Know Your Natives – Asters

Featuring Manyray, Late Purple and Fragrant Asters

Twenty-two species of asters (in the New World genus Symphyotrichum) occur in Arkansas (four other species also formerly treated in the genus Aster are now in the genera Doellingeria, Eurybia and Ionactis).  Asters, in the Asteraceae Family, are herbaceous perennials with white, lavender to purple ray florets.  Aster’s composite flower heads consist of pistillate (and thus seed-producing) ray florets and perfect (meaning bisexual and thus also seed-producing) disk florets, all crowded together on a dome-like center (receptacle).  Showy, strap-shaped corollas (ligules) characterize the ray florets surrounding the center disk.  The irregular (bilaterally symmetrical) ray florets and regular (radially symmetrical) disk florets have lobed corollas fused to form a tube surrounded by bristly structures (pappus).  The ovary is inferior.  As seeds mature, the pappus becomes fluffy and allows the fruits (one-seeded achenes) to be dispersed by wind.

The aster head is surrounded by overlapping bracts (phyllaries) that form a cup-shaped supporting structure, the involucre.  (“Aster” derives from Greek for “star” based on central disk being surrounded by rays.)

Asters are a valuable element of larger native gardens since they provide year-round presence and an important resource for many insect species, including butterflies.  Blooms occur in late fall when few plant species bloom.  Although some aster species may become weedy, the featured species below do not seem to have that issue.

Manyray Aster

Manyray Aster (Symphyotrichum anomalum, formerly known as Aster anomalus) occurs in the US in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Illinois.  In Arkansas, the species occurs across the Ozark Plateaus, Arkansas Valley, Ouachita Mountains and highlands of the West Gulf Coastal Plain.  It grows well in shady to partly sunny areas in dry to moist rocky woods and thickets.

A plant may have one to a half-dozen stems.  Stems, as well as leaf blades and petioles, are covered with soft hairs (puberulent).  The upper third of a stem becomes branched in the inflorescence.  Plants, up to four feet tall, have a loose, upright habit but can become splayed with blooming.

Leaf size varies along the main stems. Leaf size on branches supporting flowers is greatly reduced.  Leaves on main stems are ovate to lance-shaped with a heart-shaped (cordate) to rounded base.  Main stem leaves may be 4” long and 1” wide with petioles ¾” long.  Leaves, equally fuzzy on top and lower surfaces, are generally entire, but may have a few coarse teeth.  Main stem leaves are narrowly winged by tissue extending from the leaf blade.  Leaves in the inflorescence are much smaller, sessile and narrowly lance-shaped.

Flower heads, occurring singly on short or long branches, are up to 1” in diameter.  Ray florets, up to 20, have light lavender petals in late summer into fall.   Yellow corollas and stamens of disk florets change to dark pink as flowers fade.  The involucre is round with overlapping (imbricate), pointed, strongly recurved bracts (phyllaries).

Principal characteristics to identify manyray asters at time of bloom are fuzzy/soft leaves, narrowly-winged petioles of more or less heart-shaped leaves and recurved phyllaries.

Photo 1

Manyray aster showing early spring growth. Both plants shown are same species.

Photo 2

Manyray aster blooming in fall. Note involucre with recurved phyllaries and changes of disc floret color from head to head as flowers age.

Photo 3

Manyray aster in fall. Hairs on stem and leaves as well as differences between main stem leaves and greatly reduced leaves within inflorescence can be seen.

  Late Purple Aster

Late purple aster, also known as spreading aster and clasping aster (Symphyotrichum patens, formerly known as Aster patens) occurs in the US from Texas to Minnesota and eastward to the coast.  In Arkansas, late purple aster occurs throughout the state except for several counties bordering the Mississippi River.  It grows in sandy to rocky open woods, thickets and glade margins.

Late purple aster is an upright plant with slender, hairy, brittle stems that may be two to three feet tall, occasionally taller.  Mature stems are tan, smooth and almost woody in texture.  There can be one to several stems per plant.  Branches within the inflorescence are spindly, long and covered with small, bracteal leaves.  Overall openness of plant’s structure causes the small number of nodding buds/flower heads to be quite noticeable.

Leaf size varies along the main stems and is greatly reduced in inflorescence.  Stem leaves are up to 2¾” long and ½” wide.  Leaves are alternate, clasping, entire and oblong-lanceolate in shape.  Edges of leaves have hairs (ciliate).  Base of clasping stem leaves is heart-shaped (cordate) with round lobes (auriculate) that extend past the stem.  The upper leaf surface feels smooth and lower surface feels slightly rough.  Characteristics of leaves on the flowering branches are very similar to stem leaves but greatly reduced in size.  Leaves along the lower stem are typically dried and brown by the time of flowering.

Flower heads, up to 1” in diameter, bloom from late summer to early fall.  Ray florets, 15 to 18, have lavender corollas.  Lobes and stamens of disk florets are yellow and change to brown as florets fade.  The involucre is elongate with an enlarged base.  Phyllaries are imbricate and tightly pressed against the structure and, thus, indistinct.

