Monday, September 10, 2007

John Blakeman On DNA and the "Previous" Asters

A photo of what used to be Aster umbellatus.

Seemingly, no sooner had I published the blog entry following this one with the above photo of Aster umbellatus, John Blakeman, native plant maven, sent an email flashing my way letting me know that Aster umbrellatus was no more. Poof! The whole genus Aster had been stricken from the North American firmament.

Here's what John had to say:


Your photograph of flat-topped aster is now something of a fraud.

The genus Aster as a native group of North American plants is no more. With a bit of genomic dissection it has been discovered that the DNA of each of the many North American aster plants is not closely related to the type genus in Eurasia. With modern genomic sequencing, the genus Aster no longer exists here (except for authentic asters brought in from elsewhere, as in gardens).

The flat-topped aster, formerly Aster ubellatus, is now in the new genus Doellingeria. It's now Doellingeria umbellata.

All of the other familiar wild asters are gone, too. Good old New England aster, once
Aster novae-angliae, is now Symphytricum novea-angliae.

There are now ten new "aster" genera here, none as true Aster. The nucleotide sequencers, deep in their dark and apparatus-filled labs, have overthrown a wonderful (but really inaccurate) genus in North America. Our old asters looked a lot like the real ones in
Europe and Asia. But genetically, ours are separate, now with a number of new, distinct and uniquely American generic names.
(Generic as in genus not as without brand name. D.B.)

So let's try to look at this as botanical progress (as it is). Good bye, Aster,

Welcome, Almutaster, Canadanthus, Doellingeria, Eucephalus, Eurybia, Ionactis, Oligoneuron, Oreostemma, Sericocarpus and Symphyotrichum.

For now at least, the common names will remain un-messed with. They will yet be "asters," with only a small and un-italicized "a."

--John Blakeman

Science marches on and the rest of us will need to trot a little faster than usual to keep up and remember those new uncommon "common names" when they eventually, as they no doubt will, come marching down the pike.

Donegal Browne

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