Erigeron pulchellus. This daisy-like flower with pale violet rays grows in limy, dry soils, tolerates drought and is low maintenance. It is often overlooked for the home garden because it requires soils that are limy, growing in deep ravines where calcareous fossil-bearing soils are exposed. In the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, Robin’s Plantain thrives in the above-ground calcareous ravine, where it has been planted in niches in the stone wall.
Blooming from April through June, the flowers somewhat resemble asters, but the rays are thread-like and more numerous, up to 100 for each flower. The lavender-blue to white flowers with yellow centers are in clusters of 1-6 blossoms. A single flowering stalk comes from a basal rosette of paddle- shaped leaves, each up to 5” long and 3” across. Stem leaves are smaller and clasping. Both the stems and the leaves are softly hairy.
On the Coastal Plain Robin’s Plantain is a mountain disjunct since it is found in most of the western counties of Virginia. The range extends from Maine to Ontario and east-central Minnesota, south to Georgia, Mississippi and east Texas.
Fleabanes bloom in the spring whereas other members of the Aster family are fall-blooming. Other fleabanes (E. strigosus and E. annuus) are weedy with smaller flower heads. Plants in the genus Erigeron are often commonly called fleabane as a result of a once widely held theory that these plants repel fleas.
The genus name comes from the Greek eri, “early,” and geron, “old man,” meaning “old man in the spring” and referring to the fluffy white seed heads and the early flowering and fruiting of many species. Pulchellus means “little beautiful.”
By Helen Hamilton, past-president of the John Clayton Chapter, VNPS
Photo: Robin’s Plantain (Erigeron pulchellus) taken by Helen Hamilton in the Williamsburg Botanical Garden; closeup of flower by Phillip Merritt