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.
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?
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:
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:
We’ve got two local Artemesias, named in honor of the Greek goddess Artemis who benefited from the plants of the genus
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.
Sawtooth goldenbush is extremely common, far more recognizable for it’s sawtooth leaves than golden flowers, this summer at least.
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