"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Black-Eyed and Brown-Eyed Susans (1 of 2)

From “Rudbeckia (Asteraceae)” in Garden Flora: The Natural and Cultural History of the Plants In Your Garden by Noel Kingsbury:

“The name [Rudbeckia] was bestowed by Linnaeus, in honor of his teacher at Uppsala University in Sweden, Olof Rudbeck the Younger, and his father, Olof Rudbeck the Elder. It is the dark centres to these golden-yellow daisies which draw us to them — hence, the common name black-eyed Susans (coneflower is another). There are 23 species, all rapidly growing herbaceous perennials and all native to North America, largely the midwestern and eastern U.S. states….

“Rudbeckias are generalists, growing in a wide range of both open and lightly shaded habitats, from virgin prairie to waste ground, but preferring moister and more fertile soils. Of the species in cultivation, Rudbeckia hirta and R. triloba are short-lived non-clonal perennials, often members of pioneer communities; the remainder are clonal and competitive, often strongly spreading, although not always persistent. Rudbeckias have had a minor role in Native American medicine, sometimes as a substitute for echinacea.”


Last week I went hunting at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens for some of the tiny, colorful asters that I’ve previously photographed around this time of year (see, for example Autumn Asters (1 of 3), Autumn Asters (2 of 3), and Autumn Asters (3 of 3)). I was a little too early, as it turns out, finding only tiny buds not yet ready to open — but I did come across some substantial gatherings of the flowers featured in the images below. The first three photos will give you some idea of the flower volume: a bloom-forest teaming with moths, bees, and other wee pollinators bouncing among the “eyes” of these flowers.

Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) and Brown-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia triloba) are members of the Asteraceae family — so I guess I actually did find asters, just not the ones I was looking for. Wikipedia lists other common names for the plants, including Coneflower, Brown Betty, Gloriosa Daisy, Golden Jerusalem, English Bull’s Eye, Poor-Land Daisy, Yellow Daisy, and Yellow Ox-eye Daisy — and many of these names likely have some fun historical roots and local usages. I did asked one of the AI tools if the name “Susan” in “Black-eyed Susan” once referred to any specific person, and here’s what I sort-of learned from ClaudeAI:

There are a few theories about the origin of the “Susan” part of the name Black-eyed Susan, but unfortunately there is no definitive evidence pinpointing exactly who Susan refers to. Here are some of the main theories:

  • One belief is that it was named after an English woman called Susan who frequently handed out flowers, including rudbeckias. This may explain the flower’s association with cheerfulness and hospitality.
  • A common legend says it was named by European settlers for a native Algonquin woman who helped them learn wildflower names. This speaks to its native North American origins.
  • Some think it may be biblical in origin and refer to Susanna from the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament.
  • There are unverified references to individual women named Susan in colonial America for whom the flower was informally named.
  • It may simply refer generically to the archetype of a strong, plainspoken woman, as Susan sometimes represented in folk culture.

Unfortunately there is no solid evidence for any of these possibilities over the others. The name was in use by the late 1700s, but the exact inspiration remains mysterious. So while the “Susan” in Black-eyed Susan is vivid, the specific person or meaning behind it has been lost to history.

It was an overcast day when I took these photos, which made the flowers glow against their dark green backgrounds, and the filtered light accentuated a color shift from yellow toward a more saturated orange. The “eyes” actually vary in color and include both black and dark brown, which helped me differentiate Black-eyed from Brown-eyed Susans.  The brown eyes reflect more yellow or orange shades from the flower than the black ones, on which you may see bits of blue color along with the black.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Autumn Asters (3 of 3)

From Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi:

“Plants that bloom in cloudy masses are a boon to the perennial border because with no effort on your part they produce ‘drifts of color.’ The phrase is Gertrude Jekyll’s. Jekyll, like Monet, was a painter with poor eyesight, and their gardens — his at Giverny in the Seine valley, hers in Surrey — had resemblances that may have sprung from this condition. Both loved plants that foamed and frothed over walls and pergolas, spread in tides beneath trees; both saw flowers in islands of colored light — an image the normal eye captures only by squinting….

“The charm of asters is their fluffy heads and ravishing colors — dusty pinks and powder-blues, strawberry reds and amethyst purples — and the way they arrange themselves in a bowl. I can’t resist them and invariably let optimism get the better of judgment, which come to think of it may be the first principle of gardening.”

From Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden by Gertrude Jekyll:

“There is a small-growing perennial Aster, A. corymbosus, from a foot to eighteen inches high, that seems to enjoy close association with other plants and is easy to grow anywhere. I find it… one of the most useful of [the] filling plants for edge spaces that just want some pretty trimming but are not wide enough for anything larger….

”The little thin starry flower is white and is borne in branching heads; the leaves are lance-shaped and sharply pointed; but when the plant is examined in the hand its most distinct character is the small fine wire-like stem, smooth and nearly black, that branches about in an angular way of its own.”


