Saturday, October 03, 2009


Now that the asters are in bloom/She has a bowl of asters in her room/And twists one in her fingers while she talks. Not really, because I don't like all the achenes spilling out on my bedside table....

Last year, the botany world was handed a list of very long names that were designed to replace the simple names assigned to the plants of the genus Aster. I haven't memorized the list because all of the data processing programs I use recognize the earlier nomenclature and because I'm lazy when it comes to performing actions that have no immediate impact on ecosystem restoration or my health. Memorizing new plant names when I know the old plant names falls into a category of actions I'd like to perform but won't until I have to. My colleagues continue to use the old Steyermark '63 names for these lovely plants (and probably all the rest of the Missouri flora that were renamed, as well), so I will too, I guess, until I break my leg or something, forced to stay in bed long enough to memorize plant names. (For what it's worth, I pitched the emailed list of new names for herpetofauna that were announced this year because I don't know who sent them and on what authority animals like spring peepers were renamed. So I'll wait until I receive an official notice with my herpetologist's signature at the bottom telling me that I must accept the new taxonomic names or I will go to jail if I don't.)

But, in honor of the charming Aster cordiformis that I discovered in my backyard under the laundry line this morning, a few asters you, too, may encounter on your fall hikes in the woodlands of the Ozark Highlands, pictures not necessarily adjacent to their names. I don't think any of these darling plants are aware that they've been renamed, nor do I think the new nomenclature changes a thing about them, their life histories or their status on lists of conservative or weedy plants, but it allows for pedantic folks to trot out the new names so they can chastise me publicly.

In chert woodlands all over the Ozarks, Aster patens, A. anomalus (pictured right) and A. turbinellus are in bloom right now. Brilliant purple blooms, you can tell the difference between the species quite easily from the leaves: A. patens leaves are simple lobes, almost fully perfoliate; A. turbinellus leaves are thin lanceolate leaves, widely spaced; A. anomalus leaves --similar to A. azureus-- possess a heart shaped basal leaf but the bracts are curled.

Check out the uncommon high quality upland flatwoods and you'll be hard pressed to find any aster but A. turbinellus hanging out with Agalinis tenuifolia and that pretty fine grass, Agrostis perennans.

Head towards White River Hills country and you'll find the state's stronghold population of A. linariifolius , listed as uncommon in the Ozark Highlands, it's a dominant plant even in unburned, crummy woods down there. A gorgeous plant with tall stalks and bright purple ray flowers, the leaves look remarkably like rosemary, stiff and rigid though scentless.

Even degraded old fields and roadsides will host pretty populations of A. pilosus, about as conservative as bush honeysuckle in Missouri. It's still a charming little aster whose white flowers resemble in size A. lateriflorus, found all over my backyard in Columbia.

If you're floating down the Jack's Fork anytime soon, you may run into A. furcatus clinging to the side of the cliffs, right next to various ferns and liverworts. Riverbanks, too, host populations of A. cordiformis and another species whose leaves resemble A. ericoides, but whose name I can't recall.

If you're only recently cutting your teeth on plants of the genus Aster, I wish you well. They're not the easiest plants to learn, as many of them resemble one another, but now is the time to head out to your local woodlands with a key and start figuring them out. Pretty soon, the flowers will be history and the delicate, fuzzy seeds will break away from the plants with even the slightest wind.

1 comment:

Divinebunbun said...

Asters -- my favorite. One of the fe good things about the decline of the year.