Wingstem – Do I Really Know You?

Wingstem Flowers photographed by Jeff Zablow at Raccoon Creek State Park in Pennsylvania
Expecting to quickly prepare this post, but instead, I hit some roadblocks. This wildflower, seen on September 7, 2014, has for decades been high on my list to capture in a photograph. When August and September arrive, Wingstem is a destination for me. Growing at the edges of fields, it’s a magnet for butterflies, bees, flies and all of the others that are associated with them. I think of it as a major nectar pumper, nourishing all late in the summer.

I took too much for granted. Instead of being an old friend, Wingstem has turned out to be a mystery. I cannot find it in the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Wildflowers (Revised Edition). So I scoured my treasured copy of The University of Pittsburgh Press’ Wild Flowers of Western Pennsylvania & Upper Ohio Basin by Jennings and Avinoff (Vol. 2, 1953). Nope, it was not there either. I turned to Google, and Daddah! Wingstem is known as Yellow-Ironweed (Verbescina Alternifolia) and related to New York Ironweed.

I reopened the Audubon field book, and I still cannot find it there? Went back to Jennings and Avinoff’s classic tome, and Oh! their species name for Wingstem is different, they name it Actinomeris Alternifolia. National Audubon Society’s guide indexes no such name.

Wingstem, demure, keeps to the edges of fields, remains familiar, appreciated, but an enigma. Butterflies? They could not care less about my deliberations. They LOVE Wingstem, by whatever name it is called.


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