From Aster to Symphyotrichum

O.k. There are professionals in the botanical (and zoological) world called taxonomists. Their job is to study plants with regard to the proper classification of each type into families, genera, species and sub-groups. They do this based on the best available information at a particular point in time. That's all they can do after all.

So, whenever our knowledge base increases or we discover new techniques such as DNA testing, taxonomists may determine that a classification they made in the past is no longer valid. This happened to our understanding of the genus, Aster, starting with a study made in 1994. It prompted the reclassification of certain Aster species into other, new or existing, genera.

Basically, there were two broad categories of plants lumped into the genus, Aster. One of these originated in the area of the world called Eurasia. The other populations consisted of about 180 species that are native to North America.

When the original classification was made long ago, it was felt that these two groups of plants were the same so they were lumped together in one genus, Aster. Now, through DNA and other studies, it has been determined that the two groups are, in fact, different and therefore, should be in separate genera.

The taxonomists came up with the recommendation that the species that are of Eurasian origin should keep the Aster designation. Those from North America have been renamed into several other genera.

About 90 of the 180 North American species have been moved into the genus, Symphyotrichum. The others have been distributed to other genera including Almutaster, Ampelaster, Aster, Canadanthus, Chloracantha, Doellingeria, Eucephalus, Eurybia, Oclemena, Oreostemma, and Sericocarpus.

To add to the confusion, two American species remain in the genus, Aster. These are Aster alpinus which is native from Northeastern Asia into Alaska and down through the Rocky Mountains. The other is Aster tataricus which, although it is native to Northeastern Asia, has become naturalized in areas east of the Mississippi River.

What does all this mean to the average backyard gardener? Probably not a lot, at least in the short run. It will be some time before nurseries begin to catch up with the changes. At first, they will begin to label common landscape asters with both the old and the new names. It usually takes a very long time before the transition of names on the types that are very common will be completed.

Common Name Former Latin Name New Latin Name
Western or Ascending Aster Aster ascendens Symphyotrichum ascendens
Lindley (Sky-blue Aster) A. azureus Symphyotrichum oolentangiense
Boreal or Bog Aster A. borealis Symphyotrichum boreale
Rayless Aster A. brachyactis Symphyotrichum ciliatum
Lindley’s Blue Aster A. ciliolatus Symphyotrichum ciliolatum
Showy Aster A. conspicuus Eurybia conspicua
Blue Wood Aster A. cordifolius Symphyotrichum cordifolium
Drummond’s Aster A. drummondii Symphyotrichum drummondii
Ricebutton Aster A. dumosus Symphyotrichum dumosus
Eaton’s Aster A. eatonii Symphyotrichum eatonii
Tufted White Prairie Aster A. ericoides Symphyotrichum ericoides
Creeping White Prairie Aster A. falcatus Symphyotrichum falcatum
Forked Aster A. furcatus Eurybia furcata
Western Willow Aster A. hesperius Symphyotrichum lanceolatum var. hesperium
Smooth Blue Aster A. laevis Symphyotrichum laeve
Panicled Aster A. lanceolatus Symphyotrichum lanceolatum
Side-flowered Aster A. lateriflorus Symphyotrichum lateriflorium
Flax-leaved Aster A. linariifolius Ionactis linariifolius
Big-leaved Aster A. macrophyllus Eurybia macrophylla
Large Northern Aster A. modestus Canadanthus modestus
New England Aster A. novae-angliae Symphyotrichum novae-angliae
Aromatic Aster A. oblongifolius Symphyotrichum oblongifolium
Ontario Aster A. ontarionis Symphyotrichum ontarionis
Burgess Aster A. parviceps Symphyotrichum parviceps
Few-flowered Aster A. pauciflorus Almutaster pauciflorus
Hairy Aster A. pilosus Symphyotrichum pilosum
Willow Aster A. praeltus Symphyotrichum praealtum
Purple-stemmed Aster A. puniceus Symphyotrichum puniceum
Eastern Willow Aster A. simplex Symphyotrichum lanceolatum var. lanceolatum
Flat-topped White Aster A. umbellatus Doellingeria umbellata var. pubens
White Upland Aster A. ptarmicoides Solidago ptarmicoides


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