Mystery In White

We have a mysterious presence in one of our borders: a delightful one, but rather puzzling nonetheless.

Standing just over a metre tall, this plant has sprung up at the front of the border along the field. Its tall stems, with narrow leaves, support sprays of these beautiful daisy-flowers; they lean rather into the garden in the direction of the prevailing winds, so could do with gentle staking. I love the prominent fuzzy yellow centres and slightly backswept petals of the flowers, and the bee population appears to agree, busily curating the flowers since they opened last week, but I am utterly perplexed by its presence.

I noticed the stems pushing up a month or so ago, tipped with dozens of tiny buds, and took it to be one of the Gypsophila paniculata that I sowed in the spring and later planted out around the garden, envisaging a haze of soft white sprays for vases.

They germinated well, and I pricked them out into modules but most of the plants stayed in their cells too long as I waited for planting space, and did not take off as hoped.

Gysophila seedlings in May 2011

This plant has indeed sprung up in one of the locations where I placed one of these, and the leaves have the same format as the seedlings, but in bloom it certainly does not look like a Gypsophila; in fact I would say it looked like an aster, and rather a fine one at that.

Am I going utterly mad? Was the Gypsophila seed mislabelled? Is this a coincidence and no relation to those seedlings that I raised, in which case where did it come from? If only one or more of the other seedlings survived to tell the tale: there are still some very leggy sad plants in a module tray by the greenhouse, if planted out perhaps one or two will struggle through to confirm or refute connection with our mystery plant.

I shall see if any can be coaxed on. Failing that, there are still seeds in the original packet to sow in the spring; there’s every chance they won’t confirm either way where our mysterious plant originated from, but they may give a clue. And they’ll hopefully give me my sprays of baby’s breath, however slightly old-fashioned they may be.


18 thoughts on “Mystery In White

  1. Do the flowers or leaves have a scent / smell?

    I bought some organic potting compost over the summer. It was terrible. Nettles and all sorts came up with the plants I wanted. However, there was a very nice wild poppy too. Could your potting compost have held a dormant seed?

    • A good question, and prompted me to dash into the garden, but the plant is wet from this afternoon’s rainfall, and any scent is hard to discern. There may be a slight perfume, certainly nothing unpleasant. The leaves have no noticeable smell.
      I do suspect that the location and similarity of leaf to the Gyps. pan. are a red herring, and this has come from some other location. A quick inspection on the other side has revealed a small Gypsophila planted out very soon after the one on the field side still sulking at only six inches high or so, with a few small leaves.
      This year’s compost was very generic bagged stuff, so unlikely to harbour too many seeds but you never know. Your experience sounds quite alarming! Given how much we have moved around all the soil in the garden this year, it could have been lying dormant anywhere – it has only been a few brief months since we finally dug that area over ready for planting.
      It must surely be an aster, or close relative. I do wonder where it came from though.

  2. I have had quite a few uninvited visitor of this sort entering my garden (not that variety though). In my small garden it is very easy to identify things I have sown or planted, so when I see something I didn’t put in, I usually reckon that seeds carried in on bird droppings are the most likely cause. It is the case though that sometimes some seeds of the wrong type sneak into a packet by mistake.
    Your plant looks like a yellow-and-white version of the Michealmas Daisy. I suppose that just means it is in the Aster family!

    • Yes, it screams Aster at me, but no idea which. Rather a nice present wherever it came from, though I think I’ll move it further back in the border (and stake it).

    • Thanks Helen, that looks a very close match, though ours seems to have a lot more petals than pics of A. umbellatus. Suspect you are right and the birds are more than likely responsible, though given how much we have moved the earth around the garden it could have been under a hedge all along I suppose!
      A nice surprise, I rather like it.

  3. Hi, I definately think it is an Aster, I don’t know which one but Patient gardener is usually good at recognising plants so I’d check that one first. Christina It does look a little like one I have called Kristina. Christina

    • Thanks Christina (how nice to have a plant with almost the same name as you). I agree that it has to be some kind of Aster, the petals look more like your A. novi-belgii Kristina than A. umbellatus, but the plant is too tall for that.

  4. Hi,
    It’s a very nice Aster – Aster Umbellatus is massive – taller than me, its blooms only have a few petals compared to this which has many, thin petals and its shape is generally flat, hence its name flat-topped Aster 🙂
    Here’s an image of the blooms:
    and a size comparison:

    Either way it is lovely, and well worth collecting seeds or perhaps seeing if it propagates itself (something that umbellatus does readily, mine have quadrupled in number in just one year. They send underground runners and loads more come up).

    • Hi Liz, It is rather lovely isn’t it, and I agree that the shape and number of petals don’t match those of A. Umbellatus. Thank you for your pics. I shall keep an eye out for seed heads later in the autumn, and hope that it spreads gently by itself too.

  5. Hi Sara, I saw this post a couple of days ago and was really interested as I have the same plant growing at the Priory – both around the ponds and on field margins. I usually use this excellent key to identify wild plants:

    but for once it didn’t help. But, as Mark says, I’m pretty convinced it’s a michaelmas daisy (Aster novi-belgii also Aster x salignus – there’s some confusion!!) an American native but now widespread within the UK.

    I hate not being able to identify wild flowers but am fairly sure that is what this is (or at least the one at the Priory is).

    By the way, may I ask how you watermark your photos? They look so much smarter than my rather crude watermarks (from a freebie program I downloaded).


    • Hi Dave, Thanks for this information – it hadn’t occurred to me to look to wild/naturalised species to identify our alien, but Aster x salignus does look like a great match. It’s described in places as a “garden escape” – ha! So much for escape! It’s so good to put a probable name to a plant, though, thanks to you and Mark for narrowing down the Aster!

      As for watermarking, I use a program called GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) to resize and watermark my photos for posts – a really versatile application that is available on Windows or Linux as a free download. As well as the basic tools, it’s possible to write scripts to automate many tasks and sequences, and I have one such for watermarking. If you are interested, I could send you the script/plugin that I use (it automatically appears in the drop down menus when installed in the right directory).


    • I shall send it your way as soon as I have a chance – hopefully this evening! There are some (amazing) aspects of GIMP that I still haven’t dared look into, but I find it pretty nifty for basic cropping/resizing/watermarking.

  6. It definitely looks like an aster. If you pick a few stems and put them in a vase they make great cut flowers but they also give off quite a strong smell when cut so that might help with identification. I was given some little plants by a very kind gentlemen at my allotments, he wasn’t sure what they were called but they have turned into asters and they’re beautiful. I’ve also had different plants grow from seeds I’ve sown. I can only assume there have been problems in the packing.

    • Indeed think it’s definitely an aster too – and think we’ve narrowed down that it’s probably Aster x. salignus – seems to fit the bill. The seed company did offer to replace my packet of seed, but that seems a bit too much when I can’t be sure that the plant grew from the packet and wasn’t just brought by birds. I’ll keep trying with what’s left in the packet of gypsophila seed, and continue to admire my new aster in the meantime.

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