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A Comprehensive Guide to Anticosti Aster (Symphyotrichum anticostense)

Anticosti Aster (Symphyotrichum anticostense) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to the state of Maine and the provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick in Canada. This plant is a host to the Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) and American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) butterflies and several moths. Growing from 0.3 to 3 feet tall, this species grows on calcareous river shores. The white to light purple ray flowers and yellow to purple disk flowers bloom from August to September and the plant is hardy in zones 3-4.

Taxonomy and Naming of Anticosti Aster (Symphyotrichum anticostense)

Herbarium specimen of anticosti aster (Symphyotrichum anticostense).
Herbarium Specimen of Anticosti Aster — Harvard University, Public Domain

Taxonomy

Anticosti Aster (Symphyotrichum anticostense) was originally named and described by Merritt Lyndon Fernald, an American botanist in 1915 as Aster anticostensis. The first specimen was collected in Maine, but has since been lost (Haines 2000) due to flooding from a dam. In 1995, it was placed in the Symphyotrichum genus, by Guy Nesom, another American botanist. It has kept this same name since and is a member of the Aster Family (Asteraceae).

Meaning of the Scientific and Common Names

Scientific Name

The genus name, Symphyotrichum, was re-established when the North American Aster species were renamed. It derives its name from the Greek words “Symphysis” and “thriks“, which together mean hair growing together (Wikipedia). The species name, anticostense, presumably comes from the name of an island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where this species is located.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name likely comes from the name of an island, Anticosti Island, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where the plant is most common (Haines 2000). Other common names include aster d’Anticosti, used in Quebec and Anticosti Island Aster (Hortipedia).

Physical Description

Light purple flower of anticosti aster (Symphyotrichum anticostense).
Anticosti Aster (Symphyotrichum anticosti) — Étienne Lacroix-Carignan, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial.
  • Height: 0.3 to 3 feet tall
  • Stem: The stems are erect.
  • Leaves: The leaves are alternate, basal, oblong-ovate to lanceolate and have serrate to entire margins. They are 3.5 to 6 inches long and 0.2 to 0.7 inches wide and are coriaceous and slightly revolute (Flora of North America).
  • Flower color: white, blue to purple ray flowers and yellow to purple disk flowers
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from August to September.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has achenes that mature in the late fall and winter.

Range of Anticosti Aster in the United States and Canada

Range map of Anticosti Aster (Symphyotrichum anticostense) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023.(website https://bonap.org/). Chapel Hill, N.C. [maps generated from Kartesz, J.T. 2023. Floristic Synthesis of North America, Version 1.0. Biota of North America Program (BONAP). (in press)]

This aster species is native in the state of Maine in the United States and in Quebec and New Brunswick in Canada. It is considered to be rare in Quebec and Maine.

Habitat

Limestone rivershore habitat along St. Lawrence river in Quebec, Canada.
James St. John, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows on the shores of rivers where there is limestone and scouring (Haines 2000).

Hosted Insects

Pearl Crescent (Phycoides tharos) butterfly on flower.
Pearl Crescent (Phycoides tharos) on Flower — ALAN SCHMIERER from southeast AZ, USA, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Most species of Symphyotrichum are hosts for the Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) and the American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) butterflies. It also hosts a buck moth (Hemileuca maia) and several other moths.

Other Supported Wildlife

Bumblebee on pink flower.
Bumblebee on Flower — Weerlicht, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is a nectar source to other butterflies, skippers, bees, and wasps during the growing season.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does this plant have any ethnobotanical uses?

The Native American Ethobotanical Database does not cite this species specifically, but asters in general have been used for medicines, jewelry, foods, and for ceremonial uses.

How is this plant distinguished from other Asters?

This aster is similar to the robyn’s aster (Symphyotrichum robynsianum), but robyn’s aster has flexible stems and non-arcuate leaves. Anticosti aster has straight stems and arcuate leaves. In addition robyn’s aster occurs west of the range of this species. This species is considered to be intermediate between the boreal aster (S. boreale) and the Belgian aster (S. novi-belgii) (Haines 2000). However, this anticosti aster has a thicker stem and Belgian aster has squarrose phyllaries.

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has not been noted as being weedy and is restricted in habitat.

Gardening with Anticosti Aster

Herbarium specimen of anticosti aster (Symphyotrichum anticostense).
Symphyotrichum anticostense at Marie-Victorin Herbarium (MT), Université de Montréal Biodiversity Centre” – Symphyotrichum anticostense (Fernald) G.L.Nesom collected in Canada by Université de Montréal Biodiversity Centre (licensed under CC0 1.0)

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 3-4. If your garden is within these zones and you have the right growing conditions (soil, moisture and exposure), you may well be able to grow this plant. However, if planted outside of its range, the hosted species may not recognize the plant or be harmed by ingesting a different species with an unfamiliar chemical composition.

Optimal Conditions

This species can grow in full sun to partial-shade in moist well-drained soil.

References

  • Haines, Arthur. 2000. Rediscovery of Symphyotrichum anticonstense in the United States. Rhodora 102: 198-201.
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Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe

Robert Coxe is a professional ecologist and botanist who has worked as the State Ecologist of Delaware and as an ecologist for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He is also a former Past-President of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. He currently is an innkeeper at McMullen House Bed & Breakfast LLC and a web designer and owner for Silphium Design LLC.

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