The Aster Family (part 5): Odds and Ends

Did you know that there’s a word for the study of the Asteraceae? It’s synantherology. And, a person who studies the Asteraceae is a synantherologist.

I was going to write a post about the lower orders of classification within the aster family. But it ends up being unusually complicated, with various authors positing sub-families, super-tribes, tribes, sub-tribes, and even sub-genera as ranks between family and species. If you’re really interested, check out the Asteraceae page at the Tree of Life Web Project, or Classification of Compositae from the International Compositae Alliance.

So rather than another detour into taxonomy, here’s a gallery of aster family oddballs: flowers that might not look like composites at first glance.


Anaphalis margaritacea
pearly everlasting

Maryland Biodiversity Project has only 2 records for this plant, including one in the piedmont, so it’s unlikely you’ll see it in this area. But you’ll see it often in floral arrangements. The yellow-ish centers are the disk florets, and the white outer parts are bracts; there are no ray florets.20140915-DSC_0024


Antennaria plantaginifolia
plantain-leaved pussytoes

This plant is found throughout the Maryland piedmont. White disk florets only, surrounded by green phyllaries. Look at those little seeds!


Elephantopus carolinianus
Carolina elephant’s foot

Found throughout the Maryland piedmont. Click on the image and then zoom in to see the details: this head is showing four individual disk florets, each with a five-lobed corolla. There are no ray florets.


Erechtites hieraciifolius var. hieraciifolius
pilewort; fireweed; burnweed

Found throughout the Maryland piedmont. My apologies for not having a clearer picture. The flower heads contain disk florets only (no ray florets).


Conoclinium coelestinum
blue mistflower
(with eastern tailed-blue butterfly)

Found throughout the Maryland piedmont. Disk florets only.


Eutrochium species
joe-pye weed
(with eastern swallowtail butterfly)

Found in most of the Maryland piedmont.  Disk florets only.

Flower of the Day: Pilewort

aka fireweed, burnweed; Erechtites hieraciifolius; Asteraceae (aster family)


In case you were wondering, the word “wort” comes from the Old English wyrt, meaning “plant” (usually herbaceous).  Used as a suffix on a plant name it often signified something medicinal – so, spleenwort for spleen disorders, motherwort for uterine disorders, lungwort for lung disorders, lousewort caused lice infestations, and so on.

So, yes, pilewort was once used to treat piles, aka hemorrhoids.  According to the Doctrine of Signatures, a plant’s use was found in its form.  I don’t know what aspect of E. hieracifolia made the ancients think it resembles hemorrhoids, but there it is.

This is a weedy looking plant that grows up to eight feet tall in weedy places (eg, the mown edges of roadways), but it is indeed a native, and the only native in its genus found in the US (everywhere except the arid West).


The picture above shows what appears to be a bud, but that is actually considered a full flower.  When the seeds are developed, those green bracts pop open and the seeds are dispersed on the wind.