Aster Family

Compiled by Marc Williams                                May, 2018

Asteraceae / Aster / Asterales

A link to a photo album of members of the Asteraceae can be seen a Thomas Elpel’s site below



The Asters have been vastly redefined recently. i have taken pains to include a genus level taxonomic commentary for the Southeastern Asteraceae following from Weakley (2008).

Only the exotic Aster tataricus remains from the Aster genus as defined by Wofford (1989) for plants of the Blue Ridge. Most species of Aster have been moved to the genera Symphyotrichum and Eurybia. Some species have been moved to Ampelaster, Doellingeria, Ionactis, Oclemena and Sericocarpus.

The relationship between the genera Chrysopsis, Pityopsis and Heterotheca is in need of further definition.  Conyza and Erigeron are also in need of further study and some cross over and a bunch of new names can be seen at . The relationship between Bidens and Coreopsis also needs further clarification.

Some species of Eupatorium have been moved to other genera including Ageratina, Chromolaena, Conoclinium, Eutrochium, Fleischmannia and others. Of particular interest, Joe Pye weeds Eupatorium purpureum, Eupatoriadelphus maculatus syn Eupatorium maculatum, Eupatoriadelphus dubius syn Eupatorium dubium and Eupatoriadelphus fistulosus syn. Eupatorium fistulosum have all been moved by Weakley (2008) to the genus Eutrochium though keeping the same species epithets. The USDA does not recognize this genus as of yet at least!

A greater discussion maybe followed by reading Lamont EE. 2004 New combinations in Eutrochium (Asteraceae: Eupatorieae), an earlier name than Eupatoriadelphus. Sida, Contrib. Bot. 21. (2): 901-902

Many species of Senecio have been moved to Packera including all the species in Wofford (1989) other than Golden Ragwort (Senecio vulgaris). Rugelia  is another genus that now contains some species formerly in Senecio.


The Aster family includes many food crops both cultivated and wild. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus), Marigold (Tagetes spp.), Lettuce (Lactuca sativa), Chicory (Cichorium intybus), Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), Artichoke (Cynara scolymus), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) to name a few. Marsh Elder (Iva annua) was an early cultivated food of indigenous tribes in North America (Smith, 1989). Some interesting wild edibles in the Aster family from the western USA include (Dicoria canescens A. Gray ssp. brandegeei  syn Dicoria brandegi) and Chinchweed (Pectis angustifolia) (Kirk, 1975).


The Aster family is especially important for liver detoxification, promotion of digestion, and immunity. Echinacea (Echinacea spp.), Feverfew (Parthenium spp.), Chicory (Cichorium spp.), Chamomile (Anthemis spp.) Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and Burdock (Arctium lappa) are a few of the famous medicinals. Jackass Bitters (Neurolaena lobata) are used as a medicinal in both Jamaica and Costa Rica (Austin & Thomas, 2009). Dandelion is also used for dissolving calcium stones. So if you weed em, eat em!  The common name comes from the French, Dent de Leon or tooth of the lion for its serrated leaf edge.


Toxicity issues are sometimes present in the Asteraceae as one might expect from such a large family. Pyrolizidine alkaloids are present in some members including Golden Ragwort (Packera aurea), Heliotropium (Heliotropium) and Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara). Many people are allergic to the pollen of ragweed (Ambrosia spp.). Cocklebur (Xanthium) has hydroquinone (Kingsbury, 1964).

Contact dermatitis can be caused by Ragweed (Ambrosia spp.), Mugwort (Artemisia spp.), Aster spp., Daisy (Chrysanthemum spp.), Fleabane (Erigeron spp.), Blanketflower (Gaillardia  spp.), Common Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), Smallhead Sneezeweed (Helenium microcephalum), Sumpweed (Iva spp.), Lettuce (Lactuca spp.), Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), Mexican Marigold (Tagetes minuta) and Cocklebur (Xanthium) (Nelson, Shih, & Balick, 2007). Photodermatitis may occur after contact with Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and Mayweed (Anthemis cotula) (Nelson et al., 2007).

Members of the Asteraceae may also uptake excess nitrates (Kingsbury, 1964). White Snake Root (Eupatorium sp.) contains a toxic alkaloid that affects the nervous system (Blackwell, 1990). Triterpine saponins also occur in the Asteraceae (Wink & Van Wyk, 2008).


Members of the Asteraceae including (Cirsium arvense, Cichorium intybus, Bidens spp. Solidago spp., Eupatorium spp., Verbesina spp.) provide crucial food for bees in the fall that they use to overwinter. However, honey from some Asteraceae members may not be choice for human winter stores because it can granulate easily. Minor bee plants include Bachelor’s Buttons (Centaurea cyanus), Globe Thistle (Echinops spp.), Cosmos (Cosmos  spp.), Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) and Dahlia (Dahlia  spp.). Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) provides large quantities of early pollen and nectar for brood rearing. Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida) provides large amounts of pollen but no nectar Citation.

