James H. Schutte
Plant Common Name
The approximately 390 species which make up the genus Erigeron are distinguished by small, showy daisies atop unassuming plants. Commonly referred to as fleabane (as are plants in several other genera), these plants are naturally distributed throughout temperate regions of the world, with the largest number occurring in North America. The name fleabane is thought to be applied to members of this group for the ancient practice of using the crushed and dried plants to repel fleas.
Erigeron species are variable and may occur as annuals, perennials, biennials and occasional as sub-shrubs, shrubs or trees. They appear in a wide variety of habitats from mountainous areas to dry grasslands. Most are mat- or clump-forming and grow from rhizomes (lateral underground stems), fibrous roots or taproots. Their lance-shaped, linear, or spatula-shaped leaves are produced near the ground or on taller, branched or unbranched stems. Generally, the leaves are held alternately, are with or without petioles (leaf stalks), and may clasp the stems. The leaves may be simple (without divisions or lobes) or deeply toothed or divided with an almost feather-like appearance. The leaves and stems may be hairy, smooth or covered with conspicuous glands.
Flowers are produced singly or in loose groups on branched stalks held close to or above the foliage. The daisy-like flowers consist of a central head of tiny, tubular disk florets, usually yellow, surrounded by a ring of linear, strap-shaped ray flowers which are thin, straight and spreading. Ray flower petals are generally white or tinged with pink and purple. The fruit resembles small, flattened, tan sunflower seeds with hairs attached to facilitate dispersal by wind.
There are several species and cultivars of Erigeron used as ornamentals, in wildflower plantings, and in herb or medicinal gardens. These include aspen fleabane ( Erigeron speciosus), a clump-forming herbaceous perennial native to the western United States and Canada. Its pretty, lavender, yellow-centered flowers bloom atop erect stems in summer, and attract butterflies. Seaside fleabane (Erigeron glaucus) is a perennial native to the northern California and Oregon coasts. It is tolerant of harsh conditions and produces lovely, small, gold-centered daisies of white, blue or lavender. Santa Barbara Daisy ( Erigeron karvinskianus) native to Central America makes a nice groundcover. The mounding plants are most always covered with an abundance of small, pink to white blooms.
These daisies are very adaptable and there is a species, hybrid or cultivar suitable for almost any garden situation including woodlands, moist pondsides, mixed borders and rock gardens. Best flowering and growth occurs when the selected Erigeron growth requirements match the site conditions. Most bloom in summer or fall, and their bright flowers are highly attractive to many insects, including bees and butterflies.