Aster ontarionis - a Rare Plant New to the Niagara Region
P. M. Eckel
Originally published in New York Flora Association Newsletter 7(3): 3-4. 1996.
Aster ontarionis - A Rare Plant New to the
by P. M. Eckel, Buffalo Museum of Science
While routinely processing collections made on Goat Island in the Niagara River (Erie County), I discovered a small white aster with puberulent stems that was new to my experience. It was later identified by Dr. Almut Jones as Aster ontarionis Wieg., the Ontario aster. According to records kept at BUF [and NYS, ed.], no similar plant had been collected in the region before. It was fortunate that characteristic and diagnostic rhizomes were present on the specimen, without which the plant would have been easily confused with A. lateriflorus (L.) Britt., calico aster. The plants were collected in the "weedy" fringe along the circumference of the island—one of the only remaining habitats there that escapes the lawn mower. Another specimen was collected on dolomitic scree at the base of the island on the banks of the Niagara River. Both specimens are on deposit at BUF.
Aster ontarionis Wieg., a plant of the prairie provinces, is typically found on moist, calcareous soils. It is now known from both the St Lawrence Valley and Niagara Frontier in New York.
This species is associated with moist ground: at the upper station, on the southwest island margin, the plants grew in wet soil, and at the base of the island they were in the spray zone of Horseshoe Falls.
This discovery in the Niagara Gorge reinforces, once more, the well-known reputation of the area as an environmentally complex refugium and haven for rare species, as well as an area of diverse habitats that also harbor an ever-increasing number of rare non-
Aster ontarionis was listed as rare by Mitchell (1986), and placed on the active rare plant inventory by the New York Natural Heritage Program. In the most recent Heritage list, however (Young, 1996), it has been relegated to the "watch list"—taken from active status because of increasing numbers of populations found in the St. Lawrence Valley. Although Ontario aster is turning out to be relatively frequent there, the St. Lawrence Lowlands remain the only New York region where the species was known
prior to this report.
Semple & Heard (1987) report Aster ontarionis as "rare, along streams and in wet woods in southwestern Ontario," but locally more common to the west and north. They report no populations for the Niagara peninsular region of Ontario opposite the New York stations. The Canadian authors (ibid.) noted characteristics of the species that are intermediate between . lateriflorus and A. intermedius, but mention that it differs in leaf pubescence. Jones (1989) notes its frequent confusion with A. lateriflorus in herbaria.
Another notable rare species, Gentianopsis procera, shares calico aster's identical disjunct distribution in New York State. This is indicative of a suite of rare plants that occur as outliers of the prairie flora, extending from Ontario eastward, especially on calcareous substrates in what is called the "Prairie Peninsula."
Jones, A. G. 1989. Aster and Brachyactis in Illinois. III. Nat. Hist. Surv. Bull. Vol. 34.
Mitchell, R. S. 1986. A Checklist of New York State Plants. New York State Mus. Bull. 458. 272 pp.
Sample, J. C. & S. B. Heard. 1987. The Asters of Ontario: Aster L. and Virgulus Raf. (Compositae: Asteraceae). Univ. Waterloo Biol. Series. Vol. 30.
Young. S. M. (ed.) 1996. N. Y. Natural Heritage Program Rare Plant Stains List. (xerographic), 74 pp.
Editor's Note: The preceding article by Patricia Eckel is just the sort of thing we need to keep the Newsletter interesting. Members, please send more! (RSM)