SEARCH AND WILDFLOWER HOME PAGEE    WHITE FLOWERS      CONTACT US



    The two Symphyotrichums shown on this page are very similar and have presented botanists with difficulties in separating them, naming them, and determining their range.

Although Colorado Flora indicates that the two species can be separated on the basis of the position of the stem hairs (appressed or ascending for S. ericoides versus spreading for S. falcatum), no other keys agree. I, too, have not found this distinction on the basis of hairs to be accurate. Other floras do generally agree that the two species can be distinguished on the basis of various other morphological characteristics, especially their size:

Symphyotrichum ericoides has smaller, more numerous, more crowded flowerheads, with fewer ray flowers and with smaller dimensions for ray and disk flowers, pappus hairs, seeds, and phyllaries.

S. ericoides flowerheads are commonly secund, i.e., they can be growing just to one side of the stem.

Most upper stem leaves of S. ericoides are only one millimeter wide and about 7-10 millimeters long and they can sometime be single but are often in tight bundles. A few leaves along the upper stem and most lower stem leaves of S. ericoides approach the measurements of S. falcatum's much wider and longer leaves: ~3-10 mm wide and 1-6 cm long.

The tiny leaves of S. ericoides are reminiscent of those of Heather, thus the specific name "ericoides", "similar to Heather" (Eric aceae).

"Symphyotrichum" is derived from the Greek "symphyos" (growing together) and "thrix" (hair), and is of unknown reference. 

Symphyotrichum ericoides
Symphyotrichum ericoides variety ericoidesSynonyms: Virgulus ericoides, Aster ericoides.  (Heather Aster)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodland openings, fields, roadsides. Summer, fall.
Near Yellow Jacket Canyon, September 1, 2013.

Symphyotrichum ericoides often grows in dense clumps several feet high and wide and when it grows in this manner, it presents a soft and fuzzy, somewhat unkempt appearance.

Symphyotrichum ericoides

Symphyotrichum ericoides

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Symphyotrichum ericoides variety ericoidesSynonyms: Virgulus ericoides, Aster ericoides.  (Heather Aster)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodland openings, fields, roadsides. Summer, fall.
Near Yellow Jacket Canyon, September 1, 2013.

A side view shows the density of stems, leaves and flowers.  

Stems are gray/green to shades of brown, usually darkening with age.  Flowers are abundant along the upper part of the stems.

Symphyotrichum falcatum
Symphyotrichum ericoides variety ericoidesSynonyms: Virgulus ericoides, Aster ericoides. (Heather Aster)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodland openings, fields, roadsides. Summer, fall.
Mesa Verde National Park, September 9, 2007.

Reflexed phyllaries are deep green at their tips and papery yellow/white (chartaceous) in their lower part. Hairs on the phyllaries, leaves, and stems can be short, stiff, and upright to curled and reclining.

Look carefully at the phyllaries and you will see a tiny yellow/white spine-like tip; in the enlarged photograph below right, see especially the tips of the phyllaries at upper left.Symphyotrichum falcatum

 

Symphyotrichum ericoides

Symphyotrichum ericoides

Symphyotrichum ericoides variety ericoidesSynonyms: Virgulus ericoides, Aster ericoides. (Heather Aster)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodland openings, fields, roadsides. Summer, fall.
Near Yellow Jacket Canyon, September 1, 2013.

It is not unusual to find secund flowers.

Some of the brown spotting on the plants is due to aging cells but some is from dirt particles stuck to the glandular hairs.

The second photograph shows the mixture of long and very short leaves.

Symphyotrichum falcatum
Symphyotrichum falcatum. Synonyms: Virgulus falcatus, Aster falcatus.  (Sickle Aster)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodland openings, fields, roadsides. Summer, fall.
Fish Creek Trail, August 9, 2005.

This is a very common late summer and fall wildflower.  It spreads by underground runners and forms large patches.  Its numerous flower heads are about about an inch wide with soft white to lavender rays and light yellow disks.   Leaves are soft green.

This plant was first collected by John Richardson in the 1820s and named Aster falcatus in Hooker's Flora Boreali-Americana in 1834. The plant has endured a number of name changes and Virgulus was applied to it by Reveal and Keener in 1981.  (In 1837 Rafinesque named the Virgulus genus from the Latin for "little twig".) Nesom renamed the genus "Symphyotrichum" and that name is now accepted by Kartesz and the Flora of North America.

"Falcatus" is Latin for "a sickle", referring to the shape of the reflexed, spine-tipped phyllaries (see the last photographs below).

Symphyotrichum falcatum
Symphyotrichum falcatum. Synonyms: Virgulus falcatus, Aster falcatus.  (Sickle Aster)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodland openings, fields, roadsides. Summer, fall.
Fish Creek Trail, August 9, 2005.

Symphyotrichum falcatum
Symphyotrichum falcatum. Synonyms: Virgulus falcatus, Aster falcatus.  (Sickle Aster)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills, montane. Woodland openings, fields, roadsides. Summer, fall.
Fish Creek Trail, August 9, 2005.

Flowerheads are fewer, but larger than those of S. ericoides and leaves are much wider and longer.

Notice that both species on this page have phyllaries that are green at their upper end and almost white at the bottom.

The phyllaries are often falcate (sickle-shaped). (The Latin word "falcate" also gives us the word "Falcon" for the sickle-shaped beak and wings of this bird.)

Symphyotrichum falcatum

Range map © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Symphyotrichum ericoides

Range map for Symphyotrichum ericoides

Range map for Symphyotrichum falcatum