Erigeron pulchellus (Robin's Plantain)
|Also known as:||Poor Robin's Fleabane|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; average to moist soil; open woods, savannas, meadows, stream banks|
|Bloom season:||April - June|
|Plant height:||8 to 24 inches|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACU MW: FACU NCNE: FACU|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Flowers heads number 1 to 6 (usually 4 or fewer) in an open cluster at the tip of stem. Flowers are 1 to 1½ inches across with 50 to 100 narrow rays (petals) around a yellow center disk 1/3 to ¾ inch across. Ray color is pale violet to pink, but often white.
Behind the flower are 2 to 4 layers of narrow bracts, light green and often purplish tipped, sparsely to densely hairy. Flower stalks are stiff, hairy, and more or less dilated just below heads so appear to taper to the base of the involucre (set of bracts).
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are both basal and alternate on the stem, basal leaves often tufted in a clump, broadly spatulate to nearly round, usually widest above the middle (oblanceolate), 1 to 3½ inches long, ¼ to 2 inches wide, rounded or tapered to a dull point at the tip, the base wedge-shaped or tapering to a short stalk. Edges are obscurely shallowly toothed or lobed, surfaces moderately to densely hairy, more so on underside, the hairs long, soft and spreading.
Leaves become progressively smaller and narrower as they ascend the stem, more lance-oblong or egg-shaped, toothless or with few obscure teeth, stalkless or the uppermost somewhat clasping. Stems are single from each flowering leaf clump, unbranched except in the flower cluster, erect to ascending, densely hairy on the lower stem becoming more sparse above.
Fruit is a small light brown seed, surface hairless or stiff-hairy, each about 1.2 to 1.8 mm long, with single rows of short hairs on top.
In Minnesota, Robin's Plantain's range is mostly limited to our east central and southeastern counties, with most records north of Wabasha County over 60 years old. There are three recognized varieties: var. braunaei found in the Cumberland Plateau of Ky, Ohio and W. Va is distinguished by being completely hairless on both stems and leaves; var. pulchellus, the most common in Minnesota and ranging south to Texas and throughout the eastern half of the US, has short, fine hairs throughout or at least on the stems, and var. tolsteadii, which is endemic to Minnesota and distinguished from the other vars by short, stiff hairs on the seeds. Robin's Plantain appears to be poorly described in the literature. Most references, most notably FNA, describe the color of var. pulchellus as "blue to pinkish" and var. tolsteadii having white flowers, but the majority of online images (granted some may be mis-identified) show the former mostly as white, less often pale pinkish. All of our own field images are of only white flowers.
Of Minnesota's other Erigeron species, Robin's Plantain may be confused with Philadelphia Fleabane (E. philadelphicus), which is a taller plant with smaller flowers (¾ inch or less across), is more heavily branched with many more flowers in each cluster (up to 100), and it is non-rhizomatous, typically a tight clump with multiple stems. Robin's Plantain is more likely to be confused with Smooth Fleabane (E. glabellus), especially the white forms, even though there is little overlap with its range. Both are perennial, rhizomatous, have single stems from each basal leaf cluster with larger and fewer flowers per cluster than other Fleabanes. But E. glabellus flowers typically have many more rays (up to 175), its lower leaves are proportionately narrower and up to 6 inches long, often with a long-tapered base or long stalk, upper leaves are lance-elliptic, it is not as hairy on either leaves or lower stem, the hairs usually shorter, flower stalks are not inflated just below the involucre (group of bracts), and it blooms later, starting in about mid-June.
Key characteristics to look for in E. pulchellus are its large flowers (1 inch or larger), small cluster size (typically 4 flowers or fewer), densely hairy leaves and stems, especially the lower stem, the hairs long, soft and spreading, and presence of broadly spatulate to nearly round basal leaves 3 inches long or less. It is rhizomatous with only one flowering stem per leaf clump, but frequently forms large colonies of flowering and non-flowering leaf clumps.
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- Robin's Plantain plant
- Robin's Plantain plants
- Robin's Plaintain plants
- Robin's Plantain plants
- a large colony of Robin's Plantain
- basal leaves in early June
- stem leaves are densely long-hairy
- flower stalks are long and stiff
- comparison of Erigeron glabellus and E. pulchellus involucres
Photos by K. Chayka and Peter M. Dziuk taken in Winona County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?