Also known as rose petty, blue spring-daisy, and Robert’s plantian, this herbaceous biennial or short-lived perennial is a member of the aster family Asteraceae, that also includes sunflower, yarrow, and lettuce. It is native to eastern and southcentral US from Maine and Ontario to southeast Minnesota south to Florida, Mississippi and Texas where it grows in open woods, fields, streambanks, roadsides and disturbed sites. Plants grow 18-24″ tall from a crown of fibrous root system with rhizomes or stolons, and has a rosette of paddle-shaped hairy leaves up to 5″ long with a single flowering stems. This stem is hairy, 12-24″ tall, and bears alternate sessile leaves and loose clusters of 2-9 flower heads from mid spring to early summer. Each flower head is up to 1 1/4″ across and consists of up to 100 white, pink, pale blue or lavender ray flowers surrounding a center of yellow disc flowers. The fruit is a tufted achene. The flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies and the plants are for their use as a ground cover and in rock, cottage, and wildflower gardens. Te genus name, Erigeron, comes from the Greek words eri meaning early, and geron meaning old man, and refers to the early bloom time as well as the hairy appearance that resembles the beard of an old man. The specific epithet, pullchellus, is the diminutive of the Latin word pulcher, meaning beautiful.
Type: Biennial or short-lived perennial
Bloom: Pin or white to lavender flower heads with yellow disc from mid spring to early summer
Size: 18-24″ H x 18-24″ W
Light: Full to part sun
Soil: Average, dry to medium moist, well-drained
Hardiness: Zones 3-8
Care: Low maintenance
Pests and Diseases: Generally healthy but susceptible to powdery mildew, rust, leaf spot
Propagation: Seed, division
Companion Plants: Japanese parley, grape hyacinth, small columbines
Outstanding Selections: ‘Lynnhaven Carpet’
Erigeron pulchellus,* Robin’s plantain—Nova Scotia and Ontario, south to Florida and Texas
Erigeron pulchellus is a perennial herb up to 60 cm (2 feet) tall, spreading by means of underground rhizomes. It produces 1-9 flower heads per stem, each head containing sometimes as many as 100 white, pink, pale blue, or pale purple ray florets surrounding many yellow disc florets. The species grows in forests, roadsides, and the banks of bodies of water.
Robin’s Plantain, Poor Robin’s Plantain, Rose Petty, Robert’s Plantain, Blue Spring-daisy
Native Distribution: ME & Ont. to s.e. MN, s. to GA, MS & e. TX
Native Habitat: Rich, woods; stream banks; fields
Soft stems, 12-18 in. high, rise from rosettes appearing along surface runners. The paddle-shaped, basal leaves are soft and hairy. Lavender-blue to white flowers with yellow centers are borne in several-headed clusters. The flowers somewhat resemble asters but the rays are much slenderer and more numerous.
These plants form colonies.
Easily grown in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates light shade, particularly in hot summer climates. Also tolerates heat and humidity. Good drainage is very important. Plants will naturalize in optimum growing conditions by self-seeding and stoloniferous spread. Propagate by seed, division or cuttings. Best in poor to modest soils which have not been fertilized. Plants usually perform poorly in rich soils.
Erigeron pulchellus, commonly known as robin’s plantain, is an aster-like, stoloniferous, biennial to short-lived perennial that typically grows to 2’ tall on soft, hairy, hollow, unbranched, sparsely-leaved flowering stems rising from a basal clump of paddle-shaped, scalloped to bluntly toothed, soft and hairy leaves (2-6” long). Stem leaves are shorter, stem-clasping, ovate to lanceolate and sparse. This plant is native to rocky or open woods, thickets, fields, moist streambanks, disturbed areas and roadsides from Minnesota to Ontario, Quebec and Maine south to Florida, Louisiana and Texas. In Missouri, it is commonly found in the eastern half of the State plus the Ozark region, but is absent from the northwestern part of the State. Stems are topped in April to June with a profuse and showy bloom of small flowers (to 1 1/2” wide) in loose clusters (2-6 flowers per cluster). Each flowerhead has 50-100 densely packed, thread-like, white to pale violet ray florets surrounding a yellow center disk. Flowers resemble asters but have rays that are much narrower and more numerous.
Description: This perennial wildflower consists of a rosette of basal leaves that produces a single flowering stalk about ½–2′ tall. The basal leaves are up to 5″ long and 3″ across; they are oval to obovate in shape, medium green on their upper surfaces, and bluntly dentate toward their tips. The alternate cauline leaves are smaller in size than the basal leaves; they are oblanceolate to oblong and clasp the flowering stalk. Both the basal and cauline leaves are more or less pubescent, particularly on their undersides.
The stout flowering stalk is terete, conspicuously hairy, and unbranched; it terminates in a corymb of several daisy-like flowerheads (typically 1-6 flowerheads, but sometimes more). Each flowerhead is ¾–1¼” across, consisting of 50-100 ray florets that surround numerous yellow disk florets in the center. The ray florets are usually white, less often they are light pink or light violet. The base of each flowerhead has an outer surface consisting of numerous green bracts (phyllaries); these floral bracts are linear in shape and organized into a single series. The blooming period occurs from mid-spring to early summer and lasts about 2-3 weeks. Both the ray and disk florets are fertile, each one producing a single bullet-shaped achene with a tuft of white hairs. These achenes are distributed by the wind. After the blooming period, the flowering stalks die down, but the basal leaves persist. The root system consists of a crown of fibrous roots; rhizomes or stolons are often produced, resulting in small colonies of plants.
Cultivation: The preference is dappled sunlight or partial sun and average to dry conditions. Different kinds of soil are acceptable, including those that contain clay-loam, rocky material, or sand. The best site consists of a partially shaded slope under trees where the ground vegetation is somewhat sparse.
Range & Habitat: The native Robin’s Plantain is occasional throughout Illinois in suitable habitats, but it is more common in the northern and west-central sections of the state than elsewhere (see Distribution Map). Habitats include open rocky woodlands, wooded sand dunes, slopes of wooded bluffs, savannas and sandy savannas, banks of streams, and clearings in wooded areas. Robin’s Plantain is found in less disturbed areas than other species in this genus.
Faunal Associations: The flowerheads attract small bees, various flies, small butterflies, and skippers. These insects seek nectar primarily, although some of the bees also collect pollen. The caterpillars of several moths feed on the flowers of Erigeron spp. (Fleabanes), including Schinia lynx (Lynx Flower Moth), Schinia obscurata (Obscure Flower Moth), Eupithecia miserulata (Common Pug), and Synchlora aerata (Wavy-Lined Emerald). Some aphids that feed on species in this genus include Aphis middletonii (Erigeron Root Aphid) and Prociphilus erigeronensis. The foliage is palatable to mammalian herbivores (rabbits, deer, livestock, etc.), while the seeds are eaten to a limited extent by the White-Footed Mouse and other small rodents.
Genus name comes from the Greek words eri meaning early and geron meaning old man in reference to the early bloom time and downy plant appearance suggestive of the white beard of an old man.
Specific epithet from Latin means beautiful.
Plants in the genus Erigeron are often commonly called fleabane as a result of a once widely held theory that these plants repel fleas.
No serious insect or disease problems. Some susceptibility to powdery mildew, leaf spots and rust.
Cottage gardens, butterfly gardens, native plant/wildflower gardens, meadows or naturalized areas. May be used in borders and rock gardens.