Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Purplestem Angelica

Katie Byerly shares her images of an amazing plant that she calls, “The Giant in the Wildflower World.” promoted by Laura Belin

Purplestem Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea) towers over the other wildflowers at Wilkinson Park in Rock Falls, Iowa. It creates a beautiful background border to the wild roses blooming at the same time. These giant plants also stand in line along the edge of the Shell Rock River creating a unique view to the river from the park and visa versa river into the park.

Purplestem Angelica can be found in the northern counties of Iowa, and as you drive into Minnesota, you may see it in many moist ditches and river edges.

In their book, Wildflowers and other Plants of Iowa Wetlands, Sylvan Runkel and Dean Roosa write that Purplestem Angelica plants can grow to 6-9 feet tall. I have read elsewhere that this wildflower can reach a height of 10 feet. The large compound leaves divided into 3-5 leaflets can grow up to 2 feet across both length and width. The stem can be 1-2 inches round and is smooth, hollow, and sturdy (and obviously purple).

The only small thing on these plants are the flowers. The tiny green/white flowers form on an umbrel that can span 8 inches across, with up to 40 branches. I have also read that the Purplestem Angelica has a strong scent. However, I did not experience that feature.

This plant is also known as Masterwort. I imagine this is because it towers over all other plants or creates a wall-like effect in the prairie.

But what about the name Angelica? Many online sources (one being the Meaning and Legends of Flowers website) share the legend that Michael the Archangel revealed to a monk during the Middle Ages the healing properties of the plant. Angelica was used to protect against the plague. It has been used to ward off evil spirits, witchcraft, disasters, pestilence, and even lightning.

The stalk can be eaten like celery, which inspired another common name for the plant: Wild Celery. However, please be sure not to confuse Angelica with the very poisonous Water Hemlock.

Although warnings about skin irritations are not as widespread as for wild parsnip, this plant is in the same family, so exposure to the sun after touching it is not advised.

Purplestem Angelica has a short blooming season in Iowa, basically the month of June. However, watching the large plants pop up and grow in May is just as enjoyable. You may want to consider a road trip to northern Iowa to view this special giant wildflower.

Iowa Prairie Girl (aka Katie Byerly) created this video about Purplestem Angelica.

Purplestem Angelica plants on May 18, 2019:

May 31 along the Shell Rock River:

Photos taken on June 9:

Flowers blooming on June 14:

Tags: Wildflowers

About the Author(s)

Katie Byerly