Sunday, October 30, 2022

Simmonds' aster - Symphyotrichum simmondsii

Simmonds' aster (Symphyotrichum simmondsii) is widely distributed in Florida and has been vouchered in nearly every county from the far western Panhandle to Miami-Dade.  Throughout its range, it is most common in open habitats with moist to well-drained soils.  Although it occurs throughout Florida, it is reported only from North and South Carolina outside of our state.

Despite its wide range in Florida, it has been virtually ignored by all of the current wildflower books and other publications in print.  It is a perennial forb that dies to the ground each winter and reemerges in early spring.  It reaches a mature height of 3-4 feet by late summer and the stems are rigid and semi-woody in nature. This is one of the aster species that suckers extensively and forms colonies over time.  The linear slightly recurved leaves alternate on the stems.  They are glabrous and clasp the stem without a defined petiole (sessile).  Each plant produces multiple stems.

Flowering occurs in the late fall to early winter.  The buds are produced at each of the leaf axils along the stem.  Each flower head is about 1 inch across. The petals are light lavender to purplish in color and may contain as many as 3 dozen narrow petals surrounding the yellow disc flowers in the center.  Like all members of this genus, they blooms are especially attractive to pollinators and it is likely that it serves as a host plant for the pearl crescent butterfly.

I am not aware of any native nursery offering Simmonds' aster for sale. It would make an excellent addition to an expansive planting area where it could sucker and form a large area of color and pollination services. It would not be appropriate for smaller areas of mixed wildflowers as it would overwhelm many of the other species over time. Although I have never grown it, it should be easy from ripe seed harvested in early winter.

The above photos were taken by Steve Coleman and are used with permission.

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