Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Common blue wood aster (Heart-leaved aster)

Katie Byerly closes out this year’s series of wildflower posts with an aster that blooms in the autumn. You can find her on YouTube at Iowa Prairie Girl. -promoted by Laura Belin

I was walking a narrow, heavily canopied trail at the Lime Creek Nature Center in Mason City when I first noticed Common blue wood aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium).

Wood asters prefer shady areas, and their size depends on the amount of light they receive. Along this sun-dappled trail the wood aster was adorably small. Wood asters typically reach heights between one and three feet; this one couldn’t have been more than 8 inches high. This little beauty offered a relief of almost hidden blue color to the black trail, lined with green foliage.

I have found that it is difficult to read wildflower field guides if you don’t know the flower terminology. Common blue wood aster is a great flower for terminology study. To begin with, another name for this species is the Heart-leaved aster. The lower leaves are cordate, meaning heart-shaped. The petiole or stalk is another good identifier for common blue wood. It is long and narrow. Typically, the petiole is half to almost as long as the leaf blade.

As the leaves progress up the stem, they become cordate-ovate to just ovate, meaning egg-shaped. Leaves also become smaller further up the stem. Finding an aster in a shady area with heart-shaped leaves is a good indicator that you might have a common blue wood aster.

Another neat botanical word to learn is panicle. A panicle is a loose branching cluster of flowers. In the wood aster, the cluster is longer than it is wide and broader at the bottom than it is at the top. It consists of small half-inch flowerheads that are lavender to light blue in color. Each flowerhead can have between seven and fifteen ray petals or florets.

I do not feel qualified to write about the difference between ray and disk florets. But on that note, the center of the flower is made up of seven to fifteen tiny disk flowers or florets. When the flower first blooms, they are a creamy yellow color.

As the flower matures, they turn a pale purple to reddish purple color.

The last key term to learn is bract, referring to the leaves holding the flower together. Turn the flower over to find the bracts. You can see in the next picture that the wood aster bracts have a dark green, diamond-shaped patch near their tip. Remembering to look at the bract will help you a lot with flower identification.

In this picture, the florets have finished blooming and turned into achenes, defined as a simple dry fruit produced by a flowering plant. I would call them the seeds.

Common wood asters bloom for one to two months. You will start seeing them in August and with luck into October, depending on the weather and your location. Once you learn to identify wood asters, you will start seeing them during many of your fall walks. I have found them along trails in parks, on the edges of woods as well in the middle of the woods. Here’s Prairie Dog behind a patch.

Like all sturdy asters, wood asters may grow in unexpected places, like in town along old parking areas or vacant lots.

Native Americans described asters as “the flower that brings the frost.” As I write, the asters have finished blooming, and winter is upon us. But there is hope for the next blooming season and time for more aster identification studies to work on till then.

More information on common blue wood asters can be found on my YouTube Channel: Iowa Prairie Girl.

Information for this article was found on the Iowa Wildflower App and Illinois Wildflower website.

Continue Reading...

Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Sawtooth sunflower

I’ve wanted to write about Sawtooth sunflower (Helianthus grosseserratus) since the earliest months of Bleeding Heartland’s wildflowers series in 2012. Large colonies thrive at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City. But for one reason or another, I’ve never managed to catch them at the height of their blooming period.

After I visited the refuge in early August, I was determined to get back there a few weeks later to capture the sawtooth sunflowers. Again, life got in the way, and I feared these prairie plants had eluded me again.

The first weekend in October, I called the refuge and spoke with a volunteer, who assured me that some sawtooth sunflowers were still blooming near the main parking lot. I took most of the pictures enclosed below there or near the Highway 163 ramp that leads to the refuge (exit 18).

Continue Reading...

Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Tall coreopsis

Snow and freezing temperatures arrived early in Iowa this year, but I’m not ready to put Bleeding Heartland’s wildflower series to bed for the winter yet.

The bitter cold inspired me to pull out some summertime pictures for this week’s edition. I took all of the photographs enclosed below in the parking lot of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden in late August. Some wonderful prairie plantings are in front of the main building and along the nearby bike trail.

Tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris), sometimes known as tall tickseed, is native to most of the U.S. and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains. UPDATE: Bleeding Heartland user PrairieFan notes in the comments that “tall coreopsis is native to the southern half of Iowa, but not the northern half.”

It can grow in many types of habitats, from disturbed ground to high-quality prairies. The Missouri Botanical Garden’s website advises that tall coreopsis is easy to grow “in dry to medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun,” and “Thrives in poor, sandy or rocky soils with good drainage.”

According to Aaron Harpold, assistant director of horticulture for the botanical garden, the plants I photographed were a cultivar, not grown from seed collected in the wild. For any interested gardeners, the specific type is Coreopsis tripteris ‘Flower Tower.’

Continue Reading...

Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Zigzag goldenrod

Of more than 200 kinds of wildflowers Bleeding Heartland has featured since 2012, none had a common name beginning with the letter Z–until today.

Zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) is native to much of the U.S. and Canada east of the Rocky Mountains and thrives in shady wooded habitats. I haven’t encountered this plant often in the wild. Fortunately, Kim El-Baroudi allowed me to explore her lovely Des Moines backyard, where I took all of the enclosed pictures in early October.

Continue Reading...
View More...