Principal characteristics to identify late purple aster at time of bloom are clasping leaves with auriculate lobes, open plant structure with nodding buds/flower heads and phyllaries that are tightly appressed to the involucre.

Photo 4

Late purple aster in spring (left-front). Other plants pictured include elm-leaf goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia) (right-middle) and woodland sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) (top-back).

Photo 5

Late purple aster in bloom. The plant has an open structure that highlights prominent buds/flower heads.

Photo 6

Late purple aster in bloom. Hairs on stem and leaves as well as differences between main stem leaves and leaves within inflorescence can be seen.

Fragrant Aster

Fragrant Aster or Aromatic Aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, formerly known as Aster oblongifolius) occurs in the US throughout the Plains, Mid-West, Interior Highlands and Appalachians.  It is absent from the western states and coastal regions.  In Arkansas, fragrant aster occurs across the Ozark Plateaus and in parts of the Arkansas Valley and Ouachita Mountains.  It grows well in well-drained sandy to rocky soil as well as more moist clay soils in prairies, glades and open woodlands.  It prefers full sun and can tolerate drought.

Plants, which spread readily by underground stems (rhizomes), reach 3’ in height; however, weight of blooming branches causes stems to recline.  Plants have numerous slender, brown, rigid, almost woody stems that may be slightly hairy when young.  At time of bloom, new growth appears from roots and lower portion of stems in preparation for spring.   However, compared to the other two featured species, branches of  the inflorescence are heavily leafed and densely flowered.  At the time of bloom, few leaves remain on stems below the branches.

The leaves are fragrant when crushed.  They are alternate, sessile, narrowly oblong and entire, with pointed tips.  On blooming branches, leaves are up to 1½” long and ½” wide and are stiff with an equally rough texture of upper and lower surfaces.  Leaf size decreases gradually upwards, but appearance remains similar to lower leaves. Near the flowers, leaves about ½” long.

Flower heads, occurring singly on short, closely spaced branches (pedicels), are slightly less than 1” wide.  Ray florets, up to 35, bear dark lavender corollas (many overlapping).  Corollas and stamens of disk florets are yellow and change to dark purple as florets fade.  The involucre is round with imbricate, strongly recurved phyllaries.

Principal characteristics to identify fragrant aster at time of bloom are fragrance of crushed leaves, reclined posture of plant, as well as numerous stems with dense flowers and leaves.

Photo 7

Fragrant aster showing early spring growth.

Photo 8r

Fragrant aster in bloom with a nectaring variegated fritillary.

Photo 9

Fragrant aster in bloom. Differences between main stem leaves and leaves within inflorescence can be seen. Leaves and flowers are numerous and densely arranged.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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Know Your Natives – Overcup Oak

Overcup Oak

Overcup Oak (Quercus lyrata) is a species of oak in the White Oak Group.

It favors bottomland forests and is tolerant of wet, clay soils. This oak is identified by the cup, which often completely encloses the acorn.

It is found mainly in the southeastern United States, extending north along the Mississippi River into southern Illinois. Arkansas is the northwestern range limit for the species.

Overcup Oak - Quercus lyrata

Closeup of the acorn in its cup

Overcup Oak - Quercus lyrata

Maturing acorns still on the tree in mid October

Article and photographs by ANPS member Eric Hunt

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Know Your Natives  – Baldwin’s Climbing Milkweed and Anglepod Milkvine

Baldwin’s climbing milkweed (Matelea baldwyniana) and Anglepod milkvine (Matelea gonocarpos or Gonolobus suberosus depending on which authorities are followedof the Apocynaceae (Dogbane) Family, formerly of the Asclepiadaceae (Milkweed) Family, are herbaceous, perennial, trailing to climbing vines.

These vines grow in various rocky, well-drained soils in open woodlands, ravines and overgrown areas.  Each plant has one to several stems that may reach 20 feet in length, but, with twinning, actual height may be significantly shorter.  Both have rounded stems, white sap and opposite leaves on petioles.  Leaves are broadly ovate to orbicular with smooth edges, an acute to tapered tip, and heart-shaped base.  Inflorescences, present from April to June, are loose clusters on long peduncles that grow from the nodes.  Leaf blades may be six inches long and slightly less wide.  Flowers have a disc-like central column bearing five anthers.  As in all North American milkweeds, the pollen is not granular, but cemented into ten packets called pollinia.  When removed from their anthers, the pollinia are seen to be connected in pairs by two wiry threads to a tiny clip. It is this clip that is inadvertently engaged by visiting insects and carried from flower to flower. If a pollinium is subsequently inserted into a stigmatic slit, pollination is effected.  Seed pods, which tend to be few in number, contain densely packed circular, flattened seeds with many long white hairs, typical of most milkweeds.  As dry pods open, wind pulls seeds out of the pods by the hairs.

