White Panicle ASter

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden
The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States






White Panicle Aster
Symphyotrichum lanceolatum var. lanceolatum (Willd.) G. L. Nesom
Aster (Asteraceae)
Late Summer to Autumn
Other names and notes

(Panicled Aster, Lance-leaved Aster) Stem: This native erect perennial aster grows to 5 feet in height, stems are stout, grooved, and which can have fine hair, especially near the top, in the lines of the stem. Leaves: As the species name and the alternated common name implies, the leaves are lance-like, very linear, up to 6 inches long. They are smooth and entire on the margins or with a few small teeth, and are stalkless (sessile) or somewhat clasping. Largest leaves are near the center of the stem. Dead leaves remain on the stalk for a time and are noticeably curled. Lowest leaves fall off at flowering time (however, in Minnesota during moist cool years, most leaves remain green well into the flowering period). The inflorescence is an open spreading, branched panicle (which shape yields the current common name) of small white flowers. The flowers occur on all sides of the branches, unlike the Side-flowering aster. Flowers: Heads are up to one inch wide, but usually 1/2 inch, consisting of two types of flowers: The outer ring of 17 to 47 ray florets (usually with white corollas) which are pistillate and fertile and which surround 16 to 38 disc florets which are bisexual and fertile. These have whitish to yellowish corollas, turning reddish to purplish at maturity, similar to many of the asters in this genus. The phyllaries of the flowerhead are in several series, linear, the outer series 1/3 to 1/2 the length of the inner series. These have dark green center stripes. Seed: Fertile flowers mature to a dry flat achene that has a tuft of hair for wind dispersion. These seed heads are rounded and look like small dandelion seed heads. The seed is a 4 to 5 nerved dry achene with a whitish pappus attached for wind dispersion. Varieties: Four varieties of S. lanceolatum are reported for Minnesota, the variety listed here plus var. hisperium, var. hirsutiicaule, and var. interior. (See Ref. #28b and 28c); var. lanceolatum is considered the most northern of the varieties in North American and the most prevalent within Minnesota.

Habitat: The plant grows from a rhizome with fibrous roots and forms colonies in moist low areas that can be in open woods or full sun if the soil is moist. Soil does not have to rich. It attracts butterflies, moths, and bees. This was a common tall grass prairie plant.

Names: Like most new world asters, it has undergone a series of scientific name revisions. It was once Aster paniculatus in Eloise Butler's time, then Aster simplex. All the new world asters, formerly in the genus Aster, have now been reclassified, most into the genus Symphyotrichum. The genus name is from the Greek symphysis, for 'junction', and 'trichos', for 'hair', all of which relates to a fine division by botanists of certain plant characteristics. The species lanceolatum means 'spear shaped' and refers to the leaf shape. The author names for the plant classification are: ‘Willd.’ is for Carl Ludwig Willdenow (1765-1812), German botanist, a founder of the study of the geographic distribution of plants. ‘G. L. Nesom’ is for Guy L. Nesom (b. 1945) American botanist who has published papers on the nomenclature of asters and whose work revised that of Willdenow.

Comparisons: Asters that have similar looking branched panicles would be the Heath Aster, Symphyotrichum ericoides; the Arrow-leaved Aster, Symphyotrichum urophyllum; and the Calico Aster, Symphyotrichum lateriflorum. The Heath Aster has smaller flowers and very small leaves. The Calico Aster has only 9 to 15 ray flowers which are located on one side of a branch and the leaves are more oval. The Arrow-leaved aster is most similar in the appearance of the flower panicle except that the flowers are only half the size. See photo comparison below. The leaves are also have arrow-shaped bases.

White Panicle Aster Flower White Panicle Aster Flower closeup
Above: The flowers of White Panicle Aster have 17 to 47 ray florets (usually white) surrounding 16 to 38 disc florets that are whitish to yellowish, turning reddish to purplish at maturity. Below: The inflorescence is an open spreading, branched panicle
White Panicle aster inflorescence
Below left: The stem has noticeable grooves and leaves are sessile or slightly clasping.
White Panicle aster stem Full plant
White Panicle aster leaf
Above: the longest leaves are at mid-stem, usually with smooth margins. Above: A grouping of the tall White Panicle Aster found in a drainage ditch near a railway.
White Panicle Aster seed heads Left: The seed is a dry flat achene that has a tuft of hair for wind dispersion. These seed heads are rounded and look like small dandelion seed heads.
Below: Both the White Panicle Aster and the White Arrowleaf Aster have erect panicles filled with white flowers. The key difference is the size of the flower and the shape of the phyllaries.
Flower comparison Phyllaries comparison'
Below: The phyllaries of the flowerhead are in several series, linear (4-6mm long) with dark green centers. Below: Stem leaves are longest at mid-stem, may have a tooth or be entire. Below: A characteristic of this species is that dead leaves on the stem assume a spiral curl.
White Panicle aster bracts White Panicle stem leaf White Panicle Aster dry leaf

Notes: The White Panicled Aster is indigenous to the Garden, Eloise Butler catalogued it on Sept. 6, 1907 using the name in use at that time, Aster paniculatus. She also transplanted some plants from the current Minnehaha Park area to the Garden on Sept. 22, 1912 and from Western Ave. on Aug. 31, 1914. Martha Crone planted it in 1934 and 1938. Years later and into the early 2000's it was classified as Aster simplex. In North America this species is found in Canada from Alberta to the east coast and in the U.S. from the Great Plains eastward to the coast, with only Alabama, Georgia and Florida excepted. Within Minnesota it is found in all but 15 counties and most of the exceptions are in the SW quadrant. Asters are difficult to study. There are twenty-four species just of Symphyotrichum listed by the DNR and the U of M as being found in Minnesota, some, such as this species, with several varieties.

Eloise Butler in her 1915 report to the Board of Park Commissioners wrote about the asters in the Garden and of this species she wrote: "Aster paniculatus [see name notes above] is often mistaken for Boltonia in the distance. The inflorescence, however, is not flat-topped like that of Boltonia, and the disc-flowers are of a deeper color. This aster is highly decorative, growing as it does in large masses."


References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applies. Distribution principally from Wi, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.  
©2013 Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org" 111214