Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Ageratina havanensis does its thing

with 37 comments

A great floral attractor of insects in the fall is Ageratina havanensis, known as fragrant mist flower, shrubby boneset, and thoroughwort, and apparently in Spanish as the barba de viejo (old man’s beard) that corresponds to the fuzzier stage the inflorescence takes on after it goes to seed.

Click to enlarge.

The insect shown above working these flowers in my neighborhood on November 2nd is a syrphid fly, which you can see gains some protection by mimicking a bee. The stray seeds with silk attached came from the adjacent poverty weed bush that graciously put in an appearance here a couple of weeks ago. Below you’ll find a much larger and more colorful insect that was visiting the flowers, a queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 4, 2018 at 4:56 AM

37 Responses

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  1. It’s very attractive. No wonder it receives a lot of attention.


    December 4, 2018 at 5:26 AM

  2. Two beautiful captures! Ahhhhhhhh.


    December 4, 2018 at 9:16 AM

  3. Nice pix!

    Whew! You had me going for awhile w/IDing the butterfly as a queen rather than a monarch. Did lookup at “Distinguishing Queens, Monarchs, and Others” (http://www.greatstems.com/2009/10/distinguishing-queens-monarchs-and-others.html). Contrasts pix for various lookalikes and includes descriptions for m/f, upperside and underside, and forewing/hindwing.


    December 4, 2018 at 12:33 PM

    • I’m glad you appreciate the pictures, which I took on Floral Park. Dr. across from Misting Falls Trail. I count on that location each fall and keep hoping the people who mow and trim won’t destroy the site.

      The way I knew the butterfly was a queen was from having seen its upperside, which doesn’t show in this photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 4, 2018 at 1:38 PM

  4. Here in New Zealand, Old Man’s Beard or OMB is an invasive plant that my husband and the bio-security company he works for is busy eradicating … though I doubt it will ever be completely gone.

    Jenny Meadows

    December 4, 2018 at 3:32 PM

  5. I envy you for still getting to enjoy butterflies, Steve. In Colorado, it is flying snowflakes.


    December 4, 2018 at 7:05 PM

    • Despite our having had a frosty night or two recently, I’m still seeing butterflies here and there in this first week of December. Flying insects, yes; flying snowflakes, no. I wouldn’t mind experiencing some of the latter here just for variety. Austin gets an inch or so of snow maybe once every five years on average.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 4, 2018 at 7:58 PM

      • Well, Steve, you know where to go if your craving for snow ever gets the better of you! ❄❄❄


        December 4, 2018 at 8:08 PM

        • True enough. We even saw some snow still on the ground when we were there in the summer.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 4, 2018 at 9:35 PM

          • That’s not surprising, and a welcome sight, as it indicates a good snowpack, and lessens our fear of low reservoir levels, if only slightly.


            December 4, 2018 at 10:03 PM

  6. This is beautiful. We have a very similar one in PR called: Chromolaena odorata (https://goo.gl/7NSx3f). They are different, however, and I looked this one up in a book from PR but didn’t find it. Thanks for posting it. I’ll be on the look out. The name in Spanish is hilarious.


    December 4, 2018 at 9:28 PM

    • I see the similarity, both in the plant and in the names boneset and mistflower. It’s interesting that the plant’s range in the United States is disjoint, with one part in Texas and the other in Florida.

      As for the Texas species, I’m well acquainted with the English translation of the Spanish name, even if it applies to a plant in a different botanical family.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 4, 2018 at 9:45 PM

      • I looked it up again and it said that ‘Ageratina’ is subtropical, with a USDA Hardiness Zone 8, which explains why it’s not in PR, but it could well be in Central Florida.


        December 4, 2018 at 9:59 PM

        • Not the Texas species, but a couple of other Ageratina species do inhabit parts of Florida:


          Steve Schwartzman

          December 4, 2018 at 10:22 PM

        • Cuba still gets a bit cooler than PR (zone 10). Florida keys are exactly the same as Cuba. PR has zones from 11-13, which is exclusively tropical and too hot for many plants, and the weather is termed as ‘tropical marine’, which is even more hostile to certain plants. Subtropical seems to be different and is as ‘tropical’ as it will get in the US. Most intriguing is that exclusively ‘tropical’ flora comes mostly from the Pacific, or vice versa.


          December 4, 2018 at 10:22 PM

          • The Rio Grande Valley at the southern tip of Texas is described as subtropical. It’s the only part of the state where a full-size palm grows natively.

