Wingstem is a robust perennial forb growing to eight feet tall on unbranched stems that are characterized by wings between the stem internodes, at least in the top half of the plant if not the entire stem. Stems can have fine hair between the wings.
Leaves are alternate, lanceolate to lance-elliptic in shape, up to 10 inches long and over 2 inches wide, with bases tapering to a short winged stalk, the wing then continuing down the stem to the next internode. Leaf margins may be entire but are usually coarsely toothed, blades with a main central vein and upward curving laterals. Tips taper to a point. The underside may have whitish hair along the veins.
The floral array is a cluster of 3 to 50+ composite flower heads, but usually 8 to 25, in either a loose panicle form or corymb form array at the top of the plant. Individual flower stalks and stalks of the array are finely hairy.
Flowers: The shape of the flower involucre is like a saucer, 1 to 2 inches across when open. The outside of the flower head has 8 to 12+ green phyllaries usually all in one series, that are linear to spatula shaped and spreading to somewhat reflexed. These also have fine hair. The flower is composed of both ray florets and disc florets of which the disc florets are bisexual and fertile. The ray florets have 6 to 8+ rays, yellow in color and appearing slightly drooping. The disc florets number 40 to 60+ with yellow a corolla and a green calyx, the corolla tube much longer than the calyx and the 5-lobed tip not spreading. The disc florets are formed in a dome shape with the 5 dark stamens of each floret, which surround the central style, exserted from the corolla - giving the effect of a pin cushion. The 5 pointed lobes of the disc corollas do not spread at the tips.
Seed: The central disc forms a hemispherical seed head with broad flat cypselae, 4.5 to 5 mm long, brown to black in color, that have prominent wings and usually two awns at the widest end of the seed. These are wind distributed.
Habitat: Wingstem prefers moist soil conditions in either full sun or partial shade. In the wild it is found along streams, flats and moist woodlands. The root system is rhizomatous. It can be grown from seed. The height of the plant will consign it to a background area, not prime garden space.
Names: The genus name, Verbesina is thought to be derived from the genus name Verbena and the Latin ina, meaning resemblance - thus resemblance to the verbena. The species name alternifolia refers to the alternate leaf pattern. (Some other species of Verbesina have opposite leaves.) The names of the plant classification authors are: First to publish was '(L.)' which refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. His work was amended. First to publish a revision was ‘Britton’ who was Nathaniel Lord Britton (1859-1934) American botanist and taxonomist, co-founder of the New York Botanical Garden, signatory of the American Code of Botanical Nomenclature and co-author with Addison Brown of Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada, and the British Possessions in 1896. His work has been updated by ‘Kearney’ which refers to Thomas Henry Kearney (1874-1956) American botanist, who took part in early 20th century botanical surveys, but spent most of his career at the Bureau of Plant Industry which was part of the Dept. of Agriculture. Older botanical names for this species include Coreopsis alternifolia and Actinomeris alternifolia.
Above: Wingstem has very few ray florets in the flower head (1st photo) but 40 to 60+ fertile disc florets (2nd photo) where the dark stamens (which surround the yellow style) are exserted from the yellow corolla tubes.
Below: 1st photo - The flower head has 8 to 12+ green phyllaries usually all in one series, that are linear to spatula shaped and spreading to somewhat reflexed. These also have fine hair as does the flower stalk. 2nd photo - Stems may have fine hair at the leaf nodes and along the wing.
Below: 1st photo - The maturing seed head hemispherical and bristly looking with the remains of the style. 2nd photo - Seeds have two broad wings. Some of these still have the two small awns at the widest end.
Below: 1st photo - The short, winged stalk of the leaf continues down the stem to the next internode giving the plant its name. 3rd photo - Leaves are lanceolate to lance-elliptic in shape, up to 10 inches long and over 2 inches wide and coarsely toothed as seen hear or entire.
Notes: Wingstem is found in the U.S. from Nebraska south to Texas and east to the coast. It is absent in Minnesota and New England. It is also reported in Ontario. It is not native to Minnesota but it grows well here when introduced.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"