Here Comes the Sun(flowers)

OK I know I’ve been slacking a bit the last month or two.  Summer has made me lethargic and doughy.  But the sun’s infernal grasp is slackening and I’m clawing my way back to the lectern and we’re going to put our learning caps on… or tams, or berets, or whatever you got.

Fall is around the corner and in most of the country, and California to some degree, that means aster season.  Asters, sunflowers, daisies.. if there’s one flower family that just about everyone recognizes it’s this one, let’s have a closer look.

Asteraceae gets it’s family name from astra, Greek for star.  It is probably the oldest recognized family and has the second most flowering species worldwide to the orchids.  Aster family members can be found throughout the world from the arctics to the tropics.  Did you know that lettuce and artichoke are in the aster family?  Nope me neither…  I tried lettuce one back in the mid-90’s… didn’t agree with me at all.

Bolted lettuce

The family is also known as Compositae, referring to the unique composite structure of the flowers.  Composite of what you ask?  Observe and ponder.. how many flowers do you see here?

Encelia californica

Answer?  I don’t know but it’s a heck of a lot more than one.  You see, every one of those “petals” you see is actually an individual flower.   Those are called “ray” flowers.  See how the edge of the “petals” have those teeth?   Those are actually multiple petals fused together.  And that’s not all.  See the whole “eye” of the flower, the dark center?  Those are ALL individual flowers as well, called “disc” flowers.  So a single Encelia bush sunflower is actually a “composite” of many hundreds of flowers.  Now you can have disc flowers with no ray flowers:

Brass buttons (non native)

But not the other way around…

I could bore you senseless by showing you every aster we have in our area but instead I’ll just lull you into a pleasantly mild catatonia by showing the asters currently blooming in the Ventura River Preserve.

Genus Baccharis, from the greek Bakkaris given in honor of Bacchus, the god of wine.  We have three local representatives:

Baccharis salicifolia – Mule fat, usually found in wetter areas

Baccharis pilularis – Coyote brush

Plummer’s baccharis, found in shade in Wills Canyon

We’ve got two local Artemesias, named in honor of the Greek goddess Artemis who benefited from the plants of the genus

Artemisia californica – Coastal sagebrush

Artemisia douglasiana – Mugwort

Scale broom is among the more colorful blooms currently in the river bottom.  It is neither a scale nor a broom.  Oh those wacky botanists.

We’ve got two brickellbushes… One very common and found anywhere.  Nevin’s is rare, a few at the Il Vento preserve at Thacher, one at Matilija.  It has striking bright white-gray foliage.

California brickellbush

Nevin’s brickellbush

Sawtooth goldenbush is extremely common, far more recognizable for it’s sawtooth leaves than golden flowers, this summer at least.

Hazardia squarrosa

We’ve got at least 4 different types of everlasting here in Ojai, but most are done blooming.  You may still catch felt-leaf, growing right in the rocky area surrounding the riverbed.

Tarweed is a bright little bush with yellow flowers which loves full sun in disturbed areas and trail sides.

Finally, I promise not every Asteraceae is yellow or white.  Look close on many trail sides and you will see the purple heads of lance leaf aster

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6 Responses to Here Comes the Sun(flowers)

  1. Lanny says:

    Another informative article, Ron, er, I mean Luke. I do have to add two native Artemisias not mentioned because we will be seeing them on the Rose Valley Lake Herb Walk tomorrow. Coastal Sagebrush has a non-coastal cousin, Artemisia tridentata, known as Great Basin Sagebrush, that grows from Rose Valley all the way across the “great basin” to the Rockies. The other is Wild Tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus, that is said to grow from sea level to 9000 feet although I have not seen it below Rose Valley. It is a true Tarragon, and quite fragrant, but it is not the variety of the same species known as French Tarragon, the culinary herb. There is some question as to its true native status. It may have been introduced to North American very early on but Jepson lists it as a native. The wonders of our local flora just keep unfolding, don’t they?

  2. Here comes the pest again! I believe there are members of the Asteraceae family that have ONLY ray flowers so that your statement: “But not the other way around…” is incorrect. The only proof I can find at the moment–have been away from botany too long–is from the book Botany in a Day: the Patterns Method of Plant Identification. On p. 161: “Members of the Aster family have disk flowers, ray flowers, or both.” The Jepson manual description is too technical to mention ray and disk flowers! (And, of course, the ray flowers may be sterile, i.e., consist of no more than a single petal.)
    Nancy Eldblom

    • ojairambler says:

      Now this is what I love a little Rambler controversy!!! The smarty-pants article I used was from the good folks at UNLV: http://faculty.unlv.edu/landau/asteraceae.htm… Section 4Bb…But, if you look up “Ligulate” it is a floret type in the family that lacks disc flowers… Noted example : Common dandelion, Taraxacum officinale… So my statement was definitely misleading… thanks Nancy! If anyone can clarify further please jump in, I love being wrong, it’s the best way to learn.

  3. erica0407 says:

    I really appreciate your posts! I started my blog because I was inspired by yours. Keep it up, please and thank you!

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