Wingstem (Actinomeris alternifolia)
A tall and cheerful native flower that may be abundant in some areas and absent in others. It likes the edge of the woods, and seems to be happiest on a hillside. These plants were part of a large colony growing on a hillside, just below the edge of the woods, in Mount Lebanon, where they were blooming in late July; they were among the earliest in their patch to bloom.
Until the flowers appear, the plants closely resemble Ironweed (Vernonia spp.), and indeed another common name for them is “Yellow Ironweed.” The stems, however, are a dead giveaway: they have prominent “wings,” meaning that they are flattened out into a thin membrane along the edge.
The flower heads are also distinctive. The disk florets are unusually large, arranged pincushion-fashion. The drooping rays are irregular and rather sloppy; there may be only two of them, or up to eight, and they be be significantly different in size and shape.
However, though no one of the individual flower heads may be a florist’s showpiece, their effect en masse is quite decorative, and this is a very desirable native wildflower for those who have the space to let it run riot.
Gray describes the genus and the species:
ACTINÓMERIS Nutt. Heads many-flowered; rays neutral, few or none. Involucral bracts few, herbaceous, nearly equal, soon defiexed beneath the globular disk. Receptacle small, chaffy. Achenes flat, obovate, winged or wingless, at maturity spreading in all directions; pappus of 2-3 smooth persistent awns. —Tall branching perennials, with serrate feather-veined leaves tapering to the base and mostly decurrent on the stem. Heads corymbed ; flowers chiefly yellow. (Name from aktis, a ray, and meris, a part; alluding to the irregularity of the rays.)
A. alternifòlia (L.) DC. Stem somewhat hairy, usually winged above. 1-2 m. high ; leaves alternate or the lower opposite, oblong or ovate-lanceolate, pointed at both ends; rays 2-8, irregular. (A. squarrosa Nutt.; Verbesina alternifolia Britton.) — Rich soil, N. J. to Ont., Ia., Kan., and southw. Aug., Sept.