New Blog Series: What’s that wildflower?

Welcome back, flower lovers!

The past week has been not-so-beautiful. I feel like Summer skipped right over Fall and is now turning into dreary Winter. That being said, I’d like to introduce a new blog series, so expect to see monthly “What’s That Wildflower?” posts. (I will preface by saying I AM NOT AN EXPERT. I went to grad school for Plant, Soil, & Ag Systems, but we all know the real learning experience is out in the world. I’m working my way there, but if you have any comments about identification, I’d love to hear from you!)

Why I’m creating this Blog Series

How many times have you been driving and noticed a splash of color along the road or have been hiking and noted a certain flower you had never seen before? I’ve been there, too.

My love and interest of plant identification started during Dr. Young’s ‘Weed Science’ course at SIU Carbondale. We were required to collect weed species and press them into a book where we had to note key identifying characteristics of our specimens. Since then, I’ve been hooked. I usually carry a plant identification book in my stroller when I take the kids on a walk, and I’m sure my neighbors have noticed me suspiciously wading into weeds on the roadside at random times of the year.

Hey, I’m a plant nerd. What can I say?

Without further ado, our Plant of the Month: Drummond’s Aster (Symphyotrichum drummondii)

How many of you have seen a mass of misty blue poking out amongst a thicket of brush this September/October?

These charming little daisy-like flowers are delightfully quaint. If you can get close enough to admire them, please do.

The leaves of this wildflower are simple. This means that the leaves are found as one leaf (as opposed to several leaflets, which would be compound). They are arranged alternately on the stem (…so there’s a leaf, then a space, then a leaf on the opposite side, then a space, etc). The edges of the leaves are serrated, meaning that there are several indentations on the edge of the leaf. The leaves are also pubescent, which basically means covered in small hairs.

The leaves are more heart-shaped at the bottom, but as you go up the plant, they tend to become more narrow.

Note the serrated or toothed margins of the leaf. Can you see the small hairs on the bottom of the leaf?

Asters are a part of the Asteraceae family. Fun fact: Sunflowers are also in this family. The Asteraceae family is unique because, while it may appear you are looking at a single flower, you are actually looking at multiple flowers which are called florets! The flowers you see are called composite flowers. Composite flowers are made up of two types of florets: ray florets and disk florets. The ray florets have their own “petal”, while the disk florets make up the center. The disk florets eventually produce seed, but usually the ray florets do not (there are exceptions). Dandelions and thistles are also a part of this family. Dandelions have only ray florets while thistles have only disk florets! Cool, huh?

The ray floret ‘petals’ of Drummond’s aster are usually a light blue/violet color. The disk florets appear cream-colored at first and eventually fade to a burgundy color.

These plants prefer light shade or partial sun, and they are often found in clayey or rocky soils (no surprise that I found this specimen at the foot of a limestone bluff!).

Drummond’s aster can be distinguished from other similar asters because of their hairy leaves and stems and winged petioles.

This aster can also be confused with Arrow-leaved aster (S. sagittifolium), Heart-leaved aster (S. cordifolium), and White arrowleaf aster (S. urophyllum). It is said that these plants often cross-pollinate and/or are simply varieties of each other.

Drummond’s aster reproduces by seed and by rhizomes (it’s root system).

Many, many insects utilize these plants, whether for nectar or just to munch on the leaves. Some of the main insects you might see on these plants are various bees, flies, butterflies, and beetles. They are not as important for certain vertebrates, though some wild turkeys munch on the seeds and mammals may browse on the foliage.

Now you can say, “Hey, I know what that wildflower is!” and rattle off the scientific name like a pro… right?

Happy Wednesday, folks!

References

Arkansas Native Plant Society “Know Your Natives – Drummond’s Aster”

IllinoisWildflowers.info “Drummond’s Aster”

Missouri Botanical Garden “Symphyotrichum drummondii

Wildflowers-and-weeds.com “Asteraceae: Patterns of the Aster or Sunflower Family”