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A Comprehensive Guide to Many-ray Aster (Symphyotrichum anomalum)

Many-ray Aster (Symphyotrichum anomalum) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to the midwestern United States. This plant is a host to the Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) and American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) butterflies and several moths. Growing from 0.75 to 4 feet tall, this species grows in dry woods and thickets. The purplish to lavender ray flowers and yellow disk flowers bloom from July to November and the plant is hardy in zones 5-7.

Taxonomy and Naming of Many-ray Aster (Symphyotrichum anomalum)

Herbarium specimen of many ray aster (Symphyotrichum anomalum).
Herbarium Specimen — Symphyotrichum anomalum (Engelm.) G.L.Nesom collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)


Many-ray Aster (Symphyotrichum anomalum) was originally named and described by George Engelmann, a German-American botanist in 1843 as Aster anomalum. 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, anomalum, means deviation from normal.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name comes from the multitude of ray flowers. Another common name is cliff aster, and is the name of one of the habitats of the species (Illinoiswildflowers).

Physical Description

Light lavender flowers of many-ray aster (Symphyotrichum anomalum).
Flowers of Many-ray Aster (Symphyotrihum anomalum) — Samantha, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial.
  • Height: 0.75 to 4 feet tall
  • Stem: The stems are erect and pubescent to glabrous.
  • Leaves: The leaves are alternate, petiolate (sometimes winged (, oblong to lanceolate and have thick, entire to somewhat serrate margins. They are 1.5 to 3.5 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide. The leaves are scabrous to somewhat pubescent (Flora of North America). The upper leaves clasp the stem (Missouri Botanical Garden).
  • Flower color: white, lavender to dark purple ray flowers and cream to yellow disk flowers
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from July to November.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has achenes that mature in the late fall and winter.

Range of Many-ray Aster in the United States and Canada

Range map of many-ray aster (Symphyotrichum anomalum) in the United States and Canada.
Range Map Credit: Kartesz, J.T., The Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2023.(website 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 to the mid-western United States. It is considered to be rare in the state of Kansas.


Dry rocky woodland habitat.
Dry Rocky Woodland — Patrick Alexander from Las Cruces, NM, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows in rocky open woods and thickets (Flora of North America), bluffs (Illinoiswildflowers), roadsides (, glades and upland prairies (Weakley, et al 2022) and limestone cliffs (Lammers 2017).

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. In the fall this species is a food source for many small mammals.

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 species is similar to the rigid-white top aster (Symphyotrichum retroflexum), but differs in that rigid-white top aster has lanceolate phyllaries and many-ray aster has linear phyllaries (Weakley, et al 2022). It has also been described as similar to Drummond’s aster (Symphyotrichum drummondii), but Drummond’s aster has larger flowers (Illinoiswildflowers).

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has not been noted as being weedy.

Gardening with Scale-leaf Aster

Light lavender flowers of many-ray aster (Symphyotrichum anomalum).
Many-ray Aster (Symphyotrichum anomalum) — Samantha H, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


This species is hardy in zones 5-7. 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 grows in full sun with mesic to dry well-drained soils.


  • Lammers, Thomas G. 2017. Dr. Moses Cousins, Jr.: The mysterious Iowa contributor to Alphonso Wood’s “Class-book of Botany” Brittonia 69: 253-264.
  • Weakley, A.S., and Southeastern Flora Team. 2022. Flora of the southeastern United States. University of North Carolina Herbarium, North Carolina Botanical Garden.
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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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