The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc.

Plants of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden

The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States


Common Name
Hairy Golden-aster (Hairy False Golden-aster)


Scientific Name
Heterotheca villosa (Pursh) Shinners - formerly Chrysopsis villosa


Plant Family
Aster (Asteraceae)

Garden Location
Historical, not extant


Prime Season
Late Summer



Hairy Golden-aster is a very variable plant with differences in stem height, leaf shape, number of flower heads and the type of hair on the stems and leaves. Flora of North America details 9 different varieties. The description given here is a summary of general characteristics of the plant. One should consult Flora of North America for specific details of the various varieties found.

Hairy Golden-aster is a native erect perennial forb growing 1 to 3 feet high on stiff stems. Under cultivation some varieties available can grown much higher. Stem color varies from gray to reddish-brown, sometimes whitish at the top. Stems are hairy with long grayish to whitish hairs, sometime appressed.

The leaves are alternate and usually crowded on the stem when the plants are short. Lower leaves have stalks, upper leaves will usually be sessile. Margins are usually entire, leaf surfaces vary with the amount of hair but always have hair, including marginal hair. Leaf blades are lanceolate (widest above the middle) to oblanceolate (widest below the middle) to oblong. Tips are acute to pointed. Leaves are 1 to 3 inches long.

The floral array is a branched cluster of 1 to 16 flower heads atop the stem. In most varieties the inflorescence presents a bushy appearance atop the short stems.

The flower heads have florets of two types. An outer ring of 10 to 20 ray florets with yellow rays which are pistillate and fertile. The rays are widest at the middle. These surround the inner disc of 20 to 50 disc florets with yellow tubular corollas that have a five-lobed throat lip. The corolla tube is (unusually) shorter than the throat. Disc florets are bisexual and fertile. The five stamens tightly surround the style, which branches and has a triangular appendage, all of which is exserted from the throat when in flower. Surrounding the outside of the head are 4 to 5 series of phyllaries, of unequal size, lanceolate to linear-lanceolate in shape, sometimes with reddish purple tips. These are usually not spreading and may have fine hair. In some varieties there are 1 to 2 leaf-like bracts beneath the flower head on the flower stalk which is usually hairy, sometimes with glandular hair. Heads are 1 to 1-1/2 inches wide.

Seed: The seed of the disc florets is a dry cypsela, 1.7 to 2.7 mm long, with 4 to 8 ribs, narrowly conical in shape, usually with fine hair, and with an off-white pappus attached for wind dispersion. Cypselae of the ray florets are slightly different, usually 3-angled.


Habit: Hairy Golden-aster grows from a taproot in average sunny well-drained soils, mesic to dry moisture conditions.

Names: The genus Heterotheca is from two Greek words, hetero, meaning 'diverse' and theke, referring to a 'case' or the 'ovary' and in this genus the compound word refers to the difference in the cypselae from the disc florets to those of the ray florets (when they are present). This is unusual as most sunflower types produce similar seed from the ray and disc florets. The species, villosa, means 'covered with soft hairs.' The author name for the plant classification is first: ‘Pursh’ refers to Frederick Traugott Pursh (1774-1820) German-American botanist who wrote A Systematic Arrangement and Description of the Plants of North America, and was the botanist who catalogued and described the plants brought back by the exploring expedition of Lewis and Clark. Pursh was disliked by American botanists because he took some of these plants to New York with him and later to London treating them as his own property. He did the same years later with much material collected by Thomas Nuttall, writing it up with no credit to Nuttall. Prush named this plant in 1814 under the old name of Amellus villosus. It was later re-classified as Chrysopsis villosa by Thomas Nuttall, then finally moved into the current genus in 1951 by ‘Shinners’ which refers to Lloyd Herbert Shinners (1918-1971) American botanist, who became a professor of Botany at Southern Methodist University and Director of the University Herbarium. He published several hundred papers, was especially interested in the Asteraceae Family. His major work was Spring Flora of the Dallas-Fort Worth Area, Texas.

Comparisons: See notes on the varieties found in Minnesota at the bottom of the page.

See bottom of page for notes on the Garden's planting history, distribution in Minnesota and North America, lore and other references.

flower heads flower detail

Above : Plants vary by variety in the number of ray florets and the width and length of the floral array.

Below: Hairy Golden-asters. Drawing of var. minor from Britton & Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada, and the British Possessions in 1896.


Below: Examples of two stems - which are quite variable due to the number of varieties. Gray stem photo ©Aaron Carlson, Wisconsin Flora.

Stem red stems

Below: 1st photo - this flower head has glandular hair. 2nd photo - seeds forming. 3rd photo - the dry cypselae with pappus attached.

Phyllaries seed head seeds
flower group


Hairy Golden-aster was first introduced to the Garden by Eloise Butler in the Spring of 1914 with plants she sourced from Columbia Heights MN. She planted more in 1915, then beginning in 1917 she planted them every year through 1928 except for 1921. In her day the classification was Chrysopsis villosa. The species was still in the Garden at the time of Martha Crone's 1951 census. She had noted planting it Sept. 1945 and '46.

In North America, the various varieties of this plant are found from the Great Plains to the west coast with populations also found in Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. In Canada the range is from Ontario to the west coast. In Minnesota the plant is found in the southern and western half of the state, including most metro area counties.

There are four varieties found in Minnesota. Differences are in the amount and type of leaf hair, shape of the flower head, and showy-ness and number of the ray florets.

var. minor, with the upper stem leaves narrowly to broadly oblanceolate, sometimes oblong, tips pointed to obtuse, sparse to moderate leaf hair, floral array compact, phyllaries usually with moderate short hair and often with glandular hair; rays 10 to 18.

var. ballardii, stems often with abundant long hair, upper stem leaves narrowly to broadly oblong, floral bracts subtend the flower head and often are longer than the head, leaf faces with moderate short hair, flower head broadly bell shaped, showy rays -17 to 30, average 21.

var. foliosa, stems, leaves and bracts same as as var. ballardii, but leaf faces with moderate to dense bristly hair, sometime obscuring the face, flower head narrowly bell-shaped, rays less showy - 13 to 22, average 17.

var. villosa, stems with sparse to moderate long hair, upper stem leaves narrowly to broadly oblanceolate, floral bracts subtending the heads small and absent, leaf faces with moderate bristly hairs. Phyllaries with dense stiff short hairs and margins usually reddish-purplish; rays 10 to 27.

References and site links

References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.

graphicIdentification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.