            Steve Schwartzman

            December 4, 2018 at 10:30 PM

            • The botanical garden here in South Florida has a huge collection of palms from all over the world (the largest in the U.S.). Apparently the ‘Old World’ species are extremely similar. I almost started documenting some of the more common ones but it’s overwhelming, so I had to stop.


              December 4, 2018 at 10:39 PM

  7. Wish butterflies were still flying here! Two fine images, the Queen looks great. Not a boneset species I’ve seen. The boneset I know is a white joe pye weed lookalike, and a magnet for butterflies (especially hairstreaks), beetles, and other insects.


    December 5, 2018 at 7:57 AM

    • It’s an advantage of living in central Texas, where some butterflies still fly even in December, as I can attest from a walk in nature three days ago.

      I’ve learned that there are over 2000 members in the Eupatorieae tribe of the sunflower family, so every region probably has at least one:


      All the tribal members I’ve seen around here are great insect magnets, as you’ve also experienced.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 5, 2018 at 1:13 PM

      • Some day I’ll make it to south Texas for the butterflies. As it is here in the Northeast, I’ll have to wait for a warm winter day when the Mourning Cloaks or Eastern Commas fly, which does happen from time to time.
        As for the Eupatorieae, I didn’t realize it included Liatris. I thought Joe Pye was in the genus Eupatorium, but it’s in a different genus now.


        December 6, 2018 at 7:40 PM

        • Maybe someday I’ll make it to south Texas then too.

          Your comment about commas flying in the Northeast reminds me of being back in English class at Columbia 50+ years ago.

          I also didn’t realize that Liatris is in the Eupatorieae tribe. Live and learn. One change that’s relevant here is that the former Liatris mucronata is now Liatris punctata var. mucronata.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 6, 2018 at 9:20 PM

          • Surely it’s not difficult for you to get near the border where the migrant butterflies are more common? Taxonomists love to shuffle around the names, and add new genera.


            December 7, 2018 at 9:45 PM

            • Texas is a big state. From Austin to the Rio Grande Valley is a drive of more than five hours. I’ve done it a couple of times but not for years and years. Maybe it’s overdue.

              Yes, shuffling the names of genera and species keeps biologists in business. One who led a field trip here a few years ago pointed out the irony that in some cases the common name of a species has proved more stable than the scientific name.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 7, 2018 at 10:58 PM

  8. That’s a beautiful portrait of a queen butterfly. The first ones I ever saw were fluttering around blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum).

    In a 2009 article, Bill Ward described blue mistflower as a butterfly magnet, too, and added that “nurseries probably carry blue mistflowers under the scientific name of Eupatorium, which used to be the accepted genus for a whole group of similar plants. The taxonomists, in their wisdom, have put blue mistflowers in the genus Conoclinium.”

    I noticed, too, that common names for the blue include wild ageratum and blue boneset, and I grinned at his note that the ‘blue’ actually tends toward lavender: a characteristic that you’ve often noted.


    December 5, 2018 at 9:31 PM

    • I get the impression that a lot of species in this tribe, the Eupatorieae, have been called butterfly magnets, and with good reason. I learned about “blue” mistflower from Marshall Enquist, who had Eupatorium as the preferred genus and Conoclinium in parentheses. Now the order is reversed.

      I also get the impression that gardeners are familiar with the genus Ageratum, which I know about only because of the Ageratina that figures in this post, and that likewise used to be classified in Eupatorium.

      Whatever the plants’ names, fortunately the insects aren’t fooled, and they keep coming out to act as subjects for me and other nature photographers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 5, 2018 at 9:52 PM

      • It occurs to me that I’ve never seen the mistflower you pictured here in this area, but only the blue, and my only sightings of the white have been in the hill country.


        December 5, 2018 at 9:54 PM

        • If you check the USDA map at https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=AGHA4 you’ll see why you haven’t found the pictured species over by the coast. I’m fortunate to have these bushes growing wild in my part of town.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 5, 2018 at 9:59 PM

          • And there it is, growing in all of my favorite counties. I found some of my photos from last fall, and there were three kinds of butterfly on the plants: buckeyes, and two others that I haven’t identified (but not queens).


            December 5, 2018 at 10:32 PM

            • My guess is that Ageratina havanensis favors or even requires the limestone-rich soil of the Edwards Plateau.

              Good luck identifying those butterflies.

              Steve Schwartzman

              December 6, 2018 at 7:29 AM

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