Disaster! A star by any other name...
This innocent looking tuffet above is a particularly well grown specimen in a garden, which is pictured in the wild in the next two images...scroll down to the last two and you shall see a tale of woe! A compact, perennial, alpine aster found on two or more peaks in the Front Range has somehow disappeared under the same name as a universal biennial weed from lower elevations: what used to be Aster bigelovii has swallowed up a distinctive taxon we are wont to call A. pattersonii: lumped by a botanist who may not have seen the latter in the wild, and certainly never grew it. Both names were synonymized as Machaeranthera bigelovii for many years, now resting (rather uneasily perhaps) under the name "Dieteria bigelovii
Aster pattersonii on Mt. Goliath
Taxonomists might well be accused of a Dis-Aster: the once relatively recognizable genus filled with starry composite blossoms has been rent apart by the wild-eyed gene-jockeying metataxonomists who have been cheerfully juggling our familiar names with cladistic and sadistic pleasure. Horticulturists have been racking their brains memorizing Almutaster, Canadanthus, Doellingeria, Eucephalus, Eurybia, Ionactis, Oligoneuron, Oreostemma, Sericocarpus and Symphyotrichum...and even more names--as you will shortly see. What's in a name? Quite a bit as we shall see...
Enjoy this poor little plant as it looks at treeline on Mt. Evans--charming and petite (much smaller than its heaped up synonymous names!)
Aster patersonii closeup (in the wild)
This is the whole plant--believe it or not (including a small basal tuft of toothy foliage: needless to say, this is of great interest to rock gardeners: if one could only figure out what we should call it!
|Closeup of Aster bigelovii|
Here is a photograph of supposedly the same taxon: a wiry, (often tall) biennial universal in the Southwest where it makes masses of color in the autumn: take a look at the type specimen--and compare it to the spring blooming, perennial alpine at the top: Hello there, Mr. generic Taxonomist! Have you ever heard of ecotypes? Have you ever heard of distinctive morphology and distinct geographical distribution? I have no doubt that if you were to put both these plants in blenders, you are likely to have a rather similar slime result that may look awful similar if you did some genetic poking and prodding (although I can assure you that there must be a few pretty significant genetic distinctions to produce plants of such glaring morphological, ecological, geographical and just plain visible disparity.)
|Aster bigelovii flower (closeup)|
I am conjuring a clever young meta-meta-taxonomist of the future who will have determined that the far flung genera that were once split off of Aster are perhaps justifiably treated as mere subgenera or tribes (as it were) within the comfortable skirts of the mega-(but real) genus Aster. Perhaps that self-same genius shall discover that there are some subtle, yet distinct genetic markers that allow one to segregate the high altitude, perennial race (localized on just a few high peaks of the Front Range) as the distinct species Aster pattersonii. You will forgive me if I adhere in advance to the visionary taxonomy of my imaginary botanist! These names (however fuddy duddy) make a bit of sense. You, however, are welcome to call either (or both) "Dieteria bigelovii