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Symphyotrichum Nees

KingdomPlantaePlants, but not fungi, lichens, or algae
SubkingdomTracheobiontaVascular plants—plants with a “circulatory system” for delivering water and nutrients
DivisionMagnoliophytaFlowering plants, also known as angiosperms
ClassMagnoliopsidaDicotyledons—plants with two initial seed leaves
SubclassAsteridaeA large class that encompasses asters
OrderAsteralesFlowering plants with a central disk flower and surrounding petals, like daisies
FamilyAsteraceaeThe aster family, which also includes daisies and sunflowers; from the Greek ἀστήρ, “star,” for the star-shaped flowers
GenusSymphyotrichumFrom Greek symphysis, “borne together or growing together, coalescing,” and trichinos, “hair, a single hair”

About plant names...

All asters look identical. They all bloom in the fall. Only a fanatic could tell them apart!

None of the above statements are true, but sometimes it sure seems that way. All asters aren't even members of the same genus, not any more anyway. They include members of Doellingeria, Eurybia, Ionactis, Oclemena, Sericocarpus, and Symphyotrichum. There are many more flowers that might reasonably be mistaken for asters, among them the fleabanes (Erigeron).

About the only thing all asters have in common is that they are composite flowers, composed of ray flowers (petals) and a central disc comprised of tiny disc flowers.

Wild aster flowers are most often white or blue, but they grade from white to blue to deep purple and occasionally pink. Yellow centers are most common, but some flower centers are variously colored; to further confuse matters, they darken with age. The number of ray flowers is an identifier. Flowers may be sparse or dense, appearing along the stems in racemes or in clusters on top (panicles). Leaf structure varies greatly and is often a key identifying feature. Most asters do bloom in the fall—along with goldenrods, they make up most of the wildflowers visible in temperate regions at this time of year.

Online References:

Www.nttlphoto.com Aster comparison guide


Ontario Wildflowers






Clemants, Steven; Gracie, Carol, Wildflowers in the Field and Forest, Oxford University Press, 2006, p. 356

The table below compares some among many similar-appearing asters. See also fleabanes, which look similar but have more ray flowers. The aster family is enormous, over 23,000 species, and we are only concerned here with a group that are commonly called asters, and some similar-appearing relatives. See also Arieh Tel's well-researched and informative aster comparison guide.


Symphyotrichum Nees

Heart-leaved aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) · 9/25/2010 · Nashua River Rail Trail, Groton Center, Groton, Mass­a­chu­setts
≈ 9 × 6" (22 × 14 cm)

Symphyotrichum Nees

Bushy American-aster (Symphyotrichum dumosum) · 10/3/2010
≈ 17 × 14" (44 × 35 cm) ID is uncertain

Symphyotrichum Nees

Smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve) · 9/19/2013 · Harvard, Mass­a­chu­setts
≈ 8 × 7" (20 × 18 cm) ID is uncertain

Symphyotrichum Nees

New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) · 9/18/2009 · Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, Maine
≈ 2½ × 2" (6.5 × 5.6 cm)

Boltonia decurrens

Doellingeria umbellata var. umbellata

Eurybia spectabilis
Common Name

winged false aster

flat-topped white aster

showy aster
Plant Plants form dense, bushlike clusters up to 5' (1.5 m) in height. Plants are 20-79" (50-200 cm) high. Stems are green, sometimes purple or yellowish-brown. Plants are 4-35" (10-90 cm) tall, with stiff stems and sticky hairs, often branching toward the top.
Flowers Each flower is a composite flower, composed of a central yellow disc with 230-400 tiny disc florets, surrounded by 45-60 white or pale purple rays. Flowers are up to 1¾" (5 cm) across, occurring in dense panicles or corymbs. They appear from August to September.


Panicles are 3-12" (7.6-30 cm) around. Individual flowers are about ½" (1.3 cm) across, with 5-12 white rays and 12-25 tiny florets in the central disc. The disc is yellow, aging to tan-colored.


Flowerheads are a flat-topped corymb. Individual flowers are up to 1½" (3.8 cm) across, with 15-35 blue to purple rays and 25-55 tiny flowers in the central disc.
Leaves Leaves decrease in width until they form wings on their stems ("decurrent"). They are up to 6" (15 cm) long, and linear or lanceolate.


2-4" (6-11 cm) long by ½-⅞" (1.3-2.5 cm) wide. They are smooth when rubbed in one direction, rough in the other, elliptic or lanceolate-elliptic. They have prominent veins, and pale or whitish green undersides.


