Aster family (Asteraceae)
Description: This native annual or biennial plant is erect and up to 3' tall. It is largely unbranched, except for a few side stems near the inflorescence at the apex. The ridged central stem has spreading white hairs near the base, but these hairs become short and appressed along its middle and upper portions. The alternate leaves are up to 4" long and 2/3" across, becoming smaller and more sparsely distributed as they ascend the stems. They are usually oblanceolate (shaped like a narrow spoon), narrowly ovate, or linear. Some of the larger leaves may have a few coarse teeth toward their outer tips. The base of each leaf narrows gradually to a slender petiole-like base.
The upper stems terminate in small clusters of daisy-like compound flowers and their buds. The buds have appressed fine hairs that are difficult to see. The compound flowers are about ½" across, consisting of about 40-100 ray florets that surround numerous disk florets. The tiny disk florets are yellow, while the ray florets are usually white (sometimes light violet or pink). The blooming period occurs primarily from late spring to mid-summer, and lasts about 1-2 months. However, some plants may bloom later in the year until the early fall. The flowers may have a mild fragrance. Both the ray and disk florets can set fertile seed without cross-pollination. The small achenes enclosing the seeds have small bristles or white hairs that promote distribution of the seeds by wind. The root system consists of a taproot. This plant spreads by re-seeding itself, and often forms loose colonies.
Cultivation: The preference is full sun, dry conditions, and poor soil containing clay or stony material. In moist situations with richer soil, Daisy Fleabane may have trouble competing with taller plants with broader leaves. This plant tends to fade away after flowering and setting seed.
Range & Habitat: Daisy Fleabane is fairly common and has been reported from almost all counties of Illinois (see Distribution Map). Habitats include upland areas of black soil prairies, gravel prairies, hill prairies, limestone glades, dry savannas, eroding clay banks, pastures and abandoned fields, and areas along roadsides and railroads. While this plant species favors disturbed areas, it is more likely to occur in higher quality habitats than the closely related Erigeron annuus (Annual Fleabane).
Faunal Associations: Primarily small bees and flies visit the flowers for nectar or pollen. Among the bees, are such visitors as Little Carpenter bees, Nomadine bees, Carder bees, Green Metallic bees, and Plasterer bees. An exceptional variety of flies also visit the flowers, while less common visitors include small butterflies, wasps, and beetles. The caterpillars of Schinia lynx (Lynx Flower Moth) eat the buds and flowerheads. Mammalian herbivores occasionally feed on the foliage and flowers, including livestock, deer, rabbits, and groundhogs.
Photographic Location: The photographs were taken of plants at an eroding clay bank along a road near Urbana, Illinois.
Comments: Daisy Fleabane resembles Erigeron annuus (Annual Fleabane), but robust specimens of these two species are fairly easy to distinguish. Daisy Fleabane is a more slender plant with fewer and skinnier leaves, and the hairs along the middle and upper portions of the central stem are short and appressed, rather than spreading outward. However, some malnourished specimens of Annual Fleabane can resemble Daisy Fleabane, thus becoming a source of possible confusion. While the fleabanes are often dismissed as 'weeds' because of their ubiquitousness during the summer, they are actually rather cheerful plants that are beneficial to many small insects that play an important role in the functioning of the ecological system.