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Endemic Asters of Sarasota- Manatee Counties

Asters are fun, vibrant, and beautiful, they are a significant source of color in our lives. They are appreciated not only by us but by a large majority of animals and insects. Their contribution to our local ecosystem services is significant that their longevity should be encouraged and protected. There are 16 species of native and endemic asters in Sarasota and Manatee Counties, some are threatened, and others are prolific and thriving. Each one has its own unique adaptations and contributions to our ecosystem.

In this blog post we will be highlighting three: Helianthus debilis subsp. vestitus, Palafoxia feayi, and Pectis linearifolia as an extension of our Asters All Around EcoQuest for September and October.

aster in grass

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Gandy


Photo Credit: Wade Collier

Helianthus debilis subsp. vestitus (West coast dune sunflower) are short-lived perennials that grow on coastal dunes along the Gulf Coast—from Pinellas County south to Lee County—and can tolerate significant and ongoing amounts of wind and salt spray. The stems of this variety are hairy, and the plants are a lower lying subspecies, rising between  12-20 inches, blooming year around. They can sprawl to about 5 ft from the main stem and will easily re-seed themselves given the right growing conditions—full sun and well-draining acidic to neutral soil pH. The flowers are primarily pollinated by bees and birds and small mammals eat the seeds. West and east coast beach sunflowers can hybridize, so it is best to keep each to its own natural habitat and source your plants from a native nursery that can confirm the original location is our endemic subspecies. 

chinchweed ecoflora

Photo Credit: Wade Collier

Palafoxia feayi (Feay’s palafox) is an herbaceous perennial plant found only on the southern two-thirds of the Florida peninsula. This aster is found in scrub and sandhill habitats and is more common after fire. Its flowers are unusual for the Asteraceae family, consisting of an open, round head of tubular disc flowers with no ray flowers. Flowers are mostly white and often brushed with a maroon color. This species produces strong, tall stalks that grow six feet and up, spreading 3-5 feet with small oval leaves. They have curved white stigmas that contrast boldly against the maroon styles of the female flower parts. The flowers bloom during the fall and are one of the most prolific sources of nectar for a variety of pollinators.

Pectis linearifolia (Florida chinchweed) is endemic to the southern peninsular of Florida, starting in Alachua County and continuing south. It can be found on coastal plains, sand-shell scrubs, sand ridges, disturbed sights, and open pine flatwoods. It flowers and fruits late summer into fall and its leaves release a powerful and refreshing lemon-citrus scent when injured. The plant forms loose, prostate, diffusely branched mats on sandy soil and is often trod upon. The flowers are small yellow daisies about 0.4 centimeters across. The plant will easily self-seed and continue to do so in a slightly weedy manner if given abundant sunshine and moist but well-draining soil.

Each endemic aster species plays a significant role in maintaining the balance of our local ecology and deserves our attention. We hope you can join us this month in identifying as many species in the Asteraceae family as possible through our Sarasota- Manatee EcoFlora Project on iNaturalist so we can better understand the adaptations and distribution of this plant family. We will be holding our next BioBlitz at Deer Prairie Creek Preserve South on Friday, September 24. If you are interested in joining us, please sign up with the registration link provided below.

Registration: Deer Prairie Creek Preserve South BioBlitz September 24th 8-11am

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