Monday, February 24, 2014

A case of mistaken identity...

I make mistakes.

We all do.  Sometimes due to lack of care.  Sometimes due to lack of information.

One of my biggest mistakes is misidentification.  Often, when I find myself looking back at the photographs on my computer, I will find that I have made mistakes when naming the flowers that I photographed.  I found another one yesterday.

Aster identification can be confusing.

This flower has been misidentified on my computer files since September 2008.  I have variously listed it as a Small White Aster (Symphyotrichum racemosum), Panicled Aster (Symphyotrichum lanceolatum), and Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides).

Turns out that each of those identifications was wrong - each for different reasons.

Small White Aster (S. racemosum) is not found in Michigan.  Whoops!

Panicled Aster (S. lanceolatum), which is also know as Tall White Aster or White Field Aster, does grow in Michigan, but a close look at the photo shows that the leaves of this plant are wrong for a Panicled Aster.  The leaves of a Panicled Aster would be longer, wider, and hairless.

The same close-up also shows why this plant is not likely to be a Heath Aster (S. ericoides).  Heath Aster, which is also known as Many-flowered Aster, does grow in Michigan, but these flowers have too many petals to be a Heath Aster.  A Heath Aster Flower will have between 8 and 20 petals, with around 12 petals being the average.  Each of these flowers has twenty or more petals.

This leads me to identify the plant in these photos as the Frost Aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum).  Based on the information available to me, this is the best identification that I can come up with.

Frost Aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum)- image from September 2008 at Mill Pond Park in Mt. Pleasant, MI

So how did I come to realize that my identification was incorrect?  I started looking at the many books on my shelves.  I also started looking on the internet.  Some of the websites that I find most useful for wildflower identification include the USDA PLANTS database, the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center database, the Illinois Wildflowers website run by Dr. John Hilty, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Wildflowers of Wisconsin database, and the Minnesota Wildflowers Information database.

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