Mystery Aster


As I wrote earlier this month, identifying asters can be somewhat tricky. I still haven’t tried getting on the internet and finding a dichotomous key while in the field. But one day last week, while testing a rented wide angle lens, I stumbled on these late-bloomers near Harper’s Ferry, WV. I tried to key them out using my pictures, but couldn’t quite manage – there was always one detail that was not quite right.

So I cheated and asked on an internet forum. The experts there weren’t sure, either, but the best fit to the available information seems to be that this is aromatic aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium. Other people keyed it out and got S. pratense (barrens silky aster), which doesn’t grow in that area, and S. novae-angliae (New England aster), which is still a possibility.

Aromatic aster grows in Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George’s county in Maryland (per the Maryland Biodiversity Project). Otherwise in the mid-Atlantic it looks to be western, occurring in the Blue Ridge, Ridge and Valley, and Appalachian Plateau physiographic regions more than the Piedmont. It ranges west to the Rocky Mountain states, north to New York, and south to Alabama. It’s listed as rare in Indiana and is threatened in Ohio.


The asters are the latest blooming plants in this area, except for witch hazel, so it might be time to put this blog to bed for the winter soon.

By the way, the lens I rented was a Nikon 16-35mm f/4, not exactly a great choice for the close-up work that I like to do with plants, but just look at the clarity in the top photo! And at ISO 640! And that’s zoomed way in with Lightroom. Now I really want to buy this lens.


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