Another fun aster! I found a patch of pathfinder plants showing flowers and fruit on my hike this week and spent nearly 30 minutes just lying on the trail and trying to get good photos of them. Even with a macro lens, getting in-focus pictures of the tiny flowers was quite difficult. Contrast that with the large, recognizable leaves – even when not flowering, the triangular leaf shape with a light underside makes this a relatively easy plant to identify.

Pathfinder plant has distinct triangular leaves that are smooth green on top, light woolly green beneath

Compound flower of pathfinder plant: fruiting pistillate flowers with staminate flowers in center. The fruits bear stalked glands on the upper half. The stems are covered in stalked glands as well. It’s a sticky plant.

Asters do this fun thing where what looks like a singular flower head is actually a cluster of smaller flowers. For example, a sunflower is a circle of “ray flowers” around a circular field of “disk flowers.” The next time you see one, get a closer look and try to find the pistils/stamen in the component flowers. Last week’s plant, white-flowering hawkweed, is all ray flowers. Pathfinder plant is all disk flowers. Not all the flowers have the same bits, though. The center of the composite flower head bears staminate flowers, with pistillate flowers surrounding them. The elongated fruits then grow from the pistillate flowers.

Fruits getting bigger… staminate flowers remaining in center

Eventually only the fruit remains. I like how perfectly pentagonal this one is!

Sticky hairs cover the stems and fruits of pathfinder plant. I found multiple insects stuck in them. I don’t know if this is carnivory (it certainly looks a bit like a sundew), or the plant simply limiting the types of insects able to access its flowers. Either way, cool and creepy!

A tiny bug stuck on the even tinier sticky hairs on the plant stem

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