Heterotheca villosa (Hairy False Goldenaster)

Plant Info
Also known as: Hairy Golden-aster
Family:Asteraceae (Aster)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:sun; dry sandy soil, fields, waste areas, along roads
Bloom season:June - October
Plant height:8 to 20 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 7+petals Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] 1 to numerous stalked flowers at the tips of branching stems and arising from the upper leaf axils. Flowers are ¾ to 1½ inches across, with 10 to 35 yellow petals (ray flowers) and a small, yellow center disk.

[photo of bracts] The bracts surrounding the base of the flower are overlapping in 4 to 6 layers; bracts are lance to triangular, green often with a purplish tip, variously hairy and sometimes glandular. Flower stalks are from less than ¼ inch up to nearly 2 inches long, variously hairy and may be glandular.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of hairy leaves and stem] Leaves are alternate, about 1 inch long and ¼ inch wide, toothless, stalkless, pointed or blunt at the tip, oblong or widest at the tip end and tapering at the base, and often twisted or wavy. Surfaces are variously hairy, from sparse to densely covered in long white hairs, and the color is correspondingly green to gray-green. Stems are multiple from the base, erect, ascending or sprawling but rising at the tips (decumbent), typically branched, green to reddish-brown, sparsely to densely covered in spreading hairs and sometimes glandular.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed with plume

[photo of fruit] The center disk becomes a head of dry seeds with tufts of dull white to light brown hairs.


Hairy False Goldenaster, known in some older references as Chrysopsis villosa, is described by Flora of North America as having 9 distinct varieties, 4 of which have been recorded in Minnesota. Distinguishing characteristics are reported to be leaf shape, degree of hairiness, degree of glandular hairs, number of flower heads and number of florets. Suffice to say that this species is rather variable in those respects.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Other photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Henry - Minneapolis
on: 2012-11-01 08:42:35

The plant labeled with this name at the Arboretum's prairie garden is fully four feet tall. That is more than twice the height you list. The USDA says we have two varieties here in Minnesota, var. ballardii (which appears to be more common from the USDA maps) and var. minor (which the USDA shows only in far-separated Hennepin and Norman Counties).

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2012-11-02 18:16:03

Sorry to say, I wouldn't trust anything at the Arb. They do have cultivars there that won't behave like species found in the wild. According to Flora of North America (our definitive reference), none of the 4 Minnesota varieties grow more than 2 feet tall and most are under 20 inches. The DNR's plant list includes vars ballardii, foliosa, minor and villosa. I would also take the USDA maps with a grain of salt, since they are generally pretty outdated.

Posted by: Brett W - Otsego
on: 2014-12-25 20:24:34

This plant seems to be an ugly stepchild of the MN native flower community. It is not particularly pretty but is very abundant in the restorative prairies I frequent: Elm Creek Park Reserve, Sherburne NWR, Grey Cloud SNA. Seems likes its always in bloom. A tough little guy, I give it credit!

Posted by: Fran - Hennepin County, Western Metro
on: 2015-06-26 14:48:12

I bought this plant from a native plant nursery and can't say enough good things about it! I let it go to seed, it's so useful in my largish, SW-facing prairie garden. We have a big problem with deer (6-9 animals regularly go through the yard), but in four years they haven't shown any interest in eating it. Also, I've had to provide no supplemental watering, yet it always looks good. It "reads" well from a distance too, so passersby see some really attractive native plants (I live on a corner.) My one issue with it, I agree, is height ~ up to 4 feet when it's really happy with the surroundings!

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2015-07-05 10:50:31

Fran, the tallest this species is known to get is just over 2 feet tall, even at its most robust, and that particular variety is limited to the southwestern US. Perhaps you have something other than goldenaster, or maybe a cultivar.

Posted by: Charles - St. Paul
on: 2016-05-31 08:00:33

Your "definitive reference" (FNA) also lists just 2varieties for MN

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2016-05-31 14:50:32

If/when the DNR changes their official plant list we will, too. As of today they list 4 vars in MN.

Posted by: Tim - Crow-Hassan Park Reserve
on: 2018-06-27 12:29:55

Along sandy roads through restored prairie.

Posted by: Scott Searcy - Pope Co.
on: 2020-08-31 18:21:48

I see this every year in the rolling hills south of Glenwood. Most of what I find are in pastures that have not been over-grazed. The cattle & deer do not eat them. I harvest the seeds in September, hopefully before the cattle knock the seeds loose. Most plants have both flowering & shattering heads at the same time. I've rarely seen any over 12" tall.

Posted by: Frank@Mound - Lake Bronson
on: 2023-02-06 12:51:18

I photographed this plant in the prairies at Lake Bronson SP. The soil was dry and the various species, even one's that get taller in other areas, were short. I took this False Goldenaster for a short species and your site verified that. Much like the others have said, I have also photographed the 4 footer at the Arb prairie garden. This plant, however, is in the managed space within the parking lot beds. It may also be out in the seeded prairie, but I have yet to look for it. My take was that it was a cultivar, but hard to know. I will ask next time I am there.

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