There are a number of species of Fleabanes. They all have numerous rays of various colors surrounding a flat yellow disc. They are either annual, biennial or perennial, and with the number of different species, they can be in flower from late spring to fall. Lesser (or Daisy or Prairie Fleabane) is a native erect annual to biennial, growing from 1 to 3 feet high, with few leaves and short appressed to ascending hairs on the stem. Hair is not standing straight out, except near the base of the stem. The stem usually branches below the floral array. The stem also has shallow vertical ridges. There are four recognized varieties of the species - explained at the bottom of the page.
The leaves are both basal and stem. Basal leaves are spatulate or elliptical in shape, with stalks, while the stem leaves are alternate, more narrow - lance like. Leaves are usually without teeth or lobes on the margin, but the larger lower and mid-stem leaves may have such near the tips; stem leaves are without stalks but do not clasp the stem. The leaf surface can range from smooth to rough from short hair. Stems are sparsely leaved.
The floral array is a loose cluster of stalked flowers atop the stem, usually more than 9 flower heads. Flower stalks have hair.
Flower heads have two types of flowers, an outer ring of ray florets that are pistillate only and can be fertilized; these surround the inner disc florets which are bisexual and fertile. Each head is 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide with 50 to 100 ray florets that usually have white corollas but can range into pinkish or bluish. The central disc is flat with numerous disc florets that have tubular yellow corollas that have a five-lobed tip. The outside of the flower head has 2 to 4 series of phyllaries that can be smooth to having fine hair.
Seed: Fertile disc florets produce a dry seed (a cypsela) that has a fluffy pappus for dispersion by the wind.
Habitat: Lesser Daisy Fleabane grows from a fibrous root system with simple caudices. Some of the 4 varieties of this species also have rhizomes. It is found in moderately dry sunny places such as fields, roadsides, disturbed sites, in a variety of soils but competes best in poor soils. It is propagated by re-seeding. While this species is an early bloomer, some plants may set additional bloom in the fall. Common in Minnesota and probably in your backyard garden.
Names: The benefits of a single scientific name per species is proven here where the number of common names is large (and I'm not listing all of them). The genus name, Erigeron, is derived from two Greek words, either eri, meaning 'early' or erio, meaning 'woolly', and geron, meaning 'old man'. Thus a flower that has early flowers and gray to whitish seed heads, which in some species of Erigeron look woolly white like the head of an old man (more notes below). The species name, strigosus, from strigose, refers to having flat-lying hairs. The accepted author names of the plant classification are ‘Muhl’ which refers to Gotthilf Heinrich Ernst Muhlenberg (1753-1815) American Botanist who produced several catalogues of plants after retiring as a Lutheran pastor. He was the first to publish but his work was incomplete and was supplemented by ‘Willd.‘ which refers to Carl Ludwig Willdenow (1765-1812), German botanist, a founder of the study of the geographic distribution of plants. He was director and curator of the Botanic Garden of Berlin.
Comparisons: For a comparison of the three Fleabanes found in the Garden see this page - Fleabanes.
Above: A lovely grouping of plants. Drawing from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.
Below: The floral array is a stalked cluster of 9 or more heads atop the stem. The flower has both white ray florets and yellow disc florets. Under the flower head are several series of narrow green phyllaries with some whitish hair. The outer ray florets are pistillate and the yellow disc florets are bi-sexual.
Below: 1st photo - The outer ray florets are pistillate, here showing the pistils. 2nd photo - The stem leaves are stalkless, but not clasping. Larger stem leaves may have a few shallow teeth in the upper half.
Below: 1st photo - The upper portion of the stem has fine appressed to ascending hair. 2nd photo - The lower basal leaves are stalked, elliptical to spatulate in shape. 3rd photo - The underside the basal leaf is hairy with edge hair and hair on the main veins.
Notes: Daisy Fleabane is indigenous to the Garden area. Eloise Butler catalogued it on Sept 6, 1907. The plant is reported as native to all but nine widely scattered counties in Minnesota. It is native to all the United States except the arid southwest. Four varieties of Erigeron strigosus are recognized and two exist in Minnesota: var. septentrionalis and var. strigosus. Both are usually annuals or biennials and do not have rhizomes in the root system; var. septentrionalis has stem hair appressed to spreading with the hair on the phyllaries flattened. Var. strigosus has phyllary hair more cylindrical in shape with stem hair appressed to ascending.
There are 7 species of Erigeron found in Minnesota: E. acris, Bitter Fleabane (on the State Special Concern List); E. annuus, Eastern Daisy Fleabane (or Annual Fleabane); E. glabellus, Streamside or Smooth Fleabane; E. lonchophyllus, Short-ray Fleabane (on the State Special Concern List); E. philadelphicus, Philadelphia Fleabane; E. pulchellus - in two varieties, Robin's-plantain (or Fleabane); and E. strigosus, Prairie or Daisy Fleabane - in two varieties.
The common name of 'Fleabane' might imply that the plant repels fleas, yet there is little literature confirming this. North American species of Erigeron, particularly E. canadense, (now reclassifed to Conyza canadensis), were imported to Europe and used for medicinal purposes. Culpepper (Ref. #4b) wrote that the name is due to the seeds of the fleabanes which are as small as fleas. Mrs. Grieve (Ref. # 7) writes that Erigeron denotes 'soon becoming old' as is appropriate for a genus where many species have a worn-out appearance, even when still in flower.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"