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purplestem aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum)


























purplestem aster

purple-stem aster

red-stemmed aster

swamp aster


Aster calderi B. Boivin

Aster conduplicatus Burgess

Aster firmus Nees

Aster forwoodii S. Watson

Aster lucidulus (A. Gray) Wiegand

Aster puniceus L.

Aster puniceus L. ssp. firmus (Nees) A.G. Jones

Aster puniceus L. var. calderi (B. Boivin) Lepage

Aster puniceus L. var. calvus Shinners

Aster puniceus L. var. compactus Fernald

Aster puniceus L. var. demissus Lindl.

Aster puniceus L. var. firmus (Nees) Torr. & A. Gray

Aster puniceus L. var. lucidulus A. Gray

Aster puniceus L. var. oligocephalus Fernald

Aster puniceus L. var. perlongus Fernald

Symphyotrichum firmum (Nees) G.L. Nesom

Symphyotrichum puniceum (L.) Á. Löve & D. Löve var. calderi (B. Boivin)

  G.L. Nesom

CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.

TAXONOMY: The current accepted scientific name for purplestem aster is

Symphyotrichum puniceum (L.) Á. Löve & D. Löve var. puniceum.

NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.



Habit: This native perennial wildflower is 1½–6' tall (The size of individual plants can be highly variable), branching occasionally along the upper half of its length. The rather stout stems are light green to reddish purple (often the latter), terete to slightly grooved, and evenly covered with stiff spreading hairs.


Leaves: The alternate leaves are up to 6" long and 1¾" across, becoming gradually smaller along the upper half of each plant; they are narrowly lanceolate to lanceolate with poorly defined remote teeth along their margins. The leaves are yellowish green, medium green, or purple (sometimes the latter color during the fall); they are usually glabrous, except for some hairs along the central veins of their lower sides. Most leaves clasp the stems, although some of the smaller upper leaves are sessile.


Flowers: The central stem terminates in a panicle of flowerheads; some lateral stems may produce smaller panicles of flowerheads. The branches of each panicle are ascending and usually hairy. Along these branches, there are linear-lanceolate leafy bracts up to 1" long. The outer branches terminate in flowerheads about ¾–1¼" across, consisting of 30-50 ray florets and a similar number of central disk florets. The petal-like rays are usually lavender, pale blue-violet, or purple (less often white); they are widely spreading and very slender. The tubular disk florets are 5-lobed; they are initially yellow, but later become dull red. At the base of each flowerhead, there are several overlapping bracts that are linear in shape, green, and hairless; they are rather loosely assembled around the base of the flowerhead and slightly spreading.


Fruit/Seeds: Both disk and ray florets are fertile. The florets are replaced by bullet-shaped achenes about 1.5 mm. long that have small tufts of white hair; they are distributed by the wind.


Roots: The root system is fibrous and short-rhizomatous, sometimes forming a small caudex on older plants.

REGENERATION PROCESS: Purplestem aster propogates itself by reseeding.


HABITAT TYPES: Habitats include soggy thickets along streams, open swamps, fens and calcareous seeps, sedge meadows, and other wetlands. Swamp Aster is often found in higher quality wetlands where the native flora is still intact. It is primarily a boreal species that is found around the Great Lakes and other cool areas.

SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Purplestem aster prefers full or partial sun and wet to moist conditions. The soil should contain some organic material to retain moisture and it should be reasonably fertile. Sometimes, the leaves become diseased and rather battered in appearance by the end of the year; the lower leaves may turn brown and fall off in response to droughty conditions.

SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period occurs from late summer (September - October) into the fall and lasts about 2 months.

GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Purplestem aster is found throughout the eastern

United States, from Georgia to Maine and westward into the Ohio Valley and

upper mid-West states. It does not naturally occur in Florida or the Gulf Coast

states or the southwestern, Rocky Mountain, and far western states. It does occur

in nearly all Canadian provinces.


IMPORTANCE AND USES: The nectar and pollen of the flowerheads attract a wide variety of insects, including honeybees, bumblebees, other miscellaneous bees, various wasps, bee flies and other miscellaneous flies, and various butter-

flies, skippers, and moths. The oligolectic bees, Andrena asteris and Andrena hirticincta, suck nectar and collect pollen from the flowerheads of purplestem aster. Other insects feed on the foliage, suck plant juices, bore through the stalks and roots, or gnaw on the flowers and developing seeds of Aster spp. (Asters). These species include Microrhopala xerene and other leaf beetles, several aphids (mostly Uroleucon spp.), the stinkbug Trichopepla semivittata, the leafhopper Macrosteles quadrilineatus, the plant bug Plagiognathus cuneatus, Poecilocapsus lineatus (four-lined plant bug), Lygus lineolaris (tarnished plant bug), and the larvae of Calycomyza humeralis (aster leafminer fly). In addition to these insects, a large number of moth caterpillars feed on Asters, as do the caterpillars of the butterflies Chlosyne nycteis (silvery checkerspot) and Phyciodes tharos (pearl crescent). Among vertebrate animals, the wild turkey eats the seeds and leaves occasionally, while the white-tailed deer and cottontail rabbit browse on the foliage.


Native Americans used the roots of this species to treat fever, colds, typhoid, pneumonia, and toothache.



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