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Nature Guide






















calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum)
















calico aster

starved aster


SCIENTIFIC SYNONYMS: There are no scientific synonyms for Symphyotrichum lateriflorum.


CONFIRMATION STATUS: Pending confirmation.


TAXONOMY: The currently accepted scientific name for calico aster is Symphyotrichum lateriflorum (L.) Á. Löve & D. Löve. There are two varieties of Symphyotrichum lateriflorum recorded as occurring in Virginia: 1) variety horizontale, and 2) lateriflorum. At this time the Atlas of Virginia flora does not distinguish between the two.    


NATIVE STATUS: Native, United States and Canada.




Habit: Stems are single or multiple from the base, erect to ascending or sometimes arching, initially green often turning red later in the season, and covered in soft, white hairs, though may become hairless on the lower stem. Stems are from 30 to 80 cm (11-31 in) tall. Long horizontal branches may spread out from main stem.


Leaves: Leaves are thin, mostly lance-elliptic, ½ to 6 inches long, up to 1½ inch wide, and mostly stalkless. Basal leaves are broader and more variable in shape—from spatula-shaped to nearly round—with winged, sheathing stalks; basal and lower stem leaves wither away by flowering time. Leaves become more lance-linear as they ascend the stem.The upper leaf surface is smooth to slightly rough, the lower is smooth except for short hairs along the midvein. Edges may be toothless or with shallow teeth, sometimes just around the tip end.


Flowers: Branching clusters of short-stalked flowers at the top of the stem and arising from upper leaf axils. Branches are often widely spreading with the flowers all on one side of the branch (secund) or forming a cylindrical cluster. Flowers are about ½ inch across with 9 to 16 petals (ray flowers) and a creamy white to pale yellow center disk that quickly turns purplish. Ray color is white, rarely pinkish or violet. The bracts (phyllaries) surrounding the base of the flower are in 3 or 4 layers, usually appressed, sparsely hairy, light green with a darker green, lance to diamond-shaped tip. Flower stalks are up to 1/3 inch long and hairy, with 1 to a few leaf-like bracts below the flower.


Fruits/Seeds: Fruit is a dry seed with a tuft of dull white to pinkish hairs to carry them off in the wind. Distribution of the achenes is by wind.


Roots: The root system is fibrous and rhizomatous (Clonal offsets occasionally develop from the rhizomes). Older plants may develop a small caudex.


REGENERATION PROCESS: Calico aster propogates itself by reseeding and vegetative spread (i.e., rhzome).


HABITAT TYPES: Habitats include moist meadows near woodlands and rivers, floodplain forests and flatwoods, woodland borders, seeps and swamps, semi-shaded sloughs near fields, and moist depressions in waste areas. It is also Ubiquitous in mesic to dry upland forests.Calico aster is primarily a woodland species, but it often strays into moist sunny areas nearby. It pre-fers areas with a history of disturbance including clearings, old fields, meadows, roadsides, and other disturbed habitats.


SITE CHARACTERISTICS: Calico aster prefers light shade to partial sun and moist conditions. Full sun is tolerated if the site is not too dry. Growth is best in rich organic soil, or a moisture retaining clay-loam.


SEASONAL DEVELOPMENT: The blooming period occurs from late summer to the fall, lasting about 1-2 months.


GENERAL DISTRIBUTION: Calico aster is found throughout eastern United States and Canada (except Newfoundland) and extends west to Manitoba and south to Texas (except North Dakota). It also reoccurs in British Columbia. It does not naturally occur in the Rocky Mountain, far southwest, or Pacific Coast states.




IMPORTANCE AND USES: The florets of calico aster have shorter nectar tubes than many other species of asters, and they seem to attract a wide variety of insects, particularly in sunny areas. More common insect visitors include short-tongued bees, wasps, and flies, and less common visitors include long-tongued bees, small butterflies, skippers, beetles, and plant bugs. These insects seek nectar primarily, although the short-tongued bees may collect pollen, while some beetles and flies feed on the pollen. Caterpillars of the butterflies, Chlosyne nycteis (silvery checkerspot) and Phyciodes tharos (pearl crescent), feed on the foliage of asters (Symphyotrichum spp.), as do the caterpillars of many kinds of moths. The white-tailed deer and cottontail rabbit browse on the foliage occasionally.




Back to Inventory of Herb/Forb Families and Species

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