From Roadsides to Woodlands

Fleabane in a clearing near Walden West

While the Deer-pea Vetch I featured in my previous post spreads its purple glow closer to the ground, a common spring companion plant rises above it, catching the eyes of motorists passing on the road.

Philadelphia Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus), our most common Fleabane species, received its common name because of a presumed — though unproven — ability to repel fleas. Its thread-like ray flowers, numbering in the hundreds, are the most slender among the Erigeron species.

Common as the flower is in open areas, particularly along roadsides, it also appears in woodland clearings. Each of these photos was taken in locations where I wouldn’t have expected to find these sun-loving flowers, but it’s obvious that full sun isn’t necessary for them to bloom.

Along the Red Buckeye Trail, Brazos Bend State Park

I’ve been puzzled for some time about field guides and websites that describe Philadelphia Fleabane’s ray florets as being either pink or white. I’d never seen a hint of pink on fleabane until I found several blushing buds at Brazos Bend State Park, and remembered; when it comes to nature, ‘expect the unexpected’ is good advice.


Comments always are welcome.

56 thoughts on “From Roadsides to Woodlands

    1. Funny, that I made an impulsive decision to visit that day. As it turned out, the Red Buckeyes were blooming. I didn’t know they existed, let alone that they had such striking flowers. They were on the decline, but thanks to one of the rangers I found them and got a few photos.

    1. I see that your species can have pink buds, too. It occurs to me that we’ve both seen another plant that can produce pinkish buds and white flowers: dewberry.

    1. Thanks, Pit. They’re abundant now, and really have thickened up in the past few days: especially in some vacant lots in the neighborhoods. Like dandelions, they’re perfectly willing to live in the city!

  1. One of my favorite wildflowers. It self-sows vigorously all around my yard (sometimes a bit too vigorously!), but the bees love it, as do the goldfinches when it goes to seed, and it makes a lovely filler for my flower arrangements.

    1. Now that you mention it, there is a resemblance to that traditional filler, Baby’s Breath. And you’re right that the bees love it. I didn’t see any larger bees around, but there were plenty of small bees, and in one patch there was a katydid nymph for every flower: dozens and dozens of them.

  2. Philadelphia Fleabane is very common here, and – this is a purely unscientific guess – I would calculate that 40 – 50 percent of the flowers are pink. In fact, in the ROM Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario the inset picture shows the pink form prominently. Ten species of Erigeron are found in Ontario.

    1. How nice that we share this pretty flower, too. When I realize I’ve missed a characteristic of some flower — e.g., this one’s pinkness — I always wonder if there’s an actual difference in distribution, or whether my own lack of attention has led me to miss it. I certainly will be casting a closer eye on these in the future.

    1. As so often happens, seeing the buds came first; learning that they’re quite a normal feature for the plant came later. If things go as they usually do, I’ll now be seeing pink versions everywhere.

    1. And sometimes the ‘worst’ areas can be especially productive. Right now, several plants are blooming atop dirt piles at a local highway construction site — including some that I was certain never would come back. Wrong!

  3. Roomie hates the name “fleabane” but we have the cousin (Erigeron karvinskianus) of your fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) which are commonly called “Santa Barbara Daisies” and tend to display more shades of pink. Love your closeups of their frilly petals.

    1. I just looked for some images of your species, and the combination of pink and white flowers is charming. Their growth habit is somewhat different, too; the photos of them trailing over garden walls and such are beautiful. Apparently Roomie’s not the only one who dislikes ‘fleabane.’ I found the plant also called Mexican Fleabane or Latin American Fleabane. ‘Santa Barbara Daisies’ is far more appealing.

    1. That they are. As far as I know, no one goes driving through the countryside searching for them, as they do for bluebonnets, but when they combine with vetch and Indian paintbrush, the effect is just as charming.

    1. These surely are in your neighborhood, too. I still can remember the days when I didn’t have a clue what they might be; now that I know, I appreciate them even more — and feel less impulse to slam on the brakes for some exploratory photos.

