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    The three Symphyotrichums shown on this page are very similar and present amateur as well as professional botanists with difficulties in separating them, naming them, and determining their range.

Although Colorado Flora indicates that S. ericoides and S. falcatum 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 use hair characteristics in their keys to separate the two species. Flora of Colorado and the Flora of North America, for instance, do not even mention stem hairs for these two species in their keys. I, too, have not found the distinction on the basis of hairs to be accurate. (Note also that Colorado Flora places these two species in the genus Virgulus.)

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; S. falcatum and S. lanceolatum flower heads are not secund.

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. Leaves of S. lanceolatum are 5-20 mm wide and 10-80 mm long.

S. ericoides and S. lanceolatum are found below 8,000'; S. falcatum can be found as high as 9,500'.

The Symphyotrichum genus was named by  by Christian Nees in 1832. "Symphyotrichum" is derived from the Greek "symphyos" (growing together) and "thrix" (hair), and is of uncertain reference. 

Also see Symphyotrichum foliaceum & Symphyotrichum spathulatum
and
Symphyotrichum ascendens

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.

The tiny leaves of the upper stems of S. ericoides are reminiscent of those of Heather, thus the specific name "ericoides", "similar to Heather" (Ericaceae, the Heath Family).

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 common 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, White Prairie 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 rhizomes 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, White Prairie 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, White Prairie 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 the three species on this page have phyllaries that are green at their upper end and almost white at the bottom and often at the sides.

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 that bird.)

                                                Symphyotrichum falcatum

 

Symphyotrichum lanceolatum

Symphyotrichum lanceolatum

Symphyotrichum lanceolatum

Symphyotrichum lanceolatum

Symphyotrichum lanceolatum

Symphyotrichum lanceolatum

Symphyotrichum lanceolatum subspecies hesperium.  Synonym: Aster lanceolatus.  (Lance-leaved Aster, White Panicled Aster)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills, montane. Moist meadows and woodlands, streambanks. Summer, fall.
Near Yellow Jacket Canyon, September 7, 2021.

Symphyotrichum lanceolatum is most often found along streams or in moist woodlands or meadows. In these environments it spreads by rhizomes and produces masses of 3-5 foot tall stems with numerous flowers providing a spectacle for many weeks.

Flower heads are subtended by linear to lanceolate phyllaries with a prominent (though very small) dark green, elliptical zone, especially noticeable in the two flower heads in the center of the first photograph at left.

Petals of the outer ring of ray flowers are pale to dark blue to white.

Symphyotrichum lanceolatum was at first named Aster lanceolatus by Carl Willdenow in 1803. Aster hesperius was named by Asa Gray in 1884 from a collection made by Wright in the lower Rio Grande Valley area of Texas in 1849. Love and Love proposed changing the name to Symphyotrichum hesperium in 1982 and Guy Nesom changed the name to Symphyotrichum lanceolatum in 1995.

Symphyotrichum lanceolatum

Symphyotrichum lanceolatum subspecies hesperium.  Synonym: Aster lanceolatus.  (Lance-leaved Aster, White Panicled Aster)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills, montane. Moist meadows and woodlands, streambanks. Summer, fall.
Near Yellow Jacket Canyon, September 7, 2021.

Basal leaves are petiolate, shorter and broader than cauline leaves, serrate, and withered by flowering time; cauline leaves are sessile or nearly so, usually lanceolate, entire or (as shown below) serrate, and from 50-150 mm long but reduced upward along the stem.

                                    Symphyotrichum lanceolatum   

Symphyotrichum lanceolatum

Symphyotrichum lanceolatum subspecies hesperium. Synonym: Aster lanceolatus.  (Lance-leaved Aster, White Panicled Aster)
Asteraceae (Sunflower Family)

Foothills, montane. Moist meadows and woodlands, streambanks. Summer, fall.
Near Yellow Jacket Canyon, September 7, 2021.

Two close-up photographs show two key characteristics of S. lanceolatum (and of several other of the 13 Symphyotrichum in the Four Corners region). The photograph at left shows a line of white hairs on the stem and the photograph below shows the white-to-light tan rhizomes. In combination, these two characteristics are key in identifying this S. lanceolatum. Combine them with the height of the plant, the shape and size of the leaves, and the wet habitat and you have a very strong case for identifying this plant as S. lanceolatum.

       Symphyotrichum lanceolatum

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

Symphyotrichum lanceolatum ssp. hesperium

Range map for Symphyotrichum lanceolatum ssp. hesperium