The Painted Lady Butterfly (Vanessa cardui) is hosted by Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) and Sweet Everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium  syn Gnaphalium obtusifolium) (Tallamy, 2009). According to the same source the Pearl Crescent Butterfly (Phyciodes tharos) is hosted by the Aster family in general. Blazing Star (Liatris spp.) attracts Painted Lady, Fritillaries, Checkerspots, Coppers, Crescents, Sulphurs and Skippers (Lewis, 1995).


Many plants in the Asteraceae can be invasive including

Russian Knapweed (Acroptilon repens),

Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense)

Minor Burdock (Arctium minus)

Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)

Blessed Thistle (Cnicus benedictus)

Spiny plumeless Thistle (Carduus acanthoides)

Willowleaf Lettuce (Lactuca saligna)

Musk Thistle (Carduus nutans),

Common Nipplewort (Lapsana communis)

Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)

Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)

Brown Napweed (Centaurea jacea),

Yellow Salsify (Tragopogon dubius)

Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea stoebe L. ssp. micranthos),

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)

Alpine Knapweed (Centaurea transalpina)

Spiny Cocklebur (Xanthium spinosum)

Chickory (Cichorium intybus)

Common Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium)

Source: (Miller, Chambliss, & Bargeron, 2006) .

Ragweeds (Ambrosia spp.), are native but tend to invade cultivated areas and a major cause of fall allergies.


At least 51 species in the Aster family have been used as natural dyes. This is by far the largest represented family in a list of dye plants i have compiled. Common genera used include

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Cosmos (Cosmos spp.)

Ragweed (Ambrosia spp.)

Dahlia (Dahlia pinnata)

Corn Chamomile (Anthemis spp.),

Queen of the Meadow (Eupatorium spp.)

Burdock (Arctium spp.)

Cudweed (Gnapthalium spp.)

Mugworts (Artemisia spp.)

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)

Aster (Aster spp.)

Mayweed (Matricaria discoidea)

Beggar’s Ticks (Bidens spp.)

Groundsel (Packera aurea)

Calendula (Calendula officinalis)

Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.)

Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius)

Goldenrods (Solidago spp.)

Knapweeds (Centaurea spp.)

Marigolds (Tagetes spp.)

Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum spp.)

False Mayweed (Tripleurospermum perforatum syn Tripleurospermum inodorum)

Horseweed (Conyza canadensis)

Zinnias (Zinnia spp)

Coreopsis (Coreopsis spp.),


Sources: (Bliss, 1994; Buchanan, 1995; Cannon, 1994; Eaton, 1973; Fern, 2009; A. Krochmal & C. Krochmal, 1974; Nicholson & Clovis, 1967).


Many plants make good cut flowers fresh and dry i.e. Sunflower (Helianthus spp.) Goldenrod (Solidago spp.), Ageratum (Ageratum spp.), and Strawflower (Bracteantha bracteata syn. Xerochrysum bracteatum).

Literature Cited

Austin, S., & Thomas, M. (2009). Common Medicinal Plants of Portland Jamaica (2nd ed.). United States: CIEER, Inc.

Blackwell, W. H. (1990). Poisonous and Medicinal Plants. Prentice Hall advanced reference series. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Kingsbury, J. M. (1964). Poisonous Plants of the United States and Canada. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Kirk, D. R. (1975). Wild Edible Plants of Western North America. Happy Camp, Calif.: Naturegraph Publishers.

Lewis, A. (Ed.). (1995). Butterfly Gardens. Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

Miller, J. H., Chambliss, E. B., & Bargeron, C. (2006, January). Invasive Plants of the Thirteen Southern States. Invasive and Exotic Species of North America. Retrieved March 10, 2008, from

Nelson, L. S., Shih, R. D., & Balick, M. J. (2007). Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants (2nd ed.). New York: Springer.

Smith, B. D. (1989). Origins of Agriculture in Eastern North America. Science, New Series, 246(4937), 1566-1571.

Tallamy, D. (2009). Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants (Updated Ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Weakley, A. (2008). Flora of the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia, northern Florida, and surrounding areas (Working Draft April.). Chapel Hill, NC: North Carolina Botanical Garden.

Wink, M., & Van Wyk, B.-E. (2008). Mind-Altering and Poisonous Plants of the World (1st ed.). Portland, OR: Timber Press.

Wofford, B. E. (1989). Guide to the Vascular Plants of the Blue Ridge. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.


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