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Southern Fleabane
southern fleabane
Southern fleabane, photographed near Lake Ida Park, Delray Beach, Palm Beach County, in April 2015.
southern fleabane

It's really, really hard not to like southern fleabane, Erigeron quercifolius. It's just so bright and cheery and simple. Unless, of course, you happen to be a flea.

This daisy-like flower is everywhere come spring time. You'll see it growing in low-lying lots, in ditches, along roadsides, in parks. As long as there's a modicum of moisture and lot's of sun, southern fleabane will grow, and as these photographs attest, sometimes in huge numbers.

Southern fleabane is a Florida native found pretty much everwhere in the state with the exception of the western Panhandle counties. It's also found pretty much throughout the southeastern United States as far north as Virginia and as far west as Arkansas and Louisiana. it's also found in the Bahamas.

It's a short plant, generally less than a foot tall. Some sources we've read say it can reach twice that but we've never seen it anywhere near that height. At the base is a rosette of leaves, the shape of which inspires both the scientific name and a second common name. They look like oak leaves (quercus is the genus of oak trees).

For much of the year, that rosette is about all of southern fleabane that you'll see. In winter, it goes dormant, but right around March, it sends up stalks with multiple branches topped with relatively small flowers with a bright, golden-yellow disk surrounded by (usually) white rays. The flowers are maybe a half-inch across, pretty enough on their own but when massed, the effect is exponential.

southern fleabane

The rays are usually white but they can be pink or lavender as well. Fleabane flowers year-round but is most conspicuous spring to early summer. Fleabane likes moist soils, but it can tolerate drought once it is established. It's also salt tolerant. In South Florida, southern fleabane is a perennial; in colder climes, it becomes an annual.

In the wild, moist pinelands, prairies and "disturbed" sites are southern fleabane's natural habitats. It grows easily from seed and plants are sometimes available from commercial nurseries. It is a rapid grower and tends to spread, which brings up its one small character flaw: it can become weedy if used in a home garden.

Southern fleabane is an important nectar source for bees and some butterflies. While several members of the Erigeron genus have been used in traditional medicine as a diuretic and to remedy conditions such as gout and dropsy (swelling caused by excess fluids in the tissues) we could find none for our guy. Its one ethnobotanical use: burning the leaves is said to repel fleas.

Southern fleabane is a member of Asteraceae, the aster family, which includes sunflowers and dandelions. Other common names and spellings include oakleaf fleabane and oak-leaf fleabane.

Photographs by David Sedore
Links for Southern Fleabane