Wildflower Wednesday: Drummond’s aster

Symphyotrichum drummondii var. drummondii (Lindl.) or Drummond's aster
Symphyotrichum drummondii var. drummondii (Lindl.) Drummond's aster

I love all the native asters with their crazy growth and light blue, purple or white flowers, but this Wildflower Wednesday, sponsored by Gail of Clay and Limestone, I want to highlight Symphyotrichum drummondii var. drummondii (Lindl.), Drummond’s aster (synonyms: Aster drummondii, Aster sagittifolius var. drummondii).
Drummond’s aster is found in many states throughout the U.S. In Oklahoma, it has been identified in several counties, and I can attest it runs wild in the dappled shade of the woods on my land which is in Logan County.

I also have it planted in several places within the wilder parts of the garden. Oh heck, who am I kidding? Much of my garden is wildish especially in the fall when the asters bloom. According to the Missouri Native Plants page, this aster is “similar to other blue-flowered asters but can be identified by its pubescent stems, winged leaf petioles, scabrous adaxial leaf surfaces, and bluish ray flowers.” To see what they mean by all that great botany language, just trip on over to their page where they have great identification photos. I, on the other hand, just want to show the pretty inflorescence and ray flowers (i.e., blooms).

So how do native plants like these get their names? In the case of our aster, it is named after a famous naturalist and plant collector, Thomas Drummond, who was Scottish and born in 1793 in Inverarity, Angus Parish or County. He had an older brother, James, who also became a botanist and gardener. Drummond was a member of two different expeditions to North America, the first in the Arctic. In the second, he traveled throughout Texas and the southern United States including Missouri. (I wonder why he didn’t come to Oklahoma?) In spite of being ill with cholera and diarrhea, he did extensive collecting throughout Texas and his 750 species of plants and 150 specimens of birds was studied and shown in many museums. He hoped to return to Texas, but died in Havana, Cuba while collecting there. (S. W. Geiser, Naturalists of the Frontier [Dallas: Southern Methodist University, 1937; 2d ed. 1948] found on the Texas State Historical Association site.) Drummond is also famous for his discovery of many mosses.

Drummond's aster

What amazes me about early naturalists was their ability to get so much done in their short lives (Drummond was only 45 when he passed) and how dedicated they were to science. One of the best books I’ve read about naturalists and plant collectors is The Brother Gardeners: A Generation of Gentlemen Naturalists and the Birth of an Obsession (Vintage), by Andrea Wulf. It is the story of many of the early plant hunters, and it reads like a novel, but is filled with interesting facts.

Love it.

But, back to the aster. Was it named for Drummond, or did he find it on his travels? In my research, it appears the aster named in his honor, but I’m not sure if he collected seeds from it or not. So many plants are named after Drummond, a quick search yields too numerous results to list here. He did collect seeds from Phlox drummondii and sent them to Great Britain.

According to Flora of America, S. drummondii is sometimes confused “with S. urophyllum, a usually white-rayed species with erect array branches.”  There is also a separate variation called S. drummondii var. Texanum.

Honestly, all that matters to me is it is easy to grow. It spreads a bit and fills in the blank spaces in the Autumn garden.

26 Replies to “Wildflower Wednesday: Drummond’s aster”

  1. I like to read about how flowers got their names. I am sure this is growing around here. I wonder how many different types of wild asters are around. Maybe some fall I can take time and study this.

  2. Oh I’ve just put that book on my Christmas list, good to hear you enjoyed it. I find the stories of the plant hunters fascinating too

  3. It looks like a lovely aster flower. We have wild asters growing along the River Tay in Perthshire Scotland which is a river that Drummond would have known well as he came from Perthshire.

  4. We’re still on the road and I took time to sit down and read through the blog and through the blogs of some of my favorite writers. Great aster posting. I love them and love all the life they bring into my garden. Jeff and I are planting more native asters in the field in front of our cottage in Maine. We already have 3 varieties, but never enough.

    Sending love from the road,

    Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island

  5. With only a smattering knowledge of botany, I got lost at “pubescent stems”:) But I do love history and enjoyed learning how this aster got its name. It’s certainly a pretty one and would fit right in in my butterfly/wild garden, too.

  6. Dear Dee, you have educated us once again in an entertaining way! The aster is a beauty, I have not seen it before, or since being evolved to the point of awareness of the wildflowers. The plant explorers were a brave group. 🙂

  7. Enjoyed this post and your extensive research, Dee. Never had a clue about these autumn lovelies that I do believe are the same wild asters that thrive here in Michigan too. Thank you 🙂

  8. Thank you for sharing this. I think we may have some asters locally but am not too certain.
    I will keep an eye out for “The Brother Gardeners”. I’m pretty sure I will enjoy it.

  9. Dee, I love the background to this plant’s namesake – the physical hardship endured by those early plant hunters is unimaginable, and gardening would be a dull thing without their work. It is wonderful that even today the Avents and Hinkleys are out there looking!

  10. Dee, I too find all the many asters hard to identify. This is a beauty and you tell an interesting tale about its namesake. I will have to see if my library has the book you link to. Sounds very interesting. Thank you for the introduction. ;>)

  11. Dee, I love all the native asters and find them nearly impossible to tell apart~Except the health asters, which are clearly white. I believe I have this one in the garden and will look closely to see. You’ve inspired me to get onto id-ing them! The early botanists are amazing~Drummond’s life was fraught with hardship travel and illness and still he followed his passion until the end. The ultimate plant geeks. I am So glad you joined the WW party wagon! xxoogail

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