The aster, or sunflower family (Asteraceae), is among the largest flowering plant families, with more than 1,620 genera and over 23,600 species . Most species are annual, biennial, or perennial plants with a widespread worldwide distribution from subpolar to tropical regions. These plants have a prominent place in our daily lives as the family includes many economically important crops (such as sunflowers, safflowers, artichokes, lettuce, and endive), herbs and medicinal varieties (such as calendula, chamomile, echinacea, and tarragon), as well as beautiful ornamentals such as aster, chrysanthemum, cosmos, dahlia, gerbera, marigold, and zinnia.
Asteraceae comes from the Latin word aster, meaning ‘star,’ an allusion to the shape of their inflorescence (the flower head) whose petal rays are represented by the elongated ligules of the outermost flowers that often frame the tightly-packed capitulum (flower head), creating an illusion of one large flower so that multiple seeds can be pollinated with one visit. In addition, the inflorescence can consist of more than one capitula arranged in various secondary inflorescences, each head consisting of a flat to conical compound receptacle that bears one to many flowers and is subtended by one or more series of bracts. The fruit is termed an achene and each flower produces one seed. The leaves are simple or occasionally compound, and their arrangement along the stem may be spiral, opposite, or alternate.
The Asteraceae family is so diverse that it includes herbs, shrubs, trees, and vines, some of which are epiphytes and some of which are succulent desert species or even high Andean shrubs. A few of the most common and noticeable Florida native species include Bidens alba (Spanish needles), Coreopsis leavenworthii (tickseed), Helianthus debilis (beach sunflower), and Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan). N ative species of asters include Baccharis halimifolia (groundsel tree), Liatris spicata (dense gayfeather), Vernonia gigantea (giant ironweed), and Solidago spp. (goldenrod). Each of these native species plays a significant role in supporting biodiversity and sustaining local ecosystems.
For our September and October EcoQuest we will be observing asters all around us! So far we’ve found 200 species of aster in Sarasota and Manatee Counties and look forward to observing more with your help. Please stay tuned for information on our upcoming BioBlitzes.
WHAT IS AN ECOQUEST?
Each month, we feature a new EcoQuest challenge to encourage the documentation of a specific species or group of species.
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
- Download the easy-to-use iNaturalist app on your mobile device, or visit iNaturalist.org on your computer.
- Set up a user account or sign in to join projects and submit observations.
Visit the Sarasota-Manatee EcoFlora project, Asters All Around and click “join” on the upper right.
- Photograph plants anywhere in Sarasota and Manatee Counties. Take multiple photos to show important features for identification (overall plant, leaves, flowers, fruit, stem).
- Post your observations to iNaturalist.
Check out your ranking on this month’s challenge online!
WHAT IS THE GOAL?
Help us document Asters of all types!
Learn about the Sarasota-Manatee EcoFlora Project HERE
Join the project on iNaturalist HERE!