Wildflowers 101: Ironweed and Pale Jewelweed

Wildflowers 101: Ironweed and Pale Jewelweed

Please remember that picking plants is prohibited in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but some fruits, berries, nuts, and certain mushrooms may be gathered for personal use within limits. Even some plants with traditional folk uses can have toxic properties if improperly prepared or used. Additionally, no wild mushroom should be eaten unless its identification is absolutely certain, which usually requires an expert to determine. Many mushrooms are poisonous, some deadly, and the responsibility for eating any mushroom or fungus rests with the individual.

Tom Harrington

Story and images by Tom Harrington

In this edition, let’s check out two very interesting late summer-wildflowers: ironweed and pale jewelweed.

Ironweed grows mainly in the lower elevations, can be from three to ten feet tall, and has deep purple flowers that appear from August to October. One of the best locations to find this gorgeous wildflower is in Cades Cove, and one can also see it on Schoolhouse Gap Trail about a half mile from the trailhead at Laurel Creek Road.

Vivid purple Smoky Mountain ironweed
Vivid purple Smoky Mountain ironweed

It has been said that when the ironweed starts blooming, you know that summer is half over and that fall foliage will soon follow. One appealing feature of ironweed is that it commonly blooms at the same time as goldenrod, providing a spectacular sight with the yellow and purple blooms blending together in the meadows. 

It is quite fascinating how early Americans used plants such as ironweed to treat health issues. It is reported that Native Americans used the leaves and roots of ironweed to make a tea that was used during pregnancy and childbirth to relieve pain. One remedy that was most interesting to me was to hold the tea from ironweed roots in your mouth for an extended time to help tighten your teeth to reduce the chances of them falling out.

The second late summer-wildflower that we are going to look at in this article is pale jewelweed, also called yellow touch-me-not and snap weed. The plants like moist areas, tend to grow from two to five feet tall, and have pale yellow blooms. 

Jewelweed, also known as the yellow touch-me-not
Jewelweed, also known as the yellow touch-me-not

Jewelweed can be found along sections of the Appalachian Trail, Lower Mount Cammerer Trail, Little River Trail, and Greenbrier Ridge Trail. The blooms can start as early as June and continue into September.

It is reported that it gets its name because water droplets on the leaves sometimes have jewel-like reflections. The moniker yellow touch-me-not came about because the seed pods, when mature, will often explode when they are touched.

As for medicinal uses of the plant, the most common was using the sap from the stem to treat stinging nettles, poison ivy, and other skin rashes and irritations. Pale jewelweed often grows along with stinging nettles. If one brushes up against stinging nettles and the hairs of the nettle touch your skin, you will likely itch like never before. I have found that if I do not touch the itching area on my legs or arms caused by the stinging nettles for around three minutes, the itching will stop.   

Smokies LIVE

Try to not let the fleeting summer months slip by without getting out on the trails to soak up the beauties of nature. Treat yourself to an amazing trek out in nature, and you will be truly amazed at how much better you will feel both mentally and physically.

Tom Harrington is an Army veteran and retired insurance agent who has spent his life in Knox County, TN. He is an avid hiker and has volunteered for GSMNP since 2000.

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