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A Comprehensive Guide to Scale-leaf Aster (Symphyotrichum adnatum)

Scale-leaf Aster (Symphyotrichum adnatum) is a herbaceous perennial that is native to the southeastern United States. This plant is a host to the Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos) and American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis) butterflies and several moths. Growing from 1 to 4 feet tall, this species grows in pine flatwoods, sandhills, open woodlands, and roadsides. The lavender ray flowers and yellow disk flowers bloom from January to November or year-round and the plant is hardy in zones 8-11.

Taxonomy and Naming of Scale-leaf Aster (Symphyotrichum adnatum)

Herbarium specimen of scale-leaf aster (Symphyotrichum adnatum).
Herbarium Specimen — Symphyotrichum adnatum (Nutt.) G.L.Nesom collected in United States of America by The New York Botanical Garden (licensed under CC BY 4.0)

Taxonomy

Scale-leaf Aster (Symphyotrichum adnatum) was originally named and described by Thomas Nuttall, an American botanist in 1834 as Aster adnatus. 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, adnatum, comes from the adnate or appresed leaves of the plant.

Common Name and Alternative Names

The common name comes from the scale-like leaves. Another common name is clasping aster.

Physical Description

Purple flowers of scale-leaf aster (Symphyotrichum adnatum).
Scale-leaf Aster (Symphyotrichum adnatum) — Jay Horn, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
  • Plant Type: This plant is a herbaceous perennial.
  • Height: (0.5) 1 to 4 feet tall
  • Stem: The stems are erect to sprawling and are pubescent.
  • Leaves: The leaves are alternate, oblong-ovate to lanceolate and have thick entire margins. They are 0.4 to 1.7 inches long and 0.3 to 0.6 inches wide and are clasping and adnate to the stem (Flora of North America).
  • Flower color: light to dark lavender ray flowers and yellow disk flowers
  • Blooming period: This plant blooms from January to November.
  • Fruiting type and period: This plant has achenes that mature in the late fall and winter.

Range of Scale-leaf Aster in the United States and Canada

Range map of scale-leaf aster (Symphyotrichum adnatum) 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 to the southeastern United States and the Bahamas. It is common throughout its range.

Habitat

Pine barren habitat in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.
Pine Barren Habitat (Pinus rigida) — Jim Lukach, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species grows in longleaf pine savannas and flatwoods, open woodlands (coastalplainplants.org), sandhills (Hammer 2022), and roadsides (University of Waterloo).

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 species is distinguished by the leaves, which adnate to the stem, and are the source of the species name. However, it is similar to the large-flower aster (Symphyotrichum grandiflorum), but large-flower aster is not climbing such as this species and the leaves are not adnate. It is also close to Walter’s aster (Symphyotrichum walteri), but its leaves are spreading versus ascending (Weakley, et al 2022).

Is this plant invasive?

This plant has not been noted as being weedy.

Gardening with Scale-leaf Aster

Plant of scale-leaf aster (Symphyotrichum adnatum) in a field.
Scale-leaf Aster (Symphyotrichum adnatum) — Jay Horn, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hardiness

This species is hardy in zones 8-11. 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 well-drained soil.

References

  • Hammer, Roger L. 2022. Wildflowers of the Florida Keys: A Field Guide to the Wildflowers, Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of the Region. (Lanham, MD: Falcon Guides).
  • 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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