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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … Pale Purple Petal?

What Is That … Pale Purple Petal?


These days when relaxing after cross-country skiing or snowshoeing, we often find our minds turning optimistically to the upcoming cottage season.  We love to look at photos from previous summers.  The peaceful images of wildlife and plants sooth our minds.  One group of cottage photos that recently caught our attention was the purple flowers, many shades of purple flowers, we regularly see around White Lake.  This article focuses on the pale purple petals of plants from the aster, the bellflower, the buttercup, and the mint families.  We hope these pale images will help to soothe your eyes, as they did ours, after the strain caused by bright snowy reflections on sunny winter days.

The aster family, also referred to as the sunflower or the daisy family, is the largest family of flowering plants with representatives found on every continent except Antarctica.  The flower-like heads of family members often appear to be an individual flower when the florets (small flowers) are densely packed into a common base where the ray florets are easily mistaken for petals and the disk florets for the center.  A few Ontario members of this family have aster as part of their common name.  Other family members have common names that include goldenrod, sunflower, thistle, and knapweed, to mention a few.

We have observed at least three species with the common name aster around our cottage … the New England aster, the panicled aster and Lindley’s aster.  The Lindley’s aster, pictured below, sports pale purple petals from August to September.  This perennial is common both in open wooded areas and along the edge of clearings such as the roadside near the cottage.  In contrast, the blooms of the New England aster are reddish-purple while the panicled aster has white blooms.

The Canada thistle belongs to the aster family, as all thistles do.  Differently-coloured blooms abound amongst the various thistle species, including the yellow flowers of the field sow thistle, the purple flowers of the bull, swamp thistle, and the nodding thistles, and the pale purple flowers of the Canada thistle.  Interestingly perhaps, the Canada thistle is not a native species.  It was introduced from Europe.  Its blossoms, which are smaller and more numerous than those of other purple-coloured thistles, can be seen from July to September along the roadside near our cottage.

Another pale purple flower that is a member of the aster family is chicory.  It is not a native species, having been introduced from the Mediterranean basin. This biennial plant can be found along roadsides where it blooms from June to October.  Blooms can range from blue to pale purple and occasionally even white.

The aster family is not the only plant family with pale purple flowers.  One of our favourites is the harebell which is a member of the bellflower family.  The harebell is a perennial that can be found in open woodland and rocky open sites.  The plants around our cottage bloom from June to August.  The nodding five-lobed bell-shaped flowers come in beautiful shades of light blue, pale purple and purple.

The sharp-lobed hepatica is a member of the buttercup family.  It is one of the earliest plants to bloom at the cottage, usually from April to May.  This perennial can be found growing in the forests around Three Mile Bay.  Blooms come in shades of white, pink, blue and pale purple.

Our last pale purple petal belongs to the mint family.  Wild mint likes to grow in moist open areas including the low parts of ditches along the road near the cottage.  This perennial produces dense clusters of small flowers at each point along the square stem where there are opposite leaves.  Blossoms can range from white to pale purple.  Flowers can be seen from July to September.

These are just a few of the many plant species sporting pale purple petals we enjoy during our summers at the cottage.  In addition to being attractive and soothing to the eye, they attract a variety of wildlife, a topic which we will explore in an upcoming article.

We relied on the following field guides for information provided in this article: T Dickinson, D Metsger, J. Bull and R Dickinson’s The ROM Field Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario; and, R.T. Peterson and M. McKenny’s Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and Northcentral North America.




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