Asteraceae part 1

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Yarrow and Ragwort are 2 different members of the large ‘Aster’ family – All images are with thanks from Matt Summers

Today and in several future blogs I will be talking about members of the Asteraceae. This was called the Compositae for a very long time, which I think is a lot more descriptive about this largest dicotyledon family on Earth!

The first post is all about the classification which is extensive but makes good sense you will discover on the next page!

Although many are not directly useful for us humans, most of the flowers of this family are extremely good pollen and nectar providers for insects, seeds for birds and leaves for various larvae and small mammals.

It has a lot of mainly edible and medicinal uses. I’ve only just recently acquired a little recipe book called ‘Cooking Weeds’ by Vivien Weise(Prospect Books) which has lots of lovely recipes and several are with members of this family namely the Dandelion, Daisy, Nipplewort, Ox-eye Daisy, Smooth Sow Thistle and Yarrow. 

I also found the blog on foraging by Robin Harford very interesting and links are as usual about individual plants from Wikipedia, which frequently include in their references links of Plants for a Future Website and other online floras such as those from Plantlife and the National Biodiversity Network atlas. 
There is a lot of knowledge out there done by professional ecologist and botanists which is there to be used. I am a member of the BSBI which has an ‘Identify Wildflowers online’. Also found many plants through Naturespot which records the wildlife in Leicestershire and Rutland.

I am grateful for all your information to share for more people to read and learn! My aim of the wonderful weed blog is to highlight those native plants which have a connection mainly with us people and all their known ‘uses’ from the past to the present day!

To find the correct plant in this family, Stace compiled several keys whereby the capitulum should be dissected to identify all its component parts.

The family is also split into 3 subfamilies, 16 tribes and 104 genera.

Here we go:

  • The first subfamily is Carduoideae and are distinctive in that they do not produce any white latex when cut, are often spiny and the leaves are spirally arranged along the stems. The flowers are rarely yellow, usually red to blue. Mostly thistles or very thistle-like. It only has one tribe.

Tribe 1: Cynareae has 13 genera of which the following are true native: Carlina vulgaris or Carline thistleArctium spp. or Burdocks, Saussurea alpina or Alpine Saw-wortCarduus spp. or Thistles, Cirsium spp. or Thistles, Onopordum acanthium or Cotton thistle (arch.); Silybum marianumor Milk thistle (arch.) Serratula tinctoria or Saw-wort;Centaurea spp. or Knapweeds with few natives, several introduced or Arch. For uses of Common Knapweed by R. Harford see here.

  • The second Subfamily is the Cichorioideae which has 2 tribes and 25 genera. Plants often produce the white latex, the flowers are bisexual and usually yellow. It is rather a speciality to be able to identify those different yellow daisies! It is also often clear that they are similar looking by being given the same common names for different scientifically named genera.

Tribe 2: the Cichorieae has the following native or archaeophyte genera:  Cichorium intybus or Chicory (Arch), Arnoseris minima or Lamb’s SuccoryLapsana communis or NipplewortHypochaeris spp.or Cat’s-ear, Scorzoneroides autumnalis or Autumn HawkbitLeontodon spp. or HawkbitsPicris hieracioides + ssp. orHawkweed OxtongueHelminthotheca echioides or Bristly Oxtongue;Scorzonera humilis or Viper’s-grassTragopogon pratensis or Goat’s-beard and also T. porrifolius which is the non-native root vegetable, SalsifySonchus spp. or SowthistlesLactuca spp. or Lettuces, e.g.  L. virosaCicerbita alpina or Alpine Blue-sowthistle; Mycelis muralis or Wall Lettuce and Taraxacum agg. or Dandelions, which were covered by me in an earlier blogCrepis spp. or Hawk’s-beards; Pilosella spp. or Mouse-ear-hawkweeds and the interesting Pilosella aurantiacum or Fox and Cubs and Hieracium spp. or Hawkweeds. Hawkweeds are considered one of the trickiest groups of plants in Britain and Ireland and just a new (third) handbook has been published by the Botanical Society of the British Isles BSBI in aid to provide identification for this complicated genus!

Tribe 3: the Arctotideae with 2 genera but both are not native. The Gazanias are a well known ornamental, bedding plant from South Africa.

  • The Third Subfamily is the largest one in this family and called Asteroideae, it has 13 tribes and 66 genera! But many are ornamental plants or garden escapes.

Tribe 4: the Gnaphalieae with 6 genera of which the following are native or ArchFilago spp., Cudweeds (e.g. Filago vulgaris or Common Cudweed),  Antennaria dioica or Mountain Everlasting and Gnaphalium spp. or Cudweeds. Here we can see how confusing common names are with Cudweed representing several different genera!

Tribe 5: Inuleae with 4 genera of which 2 are natives: Inula conyzae or Ploughman’s-spikenard and Pulicaria dysenterica or Common Fleabane.

Tribe 6: the Astereae with 11 genera: Solidago virgaurea or Goldenrod (an article all about growing and caring for Goldenrods can be found here); Aster spp. are mostly introduced and ornamental varieties (garden escapes) but has 2 native species; Erigeron spp. or Fleabanes with 2 native species; Conyza spp. is a non native but now a common weed and  Bellis perennis or Daisy.

Tribe 7: Anthemideae with 14 genera: Tanacetum spp. or Tansies; Artemisia spp. or Mugworts; Achillea spp. or Yarrows; Chamaemelum nobile or Chamomile; Anthemis spp. or Chamomiles; Glebionis segetum or Corn Marigold (Arch.); Leucanthemum vulgare or Oxeye Daisy; Matricaria chamomilla or Scented Mayweed (Arch); Matricaria discoidea or Pineapple weed (Neophyte), Tripleurospermum spp. or Mayweeds.

Tribe 8: the Senecioneae with 11 genera: Senecio spp. and Jacobaea spp. or Ragworts; Tephroseris spp. or Fleaworts; Tussilago farfara or Colt’s-foot; Petasites hybridus or Butterbur.

Tribe 9: the Calenduleae with 2 ornamental genera: the Calendula or Marigolds and Osteospermum or Cape Daisy.

Tribe 10: Heliantheae with 5 genera all introduced weeds or ornamentals!

Tribe 11: Millerieae with 3 genera and one common introduced weed: Galinsoga spp. or Gallant-soldiers.

Tribe 12: Coreopsideae with 4 genera: Bidens spp. or Bur-marigolds. The Coreopsis spp. or Tickseeds; Cosmos and Dahlia are well known ornamental, garden plants.

Tribe 13: Tageteae has got one ornamental genus Tagetes or Marigolds.

Tribe 14: Bahieae with one introduced genus Schkuhria pinnata or Dwarf Marigold.

Tribe 15: Helenieae with 2 ornamental genera: Gaillardia and Helenium.


Tribe 16: Eupatorieae with 2 genera: Eupatorium cannabinum or Hemp-agrimony and ornamental bedding-plant called Ageratum houstonianum or Flossflower.

The last 2 pictures show a close up of Eupatorium cannabinum with Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly and the plant in its typical marshy habitat!

The following posts are all about the Asteraceae:

  1. The Dandelion
  2. Asteraceae (part 1)
  3. About the Common Ragwort or Jacobaea vulgaris
  4. More science behind the Asteraceae! (part 2)
  5. the more common Asteraceae and their uses (part 3)
  6. the less common members (part 4)

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