Stoked on Stokes Asters

Stokes asters make a wonderful showy border.
Stokes aster (Stokesia laevis), an herbaceous perennial, is native to northern Florida and has been collected in the wild in a few scattered counties in north Florida as shown in this profile on the Atlas of Florida’s Vascular Plants: It will also grow well farther south throughout central and into parts of south Florida. Normally it’s a lovely lavender, but some varieties are blue, white or pinkish. Boy, does it attract small native bees and various butterflies! If the sun is shining, the flowers are covered with insects looking for its nectar.

A typical member of this family has showy ray flowers around
the edge and unadorned disk flowers in the center.
This is the only species within this genus and what makes it different within the aster or daisy family (Asteraceae) is that its disk flowers are showy, but different than its ray flowers. Background: In this sunflower, a more typical member of this family, the sterile ray flowers (or florets) are yellow and act as petals, while the central disk flowers arranged in a dizzying swirl are the ones that attracted this carpenter bee and will be the ones that develop into luscious sunflower seeds.

The stokes aster was named by Linnaeus to honor one of his son’s friends Jonathan Stokes, a doctor who helped to popularize the use of digitalis as a heart medicine. Laevis means smooth or not hairy. The stems and leaves are not hairy, but the bracts around the flower heads have definite hairs. When the flowers die back in the fall, these bracts might turn reddish and provide a second show.

Laevis means smooth or without hairs, but the bracts supporting the
flower heads have distinct hairs along their edges.
The huge aster family (Asteraceae) contains more than 22,750 species and is divided into sub families and then into tribes. You might think that stokes asters are closely related to other asters, but they are in a separate subfamily: Cichorioideae (Chicory) in the Vernonieae tribe. Traditional asters belong to the Asteroideae in the Astereae tribe. And much to the dismay of those of us who try to keep up with the taxonomists, most of our North American asters were moved from the Aster genus to the unpronounceable Symphyotrichum genus.

Stokes asters are readily available and listed as available at six nurseries in northern and central part of the state (as of May 2011) on the Florida Association of Native Nurseries: You may also find it amongst the offerings (for sale or raffle) at FNPS meetings, because it multiplies. This is how I got started; a few years ago; I brought some home from an FNPS meeting and now I have enough so that I’ll pot some up and bring it in to share at a future meeting. Then someone else can get started with this cool native wildflower and suport even more of our native polinators.

Note to photographers: You’ll have a hard time capturing the rich lavender color of these flowers and others of this hue. It’s called the ageratum effect and it has to do with the infrared that we can see with our eyes, but the camera cannot. It works better if you avoid bright sunlight to reduce the wash-out of the color.

Ginny Stibolt


FNFCG Admin said…
Gorgeous Ginny! And if the color on your pics is washed out - this is a must see in person. I do hope I get to run into you soon - wouldn't mind bringing some of these beauties home either!

Ginny Stibolt said…
Thanks Carol.

I'll be at the FNPS conference--hope to see you there.

Hobo Botanist said…
Regarding your comment of Stokes aster growing south to South Florida. It is only native to parts of the panhandle. I am certain the Flagler County record is from escaped landscape material, and for the Duval County record, nativity is dubious. We must be careful introducing "Florida natives" outside of their range. As a member of the Asteraceae, Stokes Aster could some day be weedy in areas where it is not native. Yes its pretty, yes it attracts pollinators, but there are lots of truly native wildflowers that are better choices for peninsular Florida. Let us never regret planting Stokes aster outside of its native range.
Ginny Stibolt said…
H. botantist:

Point taken. In the ideal world no one would plant anything outside of its native range.

In looking at the range in the Florida Plant Atlas the Flaglar specimen does seem to be widely separated from the others, but the Nassau specimen (not Duval) could be part of the range as it's next to the Okeechobee in Georgia.

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