Alternate, unlobed, mostly toothless, rough or hairless, and ⅜-6" (1-16 cm) × ⅛-1½" (3-40 mm). Their shapes are lanceolate or elliptic to ovate- or obovate-elliptic or spatulate. This translates roughly to rounded or spoon-shaped. Leaves may be attached directly to the stem (sessile), or on short winged petioles.
Range/ Zones

USDA Zones: 4-8

Habitats   Moist thickets, meadows, swamp edges Dry, sandy woods and clearings, especially in coastal pine barrens.
Type Wild Wild Wild
Occurrence Rare    


Ionactis linariifolius

Oclemena acuminata

Symphyotrichum cordifolium
Common Name

flax-leaved aster

whorled wood aster

heart-leaved aster
Plant Plants are 4-20" (10-50 cm) tall, with one or multiple mostly unbranched stems emerging directly from the ground, though branching may occur in the flowering portion. Stems vary from light green to tan to dark reddish brown. Plants may be upright or listing just above the ground. Plants are 12-31" (30-80 cm) high, found in wooded areas. Plants are 6-48" (15-121 cm) high, with mostly hairless stems below the flowerheads. Stems are green, reddening with age.


Solitary or in panicles. Flowers are ½-1" (1.3-2.5 cm) across, with 10-20 rays that are lavendar-colored, and yellow central disks that become red-brown with age. They appear Aug-Oct.


In a roughly spherical cluster at the top, of flowers that are ⅞-1½" (2.5-4 cm) in diameter. Flowers are composed of disheveled-looking white ray flowers surrounding a central disc that is yellow or purplish in color. Ray flowers are bent backward, not straight as in most other aster family flowers, and composed of about 15 (9-18) rays.


Flowerheads are panicles, roughly cone-shaped. Individual flowers are ½-¾" (1.5-1.9 cm) across, with 8-20 (usually 10-16) blue to blue-purple ray petals. Sometimes they are pale, almost white. Central disc flowers are yellow, reddening with age. They appear from Aug to Nov.


Alternate leaves are ¾-1½" (1.9-3.8 cm) × ⅛" (3.2 mm), shiny, sessile, linear, and pointed, like spruce needles. They lack teeth, but leaf edges are rough.


Oval, coarsely toothed, pointed leaves form a whorl around the stem. The arrangement of leaves resembles a pinwheel when viewed from above.


Alternate, on petioles (stalks). 1½-6" (3.8-15 cm) long, heart-shaped with deeply cleft bases, pointed, sharply toothed, rough on top, hairy on the underside.
Range/ Zones

USDA Zones: 3-8
Habitats Full or partial sun, sandy or rocky soil with good drainage. Woodlands; tolerates lower light levels than many flowering plants. Woods, clearings, forest edges, meadows, fields, disturbed soil
Type Wild Wild Wild


Symphyotrichum dumosum

Symphyotrichum laeve

Symphyotrichum lanceolatum
Common Name

bushy American-aster

smooth blue aster

panicled aster
Plant Plants are 12-48" (30-121 cm) high, branching rather sparsely into long branches. Stems vary from hairless at the base to more hairly toward stem tips. 20-39" (50-100 cm) in height. Stems are waxy and smooth, green with a whitish covering, sometimes purple. Plants are 12-59" (30-150 cm) in height, rarely up to 6½' (2 m). They consist of a single main stem that branches in the flowering region. The stem may be hairy or hairless.


Blooms appear from Aug to Oct. There are many flowers, but each tips a separate branch with its own leaflets and they are spread along branches, not clustered at major branch ends. The flowers therefore look evenly distributed, not densely clustered as in most asters. Individual flowers are white or pale blue/purple, ½-¾" (1.3-1.9 cm) in diameter, with 13-30 rays. Central disks are yellow, reddening with age.


Bluish to purple (rarely white), ¾-1¼" (1.9-3.2 cm) across, appearing from August to October. Central disc flowers are yellow, aging to purple. There are 13-23 (rarely up to 11-34) rays on each flower. The appear in loose panicles.


Flowerheads are panicles that may be heavily branched and densely or quite sparsely flowered. Flowers are white to pinkish or pale blue-violet, ⅜-¾" (1-2 cm) across, with 16-50 rays and usually 20-40 tiny disc florets. Central disks are yellow, aging to purple.
Leaves Deep green, alternate, untoothed, and very thin, lanceolate to linear, or narrowly oval to elliptic, 1¼-4" (3.2-10 cm) long.


Smooth, bluish in color, thick and firm, usually toothless, usually hairless, and clasping.


