The Narrow-leaved Smooth Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve var. concinnum) is a rare native aster that is protected by the State of North Carolina. It is listed as Threatened on the North Carolina Protected Plant Species List (http://www.ncagr.gov/plantindustry/plant/plantconserve/documents/2010protectedplants.pdf).
It is also listed as Status: Threatened and Rank: Imperiled by the Natural Heritage Program, List of Rare Plant Species of North Carolina, 2014.
Few populations can be found, and only small numbers of individual plants are present in each population. These asters bloom in late fall, and display large numbers of bright, colorful blue flowers as seen below.
One small population of Narrow-leaved Smooth Asters is under management by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s Plant Conservation Program, in one of its Durham County Plant Conservation Preserves. This population is not only imperiled by its small size, but also by its location directly along a busy road and a ditch. There it is subject to direct injury by traffic, trash, and mowing. These circumstances provided a strong rationale for augmenting this small population. By propagating plants from seeds, a complementary population was produced, and placed adjacent to, but behind the original colony, in a better location, far back from the road and ditch. This small, pilot augmentation project increased the size of the population and decreased the risk by utilizing a safer location.
Volunteers from the Friends of Plant Conservation, a citizen group organized to support the conservation efforts of the Plant Conservation Program, began the pilot program in the fall of 2013. These volunteers have state permits to collect and propagate the species in the Plant Conservation Preserves. The seeds ( actually achenes, which are small, dried fruits containing a single seed) were collected from the Narrow-leaved Smooth Asters over several periods in the late fall of 2013.
The achenes pictured above are large and fully mature. The feather-like structure attached to the achene is the pappus, which aids in seed dispersal. When mature, swarms of the achenes are released by breezes, and can travel for long distances.
The achenes were placed in pots of commercial potting soil, and covered by a thin layer of the soil. They were planted during the winter and held outdoors except for nights of extreme cold. Germination began in mid March 2014. The photo below illustrates the small size of the cotyledons.
In about a month, the plants produced 3 to 6 true leaves, and grew considerably.
The young plants grew quickly and by July, some of the plants were already 2 feet high. The plants, tall and scraggly in appearance, earned the common name “narrow-leaved”.
The young, growing asters show considerable diversity in plant form and structure. Most of the leaves are entire (smooth margins), but rarely, leaves with serrated margins are seen.
Most plants have very narrow leaves, but occasionally a relatively broad leaved plant (left)comes along. In spite of the diversity in shape and form, all of the plants are well within the species description in Weakley’s Flora, 2012.
The newly propagated plants were placed in the plant preserve in the early fall, and by late October, most were flowering heavily.
Principles provided by the
NORTH CAROLINA PLANT CONSERVATION PROGRAM RARE PLANT REINTRODUCTION, AUGMENTATION, AND TRANSPLANTATION GUIDELINES – March 2005
were followed throughout the process of seed collection, propagation, and transplantation. Population augmentation is a Plant Conservation Program management strategy that has seldom been required and is used only in circumstances similar to those described above.
A second series of plants have been started this past winter with the hope of continuing to augment this important population of beautiful, rare asters.