Baldwin’s climbing milkweed and anglepod milkvine are both nice plants for a home garden.  Plants can be easily grown from seed and do well, even when growing within the confines of an openly branched tree.  They do not multiply by root and do not seem to multiply significantly by seed.  Both plants have large attractive leaves and interesting flowers and seed pods.  Both serve as food source for Monarch caterpillars, nymphs of Milkweed Bugs and the colorful (although voracious) Milkweed Tussock Moth caterpillars.

Baldwin’s Climbing Milkweed

Baldwin’s climbing milkweed, also called Baldwin’s milkweed, Baldwin’s milkvine or white climbing milkweed, has a rather limited distribution, occurring in the U.S. from eastern Oklahoma through western Arkansas to southwestern Missouri and from widely scattered localities from Mississippi to western Georgia and the Florida panhandle.  Top and underside of leaves are equally medium green.  Leaves feel limp and flannel-like.  Overall the plant is densely hairy with short and long hairs, especially noticeable along stems and petioles.

Inflorescences, present from April to June, occur in the lower to mid-portion of plants, with 15 or more flowers in a cluster.  Flowers have five ½”-long and ⅛”-wide twisting white petals joined at the base.  The calyx is formed by five short ⅛”-long, lance-shaped spreading lobes.  Seed pods, elongate and round in cross-section, are covered with rough bumps topped by soft-prickly points.

Photo 1

Photo 1:  Leaves and flower cluster of Baldwin’s climbing milkweed in late May.

Photo 2

Photo 2:  An immature seed pod of Baldwin’s climbing milkweed with milk weed bugs feeding on seed through skin of pod.  Note seam of pod where it will split open at maturity.

Photo 3

Photo 3:  Seed of Baldwin’s climbing milkweed being dispersed from dried, split pod in early November.  Note long white hairs of the seed, an adaptation for wind dispersal.

Anglepod Milkvine

Anglepod milkvine, also called anglepod, anglepod milkweed or angular-fruit milkvine, occurs throughout the southeastern U.S. from Texas to southeastern Kansas to southern Illinois and Indiana to Maryland and southward.  In Arkansas, it occurs statewide.  Plants have short hairs, most noticeable on stems.  Leaves, dark green on top and lighter green on bottom, feel slightly rough.  Stems, petioles and leaf veins may show purplish shading which fades with maturity.  Inflorescences, present from April to June, occur in the upper portion of plants and consist of two to ten greenish star-shaped flowers in a cluster.  Flowers have five spreading, elongate-triangular petals about ¾” long and united at the base.  The central column is green on top (some flowers may be purplish) and surrounded by a large, yellowish nectary.  The calyx is formed by five recurved green sepals about ¼ the length of petals and of similar shape and color.

Pods, about 4″ long and 1½” wide, are five-sided with two wide sides and three narrow sides, each separated by a pronounced angular ridge, hence its common name.  Dry pods split along the middle of the inner narrow side.

Photo 4

Photo 4:  Leaves and flower cluster of anglepod milkvine in early June.  Note previous year’s vine remnants remaining on tree trunk.

Photo 5

Photo 5:  Seed pods of anglepod milkvine within a hickory tree.  A wide side and a narrow side of pod are shown.

Photo 6

Photo 6:  A drying pod of anglepod milkvine in early November.  The two wide sides of pod are shown.

Photo 7

Photo 7:  Caterpillars of Milkweed Tussock Moth devour milkweed leaves. Several instars (varying stages of molts) are shown.

Other Similar Milkweed Vines In Arkansas

Sandvine or honeyvine (Cynanchum leave), a common garden weed, occurs throughout most of Arkansas, but is less common in the core mountainous areas of the Ozarks and Ouachitas.   The flowers of sandvine, occurring in clusters, are small (the smallest of the milkweed vines in Arkansas) and white.  The leaves are generally smaller and with a longer tapered tip than Baldwin’s climbing milkweed and anglepod milkvine, and the seed pods are smooth. Sandvine is one of very few North American milkweeds that lacks milky sap.

Climbing milkweed (Matelea decipiens) occurs widely across Arkansas, but it is more infrequent in the Mississippi Alluvial Plain and West Gulf Coastal Plain, and nearly absent from extreme western Arkansas where Baldwin’s climbing milkweed is predominant.  The pods resemble those of Baldwin’s climbing milkweed, being covered with bumps with short hard points, but the inflorescences are clusters of rusty red or maroon flowers. The two species are so similar vegetatively and in fruit that they can be distinguished only in flower.

Twinevine (Funastrum cynanchoides subsp. cynanchoides), a primarily southwestern and coastal plant, is the least common of the milkweed vines in Arkansas, occurring primarily along sections of the Arkansas, Red and White Rivers.  Twinevine most closely resembles sandvine vegetatively, although the leaves are often a little broader with less tapered tips.  The flowers, also occurring in clusters, are white to pinkish and much larger and showier than those of sandvine.  The pods are smooth and also more abruptly constricted toward the tip than those of sandvine.

Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

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