Leaves are ⅜-3" (1-8 cm) × ⅛-¾" (5-20 mm), with serrated or scalloped edges, oblanceolate or lanceolate. Dead leaves tend to curl a lot.
Range/ Zones

USDA Zones: 3-8

Habitats Fields, woodlands, sandy open sites, marshy ground Fields, praries, rocky glades, roadsides, open woods, disturbed soils Moist open ground: river banks and shores, forest edges, swamps, meadows, fields, roadsides.
Type Wild Wild Wild


Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Marina Wolkonsky’

Symphyotrichum novi-belgii
Common Name

New England aster

New England aster

New York aster
Plant Up to 4' (1.2 m) high. Stems are erect, strong, and hairy. Up to 4' (1.2 m) high. Stems are erect, strong, and hairy. 7-39" (17-100 cm) high, occurring in colonies, with branching stems that are often reddish. Stems lack hairs near the bottom, but toward the top, small hairs, typically lying against the stem, occur in rows along the stem.


In dense, highly branched clusters atop the plants. Each flower is ¾-1½" (1.9-3.8 cm) around, with a yellow-orange disk flower in the center, surrounded by 45-100 thin ray flowers that are deep, vibrant purple, pale purple, or pink. They flower from Aug to Sep.
In dense, highly branched clusters atop the plants. Each flower consists of a yellow disk flower in the center, surrounded by 45-100 thin ray flowers that are a deep, vibrant purple.


The central disc has 28-68 tiny florets and is yellow, aging to reddish brown or purple. Flowers have 15-35 rays that are bluish to purple, rarely pink or white, are about 1-1¼" (2.5-3.2 cm) in diameter, and appear from Aug to Oct. New York aster tends to be paler in color than New England aster.


Alternate, hairy, spatula-shaped, lanceolate or oblong, with their bases slightly wrapped around the stem ("clasping"). They are usually smooth, but may have shallow teeth, and are ¾-3" (2-8 cm) × ⅛-⅞" (5-25 mm).
Alternate, sparsely hairy, spatula-shaped, with their bases slightly wrapped around the stem. They are usually smooth, but may have shallow teeth, and are ¾-2" (2-6 cm) × ⅛-½" (5-15 mm).


Thick, unlobed, ovate to lanceolate, sessile (attached directly to stems) or clasping, ⅝-2" (1.7-6 cm) × ⅛-⅜" (6-11 mm). Leaves near the bottom are already drying out and falling by flowering time, while those higher on the stem remain, becoming smaller further up. Leaves sometimes have teeth.
Range/ Zones

USDA Zones: 4-8

USDA Zones: 3-8

Habitats Full to partial sun, in meadows, prairies, preferring sandy or loamy soils   Moist meadows, thickets, shorelines
Type Wild Cultivar Wild


Symphyotrichum puniceum

Symphyotrichum racemosum
Common Name

purple-stemmed aster

small white aster
Plant Stems are hairy and rough to the touch. Plants are 3-8' (1-2.5 m) tall, rarely up to 9½' (3 m), with stout stems up to ⅜" (1.1 cm) around. Plants are 12-35" (30-90 cm) tall.


Openly branched panicles. Individual flowers are ⅞-1½" (2.5-3.8 cm) across, and pale to dark blue-purple, sometimes almost white, with 20-50 rays. Central discs are yellow or cream-colored, with 30-50 tiny florets (as many as 90), aging to pink or purple. They appear Aug-Nov.


Numerous flowers are clustered along long stems in racemes. The central disk is yellowish, aging to a pinkish color. Ray flowers are white to pink, with 16-20 rays, rarely as few as 12. Flowers are about ½" (1.3 cm) across, and they tend to cluster along one side of each branch. They appear from August to October.


Oblanceolate, with small teeth that are usually widely spaced and may not be present, and bases that clasp the stems. They are up to 6" (15 cm) long and 2½" (7.0 cm) wide, with an easily visible central vein.


Alternate, sometimes toothed, unlobed, ⅛-1½" (5-40 mm) × ⅛-½" (5-15 mm) in size.
Range/ Zones

USDA Zones: 2-9

Habitats Wet, marshy areas. Floodplains, swamps and marshes, wet to moderate clearings, fields, meadows, roadsides.
Type Wild Wild


Symphyotrichum Nees

Purple-stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum) · 8/25/2013 · Casalis State Forest, Elm Hill Rd, Peterborough, New Hamp­shire
≈ 8 × 6" (21 × 16 cm) ID is uncertain


Symphyotrichum description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 16 Sep 2020.

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