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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

White Aster (Aster ericoides)


Found nearly throughout North Dakota, white aster occurs from Maine to Manitoba southwest through the Great Plains to northern Mexico at elevations below 7,500 feet.

White aster is perennial from an extensive system of rhizomes and stolons. Plants can be over three feet tall in some areas, but are usually only about 8 inches to a foot tall on our dry prairies. Leaves at the bottom and middle of the plant fall off before flowering time; those remaining at flowering time are reduced to small bracts found among the flower heads in the upper branches. Up to a hundred small flower heads with white-to-pink ray flowers and yellowish-to-purple disc flowers are produced. The tiny achenes (seeds) carry a tuft of whitish bristles to help them blow away with the wind.

White aster is a very difficult plant for botanists to identify because it hybridizes freely with three other very closely related species (A. falcatus, commutatus, and pansus) in similar habitats.

Look for white aster from August to October on dry soils in native prairie pastures where grazing is heavy or moderate. Other than for ornament, there are few economic uses for the asters. A few are used for coughs in Chinese medicine, but no mention is made of any North American species in this regard.

White aster is a member of the sunflower family (Asteraceae) which is the largest family of plants in North Dakota and other Great Plains states. Aster means "star" in Greek, in reference to the radiate arrangement of the flowers in the heads. There are about 250 species of Aster worldwide and about 40 in the Great Plains. Ericoides means "resembling Erica," another plant, in its slender branches and bracted leaves. White aster was described for science by the great Swedish naturalist Carl von Linne (Linnaeus), the father of modern plant taxonomy, in his famous Species Plantarum of 1753.


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