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Fleabane Flower Head

Plants belonging to the genus Erigeron of the Asteraceae family are commonly referred to as fleabane. The customary name stems from the long-held, but apparently misguided, belief that some members of this group of herbs repelled fleas when dried and burned, hung around homes, or stuffed into mattresses.

Fleabane Flower Head

The practice of utilizing fleabane for such purposes was carried out for several generations in North America after the first European settlements on the continent were established. Fleabane was readily available to the settlers since the plants are particularly abundant in the continent’s temperate zones.

Most varieties of fleabane exhibit flower heads that are composed of both a central, disk flower consisting of numerous tightly packed flowers that at first appear to be a single entity and ray flowers, which are the elongated petals evenly spaced around the periphery of the disk flower. Ray flowers are sterile but are attractive to many pollinating insects and are absent in a few fleabane species.

Some fleabanes resemble other well-known flower types, such as the daisy or aster, and their common names often reflect this fact. Several species, for instance, are frequently referred to as daisy fleabane due to their close resemblance to the daisy. The size of the fleabane flower head is smaller than the daisy’s, however, and the number of ray flowers surrounding the disk flower is greater. The latter difference may be readily noted by anyone who attempts to determine the feelings of a potential sweetheart by plucking the petals off one of the flowers while musing whether “he loves me” or “he loves me not.” It takes two to four times longer to determine if someone is beloved through this springtime ritual of divination if a young paramour mistakenly picks a daisy fleabane instead of a true daisy.

Additional Confocal Images of Fleabane Flower Head

Fleabane Flower Head at High Magnification - Approximately 200 species of plants are classified as fleabanes, most of which are annuals or biennials, though a few are evergreens.

Fleabane Flower Head at Low Magnification - Fleabanes are well-branched plants and may feature flowers in a wide variety of colors when in bloom, including pink, purple, white, or yellow.

Fleabane Flower Head at High Magnification - Since the disk flower is the nectar- and pollen-rich section of the plant, it is an essential part of all fleabane varieties, although ray flowers are absent in some species.

Contributing Authors

Nathan S. Claxton, Shannon H. Neaves, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.