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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Small Clustered Aster (Aster pansus)


Herbarium records show that small clustered aster occurs statewide but has not been collected in as many counties as some of our more common asters. This is a northwestern species that ranges from western Minnesota to British Columbia southward to Utah and Colorado.

Small clustered aster is a perennial with many stems arising from an underground corm or enlarged stem base. Basal leaves are shed quickly. Those just above the base are about two inches long and 1/8 inch wide. Uppermost leaves are reduced to mere bracts. Numerous flower heads about 1/4 inch wide form in crescent-shaped clusters. Each flower head has 10-18 white ray flowers and about the same number of yellowish to bluish disc flowers. The tiny seeds (achenes as in sunflower or dandelion) are pale purple with whitish bristles.

Look for small clustered aster from August to September on open sandy or loose soils in native prairie, especially where saltiness is evident. Prairie asters seem to thrive best under moderate grazing pressure. 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.

Small clustered 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. They are notoriously difficult to identify because of hybridization.

The specific epithet pansus means "outspread" in botanical Latin, likely in reference to the bell-shaped cup or involucre that forms the base of each flower head. Small clustered aster was first described for science under another name by U.S. Department of Agriculture botanist Sidney Blake (1892-1959). After further study, the plant was placed in its current taxonomic position by Arthur Cronquist (1919-1992), curator of the New York Botanical Garden and specialist in the sunflower family.


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