and wasps. The caterpillars of the butterfly Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot) and Basilodes pepita (Gold Moth) feed on the foliage. Because of the bitterness of the leaves, Wingstem isn't consumed by deer, rabbits, and other herbivores to the same extent as many other plants. Animals may distribute the seeds to some extent.

Photographic Location: The photographs were taken at Judge Webber Park in Urbana, Illinois.

Comments: Sometimes this plant is called 'Yellow Ironweed' because of its fancied resemblance to Ironweed (Vernonia spp.). Both kinds of plants bloom at about the same time of year, share a similar height, have similar leaves, and like moist conditions. Their composite flowers, however, are dramatically different from each other in appearance. Also, Wingstem has a strongly winged central stem, while Ironweed doesn't. The other species in this genus that can be found in Illinois prairies, Verbesina helianthoides (Yellow Crownbeard), is a shorter, hairier plant that blooms earlier; the ray florets of its compound flowers droop less, or are held horizontally to the ground. In the past, Wingstem was assigned to the Actinomeris genus.

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