    1. This is one of those prolific spring blooms that doesn’t get much publicity down here, given that they have to compete with bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush. Still, their delicacy makes them visually appealing to me, and the insects certainly love them! I found one with a katydid nymph atop a flower and a green lynx spider lurking just beneath the same bloom. I couldn’t manage a decent photo, but it was a good reminder of how much life takes place even on these ‘ordinary’ blooms.

      1. There is so much out there for the careful observer, if we only take the time to be patient. I have been hoping for a close encounter with a lynx spider for many decades, and they have so far eluded me. But I am a patient fellow.

    1. I can’t remember the last time I saw a flea, but I’d almost take fleas over our fireants, ticks, and ‘no-see-ums’ — a little biting insect that loves the salt marsh. Maybe all our fleabane keeps them away! There’s a beautiful species there in California (Erigeron karvinskianus) that blooms pink and white: no missing its colors.

  4. Such a pretty poesy! Wouldn’t it be grand if it indeed repelled fleas?? I’m partial to your last photo here, Linda. Seeing the pinkish-tinted closed ones alongside the open white one is a real catch!

    1. I was quite surprised to see those pink buds. I presume there are pink flowers, too, but I’ve not yet seen those. There’s a species in California that has both pure pink and white flowers; there’s just so much variety to enjoy!

      The conviction that the plant repels fleas seems pretty well established, but I couldn’t find any support for the idea among the scientists. Besides, the plant only blooms for a short-ish time, and fleas are forever!

  5. Frilly! We’ve got so many durn agricultural chemicals peddled by Big Agri for farmers and ranchers to strew all over the landscape, and we are suffering as a consequence — large areas with high concentrations of Parkinsonism and lymphomas as well as other cancers, declining rates of fertility — to name but a few. You’d think somebody interested more in humanity than in making a buck (is there such a beastie?) would investigate these plants and see what their properties actually are and whether they live up to their name. All those “witches” were on to something, or they wouldn’t have continued to use so many herbal remedies. People kept using herbal remedies over the millennia because they worked.

    1. Actually, there are quite a few companies and individuals who are doing just what you propose. One of them is Mark Merriwether Vonderbruggen, known around the state as the force behind the site “Foraging Texas.” You can read about his background and his convictions here. I’ve heard him speak, and his website is one I often use when I’m curious about the properties of one of our native plants. I think you’d enjoy it.

  6. A couple of early mornings this week, Gini and I ambled slowly along a road through the forest/swamp and both sides of the road had gently swaying masses of white as far as we could see ahead. As mentioned in your “Purple Haze” post, our senses loved the assault of white and when we stood at the side of the road looking down, our senses loved the intricate details of all those white rays emanating from the bright yellow disks.

    Florida lists eight varieties of Fleabane but only two of those grow in our area. Right now, the Oakleaf fleabane (Erigeron quercifolius) seems to be everywhere. And we’re very happy about that!

    And – you’ve done it again! My handy dandy field guide does, indeed, indicate the blooms are “white, pink or purple”! I’ve never seen anything but white, so – thanks a lot – now I’ll have to actually LOOK at each of those thousands of flowers in search of a non-white one!

    1. May your search be rewarded! I spent some time this afternoon wandering a huge bluebonnet colony, just looking, and sure enough: I was rewarded with the sight of a single white bluebonnet. I will say that capturing a single flower like that often seems easier than managing to distill the magic of something like massed fleabane into a photo. Even those blessed with super-duper wide angle lenses and skill in landscape photography can’t quite do it. That’s not a criticism of photographers, but an acknowledgement of our flowers’ liveliness.

  7. These are very pretty, especially with the pink on the buds. I used to grow a purply-pink garden variety in my previous garden – I should grow some here .

    1. I had no idea these come in different colors. One of my readers from California alerted me to a species that flowers in pink and white, and now you’ve mentioned purple-pink. What a wonderful flower — and an enthusiastic grower to boot.

