I like all wildflowers, but there are a specific few that bring a big smile to my face when they appear. Stokes Aster (Stokesia laevis) is certainly one of them. Their large, bright blue flowers make a dramatic appearance during the hot days of summer across a range of places in our landscape. They are hard to miss!
The intricate detail of the multiple-shaped petals and deep blue color is what draws me to them as I am sure they did for artist Walter Anderson. They are depicted in many ways and forms in his art, surely because they were one of his favorites. They are not hard to find on the walls of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art and now on the grounds of the museum’s courtyard.
They are of course found across our landscape in moist habitats in most years but more so in wet ones like this year. I usually enjoy their blossoms in the shaded Bayhead Swamp wetland that makes up a portion of my backyard. They also appear along moist roadsides in full sun where their size and color stand out among the more common yellow and white flowers. Plants that grow in both wet and dryer habitats are referred to as facultative: obligate plants are more specific to wetlands (your terms of the week).
As is common in taxonomy (the science of classification and naming of species), the genus name honors an 18th-century botanist and physician by the name of Jonathan Stokes, who had a keen interest in the use of drugs derived from plants. He was an early promoter and user of the drub digitalis, derived from a species of Foxglove. The practice of using surnames is meant to honor and immortalize someone but is certainly not as useful as utilizing a name that reflects a key characteristic of an organism. On the other hand, Stokes Aster’s species name, laevis, refers to smooth – but I am not sure what part.
These gorgeous plants are blooming now at the Fontainebleau Trail in Ocean Springs and along the roadsides throughout the coast. But please stop your car to take a closer look. And while you are enjoying these, my other favorite group of flowers is growing right next to them – my Mama’s favorite – Goldenrods – the pretty yellow flowers of fall.
Hope to see you in our great outdoors!