Symphyotrichum patens - Late Purple Aster, Spreading Aster. Formerly classified as Aster patens. There are three varieties of Symphyotrichum patens – gracile, patens, and patentissimum. Var patens is the only one found in the northeastern states, var patentissimum isn't found in the coastal states. Some authorities do not recognize var gracile. The species is possibly extirpated in Maine; it is officially listed as Threatened in New Hampshire.
It is with some trepidation that I step into the arena of identifying Symphyotricum species. There are many very similar species in this large genus (90 species in the genus.) But this plant was so beautiful I wanted to give it a shot, so with the help of my trusty copy of Wildflowers Of Tennessee, The Ohio Valley and the Southern Appalachians and the Internet, I've given it a shot, and think this is likely Symphyotrichum patens - Late Purple Aster. It has too few ray flowers to be New England Aster. The pubescent purplish stem eliminates Smooth Aster. The entire leaves eliminate (in my mind) Purple-stemmed Aster. Since the leaves are not linear, this isn't Southern Prairie Aster. The leaves, in my opinion, encircle the stem too much for this to be Aromatic Aster (although I regret not crushing a leaf to check for an aroma.)
A differentiator between Late Purple Aster (and several other Symphyotrichum species) and the more commonly known New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) is that the New England Aster has more ray flowers – 40 or 50 is common. Late Purple Aster has between 15 and 25.
In this photo the blossoms appear to be in the leaf axils. It had me concerned about the identification as Symphyotrichum patens since they grow on side stems. However, looking closely, near the top of this photo, you can see that these are side branches (some very short) growing out of the leaf axils, terminating with the lovely deep purple blossom.
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