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Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mistflower

Conoclinium coelestinum
A.K.A. Wild ageratum, Blue mistflower

I often notice this fluffy-headed wildflower growing along the edges of moist woods or grassy areas.  A member of the composite family (Asteraceae), the blooms lack the disk flowers commonly associated with composites.  The long stamens of the ray flowers give it that fluffy look.  The color of these little flowers is hard to describe.  In my sketch you’ll see shades of lavender, pink, and blue – all colors I picked out on close observation.  From a distance they look bluish, but on film they tend to look more pink.  A bit of a challenge for an artist…

Blue, lavender, or pink?
Besides being attractive in form and color, the flowers attract bees and butterflies, and the plants are easy to propagate from seed.  You’ll notice that the dates on my sketch above are from January, one of the Sketchbook Project spread of pages I hadn’t posted yet.  I gathered seeds from this subject then and am happy to report that my plants are now blooming vigorously!  The tiny seeds are designed for dispersal by wind; each seed has a small wisp of silky fluff attached to catch the faintest breeze.  You can see the seeds (barely!) illustrated in my earlier drawing below.   

Mistflower is a perennial that grows up to 2 feet high, with hairy stems, and crinkly, velvety, triangular leaves.  The coarsely toothed leaves are oppositely arranged on the stems in variable sizes.  This pretty wild- and cultivated flower has quite a range in the eastern U.S. – from Florida and up into New Jersey.  It prefers moist soil, which is a bit of a challenge in my yard.  Right now, my plants are growing in a large pot so wetness is easy to control.

An earlier sketch of mistflower.
In my reading about mistflower, I learned that our native Conoclinium coelestinum is often confused with the almost identical non-native Ageratum houstonianum.  If given a choice, I feel that native is the better choice.  The other living things in our area that interact with plants have evolved similarly, and are adapted to native species.  Non-natives often carry the baggage of unintended consequences. 

According to this article I read in on the Mangrove Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society website, the best way to tell the difference between the two is to look at the roots.  The native version develops and spreads by rhizomes.  I just can’t bring myself to dig these up to check!  Another source describes the non-native plants developing a clumping habit.  Mine are definitely not clumping, but have a somewhat “untamed” tendency, which I actually like.
 
As you can see from my notes on both sketches, mistflower blooms in September and January, as well as May.  Beyond that, I’ve heard that it blooms in fall and winter.  I’ve read that it can be invasive and get a bit weedy-looking.  Right now though, I love the colors, the shapes, and the form of this delightful plant, and am sure it will be sketched a few times to come.

Click on images to view larger.

Media:
The Sketchbook Project sketchbook,
Pitt Artist pen in black, size XS for the sketch, and S for the text
Kimberly watercolor pencils,
Niji Aquabrush, small size.

The 2013 Sketchbook Project is now online, and you can see the little booklet I created here.

For further reading:
University of South Florida Herbarium specimen, showing root structure of the native mistflower.