PHILADELPHIA FLEABANE Erigeron philadelphicus
Several years ago I was driving past the Presbyterian Church on Hwy. 20 north and noticed the wildflowers featured here. I assumed they were oxeye daisies but then realized such daisies don’t bloom until June.
The next time I drove to town I pulled into the church parking lot to examine the plants up close. They were too early for oxeye daisy or the daisy fleabane that grew along my driveway. They were a specimen I had overlooked for years.
This wildflower is the most common fleabane. It has a long history in the United States. Identified in the Colonial days, these flowers seem to have been first identified by English botanists in the Philadelphia area.
For several centuries, the plant was used medicinally to treat urinary ailments. If they are still used that way, they are probably given a technical name and combined with other elements to assure the user of a standard dosage.
The name fleabane sounds like the sap or leaves could be used as an additive in the water when bathing a pet infested with fleas. Not so. According to notes in my various botanical books, the name refers to “rapid aging,” that is, either the young plant looks “worn out” from the beginning (a whitish fuzz on the stems and undersides of leaves) or it refers to the quickness flowers set and drop seeds.
There are several similarities that need to be mentioned when identifying the Philadelphia fleabane from the daisy fleabane. Both are in the composite family along with daises, sunflowers, dandelions and asters The term composite means the “petals” are rays and the real seed-producing flowers are the tiny florets in the centers.
Both of these fleabanes are basically white with an occasional pink or lavender blush. The centers are yellow, that is, the florets have tiny yellow petals. Both varieties generally grow in colonies rather than as singles, so look for bunches.
There are some striking differences between the two. First is the size of the bloom. The Philadelphia variety is wider than the daisy variety, 1 inch compared to 5/8 inches, respectively. Second is the number of rays, 100 to 150 versus 40 to 75. Thus, the rays of the Philadelphia variety are thin like threads compared to the other’s twine-size rays.
Third, the Philadelphia plant is taller, 40 inches compared to 30 inches. Fourth, the leaves are longer and somewhat clasping versus shorter, wider and more horizontal on the daisy fleabane. Fifth, the Philadelphia fleabane’s blooming season is March through May while the daisy fleabane’s more likely occurs from May through June.
Finally, the Philadelphia variety is common throughout the U. S. while the other is regional and more abundant in the South (several botanists use the name Eastern daisy fleabane).
Speaking of looking and identifying what you see, as I didn’t do originally with the Philadelphia fleabane, it reminds me of Jesus’ words about having ears that hear and eyes that see. After a series of miracles that revealed Him as Messiah, Jesus said to His disciples, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see” (Luke10:23b).
May the insights you gained into the depth of God’s love demonstrated in the Gospel story bring special blessings to you and all with whom you relate.
Orrin Morris is a retired Baptist minister, local artist and art teacher. To purchase a two-volume set of books featuring his wildflower columns, visit the Nature Seen Gallery & Frame Shop, 914 Center Street in Olde Town Conyers, or call 770-929-3697 or text 404-824-3697. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.