    1. I realized just today that some of what I was assuming to be fleabane actually is toadflax. Especially when the toadflax is light in color and tall, a quick glance can result in confusion. I love the way fleabane will pop up in unexpected places, but it sure is pretty with vetch.

  8. That first shot is a prize winner. There is a patch near the Quabbin that I visit annually with the goal of an image just like that but yours is sweeter than any I have managed.

    1. I really worked for that first image, so thank you. I’m still learning how to photograph in shade and/or dappled light, so there was a lot of ‘let’s try this’ involved. On the other hand, I’ve found one advantage of being in the woods is that there are natural wind blocks; we’ve been living witih 20/25 mph day in and day out, so that was good.

      1. It’s a mixed blessing to be in the woods on a windy day, especially at those velocities. Just ask the lump on my noggin from a falling branch on such a day a few years back.

        1. Oh, whoops! I would have been happy with 20-25 today. By this afternoon, it was gusting to 40mph, and I had as much of a hard time standing up as taking photos. On the other hand, I finally tried really fast shutter speeds with higher ISOs than I’ve ever used, and my sense is that I’m going to be relatively pleased when I throw the images up on the computer, despite all the obviously under-and-over exposed.We’ll see!

  9. As simple as these flowers seem, I’ve always enjoyed finding and photographing them (or species very like them) along some of the trails we hike. These particular trails are more commonly old dirt/gravel roads which are wider than typical trails so more sunlight sneaks in. And being taller than some other wildflowers they can be much easier to photograph. I love your inclusion of the pink florets. That’s something I don’t believe I’ve noticed before. Very neat.

    1. I learned from some other readers that there’s a species that flowers in both pink and white; the colors are maintained throughout the bloom, which makes for a nice mix. The other place I’ve seen pink buds turning into white flowers is with our dewberries, but those blooms remain a nice, pure white. Do you have any tips for photographing in dappled light? That was a problem with these. Especially on a windy day, I’ve found that even if the wind isn’t significantly stirring the plants on the ground, the movement of the treetops can lead to moving patches of sunlight and shadow.

      1. Photographing in dappled light can certainly be a challenge, as you say especially when wind is added to the mix. And being taller flowers these are affected by even the lightest of breezes. I can’t say I have any great tips for dealing with it, but I will sometimes try to move around, if I can, to shade the flower I’m photographing or ask my father, if he’s with me, to block the sun. Other times I just stand around for a while hoping things will move just right to shade what I want shaded. I can’t typically do much about the background other than waiting for it to change or if I have my father with me asking him to try to stand somewhere that might shade the background. Sometimes I’ll bring diffusers with me which can help but can become a burden if the wind is too strong. I currently have a 12″ and a 30″ that fold up reasonably small (about 5″ and 12″). And sometimes I just come back another day when there are more clouds in the sky.

        1. I’ve finally learned to use my own shade from time to time, especially with smaller flowers. In open prairie, scudding clouds can present the same difficulties as woodland trees in wind; as you say, sometimes just standing around for a while works. I have a 12″ diffuser I bought a couple of years ago, and I faithfully tote it with me, but it usually (that is, almost always) just stays in the car. I know there are great advantages to tripods, diffusers, and such, but I really prefer hand-holding the camera, and fussing with equipment doesn’t appeal. Maybe some day I’ll spend the time it would take to learn how to use those gizmos effectively, but if I were you, I wouldn’t bet any money on it!

    1. I hope to actually see Pasqueflowers some day. They’re so beautiful, but I’ve just never been in their territory when they’re blooming. Another I found last weekend is called Old Plainsman (Hymenopappus artemisiifolius). Like our Pink Evening Primrose, it sometimes takes on a darker pink tinge as it ages. Now I’m going to have to look up Yarrow; I may have seen it, but every time I hear ‘Yarrow’ I think first of Peter, Paul, and Mary!

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