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What is Asteraceae?

By Greer Hed
Updated May 16, 2024
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The Asteraceae family, also referred to as the Compositae family, is one of the largest families of flowering plants. This family has about 25,000 different plant species, including many different varieties of daisy and aster, as well as the sunflower, yarrow, goldenrod, and dahlia. Most plants in the family are herbs or shrubs, although a few species of Asteraceae are trees or climbing vines. Members of this family of plants are often easy to recognize due to their clusters of tiny flowers, called florets, that share the same receptacle, or stem. Plants of this family are found on every continent except Antarctica, but seem to particularly thrive in tropical regions.

Asteraceae is the name preferred by most botanists. This name comes from the Greek word "aster," meaning star, a reference to the shape of the flowers found on plants in this family. The name Compositae originated with the discovery of the family in the late 18th century, and is still considered valid. This name, meaning "composite," refers to the clusters of flowers that are characteristic of the family.

As this family is so large, it is commonly subdivided into smaller groups, called tribes. Three of the largest tribes are Senecioneae, Astereae, and Heliantheae. The largest of these three is Senecioneae, which includes many species of plants often considered to be weeds, and many other species that are poisonous to livestock and other animals who attempt to eat them. Astereae is the next largest tribe and its members include many of the popular flowering genera of the Asteraceae family, such as the aster and the daisy. Heliantheae is the third largest, and includes many sunflower genera.

Asteraceae are popular garden plants due to their numerous and often brightly colored blossoms. Aside from daisies and asters, chrysanthemums, marigolds, zinnias, and dahlias are all ornamental flowering plants of the family Asteraceae that are found in many gardens. The same family also includes a wide variety of plants that are considered pests or weeds by many gardeners, such as ragwort, goldenrod, dandelions, and thistles.

Apart from their use in gardens as ornamental plants, plants from the aster family have a wide range of other uses. Lettuce and artichokes are both members of this family that are eaten as food plants. Sunflowers produce seeds that can be eaten as a snack or used to make cooking oils. Many other plants of the family Asteraceae are used to brew herbal teas, such as chamomile and pot marigold.

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