Category: Asteraceae

  • Purple-Stemmed Aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum)

    Symphyotrichum puniceum
    Photographed October 11.

    Formerly Aster puniceus. These common blue asters like slopes above streams and squishy wet ground. These grew on the bank of a brook near Wexford. They are quite variable: Britton & Brown say that “races differ in pubescence, leaf-form, and leaf-serration,” meaning that anything you say about the shape of the leaves or how rough or hairy they are has to be followed by the words “or not.” The leaves of these plants were rough and sandpapery, and the stem quite hairy. The name puniceum, or Punic (“having to do with Phoenicia”), was doubtless suggested by the deep Tyrian-purple color of the stems.

    Purple-stemmed aster
    Aster puniceus

  • White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima)

    Photographed September 20.

    In older references this plant is Eupatorium rugosum, but the genus Eupatorium has been divided into several more manageable genera. These plants were growing at the edge of St. Michael’s Cemetery on the South Side Slopes; White Snakeroot often forms dense stands right at the border between field and forest.

    It makes bees happy.

    Here is what we wrote about White Snakeroot twelve years ago:

    One of our most decorative late-summer and autumn flowers, White Snakeroot lights up the edge of the woods and can form a perfect ornamental border around a field. Its beauty comes at a price: it’s poisonous to cattle, and the poison can be transmitted through their milk. “Milk sickness” killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother. But if you don’t have cattle, there’s no reason not to enjoy this beautiful wild native.

    As a member of the Composite family, this species is especially interesting for the way the individual little five-parted flowers are easily distinguishable in the heads. It’s a good plant for demonstrating the construction of a Composite flower to children.

    Flowers: Heads discoid (that is, with no ray flowers), in irregular flattish corymbs; flowers pure white, with protruding stamens, also white.

    Leaves. Opposite; oval, pointed, toothed, finely rough; underside with many prominent ribs; lower leaves flattish at base or almost cordate; on petioles about 1/3 the length of the leaves.

    Stem: Smooth, flexible; much branched from leaf axils; averaging about 4 feet, but quite variable and can be much taller.

  • Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale)

    Helenium autumnale
    Photographed August 26.

    We last looked at Helenium autumnale in 2015. Since then it has become very well established in that meadow in Schenley Park. We repeat the text of the earlier article:

    Sneezeweed is an attractive composite flower with distinctively notched rays that make it easy to identify. (A similar species, Purple-Headed Sneezeweed, Helenium flexuosum, has been introduced in a few locations; it is easy to distinguish by the dark brownish button in the center.) The plant likes damp areas; this one was growing in Schenley Park, in a section of former lawn that is being allowed to grow into a meadow for better water retention. It was blooming in the middle of September.

    Habit of the plant

    Gray describes the genus and the species:

    HELÈNIUM L. SNEEZEWEED. Heads many-flowered, radiate; rays several, wedge-shaped, 3-6-cleft, fertile, rarely sterile. Involucre small, reflexed; the bracts linear or awl-shaped. Receptacle globose or ellipsoid. Achenes top-shaped, ribbed; pappus of 6-8 thin 1-nerved chaffy scales, the nerve usually extended into a bristle or point. — Erect branching herbs with alternate leaves, often sprinkled with bitter aromatic resinous globules; heads yellow, rarely purple, terminal, single or corymbed. (The Greek name of some plant, said to be named after Helenus, son of Priam.)

    Leaves broad, decurrent on the angled stem.

    H. autumnàle L. Perennial, nearly smooth, 0.2-2 m. high; leaves mostly toothed, lanceolate to ovate-oblong; heads larger (2-4 cm. broad); disk yellow; rays fertile, yellow. — Alluvial river-banks and wet ground, w. Que. and w. Mass. to Man., southw. and westw. Aug.-Oct.

    Helenium autumnale
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

    Echinacea purpurea
    Photographed July 5.

    One of our most beloved wild flowers, the Purple Coneflower is at the eastern edge of its native range here; but ornamental plantings have made it a common sight, and from those ornamental plantings come seeds that reinforce the wild population. Up close, the vivid red-orange of the disk florets is as striking as the bright pink-purple of the rays. The flower heads are very attractive to bumblebees.

    Purple Coneflower with bumblebee

    This is the Echinacea so much prized by herbalists for its supposed use against colds.

    Gray describes the genus (which he lists as Brauneria) and the species:

    BRAUNÈRIA Neck. PURPLE CONE-FLOWER. Heads many-flowered; rays mostly drooping, pistillate but sterile. Bracts of the involucre imbricated, lanceolate, spreading. Receptacle conical, the lanceolate carinate spiny-tipped chaff longer than the disk-flowers. Achenes thick, short, 4-sided; pappus a small toothed border.—Perennial herbs, with stout and nearly simple stems naked above and terminated by a single large head; leaves chiefly alternate, 3-5-nerved. Rays rather persistent; disk purplish. (Named, it is said, for Jacob Brauner, a German herbalist of the early part of the 18th century.) Echinacea Moench.

    Rays purple, rose-color, or rarely white.

    B. purpurea (DC.) Britton. Stem smooth, or in one form rough-bristly; leaves rough, often serrate; the lowest ovate, 5-nerved, veiny, long-petioled; the others ovate-lanceolate; involucre imbricated in 3-5 rows; rays 15-20, dull purple (rarely whitish), 2.5-4.5 cm. long or more. (Echinacea Moench.) — Prairies and banks, from w. Pa. and Va. to Mich., Ia., and southw.; reported as adventive eastw. July.

  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

    Photographed June 22.

    Also called Milfoil, “thousand-leaf,” from the finely divided leaves. A European import that has become a common wildflower all over the East. Still a popular garden flower; in recent years many colors have been bred, but the wild ones are almost always white, or more rarely pink. The blooming season is long, from June through October. These plants were blooming just at the beginning of summer at the edge of the woods in an old German cemetery in Beechview.

    Achillea millefolium

    Gray describes the genus and the species:

    ACHILLEA [Vaill.] L. YARROW. Heads many-flowered, radiate; the rays few, fertile. Involucral bracts imbricated, with scarious margins. Receptacle chaffy, flattish. Achenes oblong, flattened, margined; pappus none. Perennial herbs, with small corymbose heads. (So named because its virtues are said to have been discovered by Achilles.)

    A. millefolium L. (COMMON Y., MILFOIL.) Stem simple or sometimes forked above, 3-10 dm. high, arachnoid or nearly smooth; stem-leaves numerous (8-15), smooth or loosely pubescent; corymbs very compound, 6-20 cm. broad, flat-topped, the branches stiff; involucre 3-5 mm. long, its bracts all pale, or in exposed situations the uppermost becoming dark-margined; rays 5-10, white to crimson, short-oblong, 1.5-2.5 mm. long. Fields and river-banks, common. (Eurasia.)