Why am I writing about flowers when frosty nights and fallen leaves have changed the landscape, anticipating the winter ahead? Granted, the garden is looking quite barren by now, but if you look around, especially along wood edges and fence rows, there are persistent blooms to be seen. Asters and goldenrods, not to mention stubborn dandelions, are still visited by the season’s last hardy pollinators.
These flowers are members of the Aster family, one of the largest families of flowering plants. Plant taxonomists — scientists who name and classify plants — arrange the plant families by similar characteristics. Plants with similar flowers, fruits and seeds are placed in families, even if their leaf and stems structures might not look similar. Members of the Asteraceae (Sunflower family) are all characterized by the presence of several flowers on one flowering structure. Now, consistency in DNA is used to aid taxonomists in defining and grouping plant families, and the more specific genera and species, as well.