… or Asteraceae, if you prefer, are basically the daisy family, ranging in size from the largest sunflowers to the smallest common daisy, Bellis perennis, and encompassing shrubs, vines and trees as well as the familiar herbaceous varieties. In terms of numbers the Compositae are possibly the biggest plant family, with over 23,500 species: though there are (as always) issues about when a species is not really a species. (It is also possible that the Orchidaceae are the biggest group…) But the place to muse on the varieties of plants in this enormous family is undoubtedly the Systematic Beds at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, where on a sunny August day they are flowering their heads off.
I can just about tell my Echinaceas from my Heleniums, but I find Heleniums versus Rudbeckias more tricky – and I am afraid I was far too busy taking photographs and watching the bees, hoverflies and butterflies which flock to these generously open flowers to pay sufficient attention to the labels. So here is a selection of stunning variations on the basic composite or star-shaped flower.