This is the third of three posts featuring aster varieties from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens, where I took some my earlier aster photos, resized them, and removed the backgrounds. The “drifts of color” seem even more “ravishing” on black.

The previous posts in this series are Autumn Asters (1 of 3) and Autumn Asters (2 of 3).

Thanks for taking a look!

Autumn Asters (2 of 3)

From Adirondack: Life and Wildlife in the Wild, Wild East by Edward Kanze:

“With the goldenrods in autumn come New England asters, tall and stately and elegantly garnished with yellow-centered purple pinwheels. And with these come the year’s last great rush of birds and insects. Goldfinches pick apart thistles and feed the seeds to their young….

“Overhead in skies of brilliant cobalt, hawks float dreamily southward, making the smaller birds below them nervous. Red-tailed bumblebees bustle among the goldenrods, gathering nectar and pollen, and on the billowing white blossoms of the sixty hydrangea bushes that border the driveway, monarch butterflies flutter down like autumn leaves.”

From 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells:

“The English called European asters both ‘asters’ and ‘starworts.’ Aster, Latin for ‘star,’ referred to the flower’s star-like shape. ‘Wort’ originally meant ‘root,’ and then was applied to plants that had healing properties. Asters, said the herbalist John Parkinson, were good for ‘the biting of a mad dogge, the greene herbe being beaten with old hogs grease, and applyed.’

“In 1637 John Tradescant the Younger brought North American asters back from Virginia. These do not seem to have been noticed much until they were hybridized with European starworts. They were later renamed ‘Michaelmas daisies’ in Britain, because when the British finally adopted Gregory XIII’s revised calendar, the feast of Saint Michael coincided with their flowering.”


This is the second of three posts featuring aster varieties from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. The previous post is Autumn Asters (1 of 3) and a beeful collection of these flowers is on my Bees on Blooms! post from last week.

Thanks for taking a look!

Autumn Asters (1 of 3)

From “The Moon Now Rises to Her Absolute Rule” in The Complete Works of Henry David Thoreau by Henry David Thoreau:

The moon now rises to her absolute rule,
And the husbandman and hunter
Acknowledge her for their mistress.
Asters and golden reign in the fields
And the life everlasting withers not.
The fields are reaped and shorn of their pride
But an inward verdure still crowns them.
The thistle scatters its down on the pool

And yellow leaves clothe the river….

From “The Death of the Flowers” in Poems by William Cullen Bryant:

Where are the flowers, the fair young flowers, that lately sprang and stood
In brighter light, and softer airs, a beauteous sisterhood?
Alas! they all are in their graves, the gentle race, of flowers
Are lying in their lowly beds, with the fair and good of ours.
The rain is falling where they lie, but the cold November rain
Calls not from out the gloomy earth the lovely ones again.

The wind-flower and the violet, they perished long ago,
And the brier-rose and the orchis died amid the summer glow;
But on the hill the golden-rod, and the aster in the wood,
And the yellow sun-flower by the brook in autumn beauty stood….


In my last post (see Bees on Blooms!), I showed photographs of some of the bees and wasps that entertained me a couple of weeks ago at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens. In this post (and the next two), I’m featuring some of the additional Aster varieties scattered throughout the gardens — the “bee-free versions” if you will — that include a nice mix of mums, daisies, and coneflower in a variety of different colors. Below are the first ten photos.

Thanks for taking a look!

Bees on Blooms!

From “The Mind of a Shopper in the Flower Supermarket” in The Mind of a Bee by Lars Chittka:

“While foraging, the bee also has to overcome the frustration and the starvation risk of finding dozens of empty flowers in a row that a competitor has recently emptied, and she must decide when to cut her losses and explore for an alternative food source….

“As she keeps visiting several thousands of flowers a day, rules begin to emerge; for example, are bilaterally symmetrical flower species (such as snapdragons) more rewarding than radially symmetrical ones (such as daisies), irrespective of species and color? Learning rules is not typically regarded as within the reach of an insect mind, but… the pressures of operating in the flower supermarket have given rise to such intelligent operations in the bee. What’s more, while figuring out all these contingencies, she also has to dodge attacks from predators, and remember and avoid flower patches where predation risk is especially high. She has to keep track of the location of her home no matter how convoluted her flight path, and in the face of wind gusts that might displace her far from her established route.”

From “The Gladness of Nature” in Poems by William Cullen Bryant:

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren,
    And the gossip of swallows through all the sky;
The ground-squirrel gayly chirps by his den,
    And the wilding bee hums merrily by.


The flowers featured in this post are members of the Asteraceae family, often referenced by Aster as a genus — and the family and genus includes asters, coneflower, chrysanthemums, and daisies, among others. I say it like that because I couldn’t quite identify a specific flower name for all of these, though my goto-plant-identifying-source (Pl@ntNet.identify) thought they were each most likely a variety of Persian daisy. This may or may not be true, but you can’t go wrong by calling them asters, and you probably won’t be wrong if you call them daisies.

In late October through mid-November, aster varieties bloom profusely around my neighborhood, wildly flowering streetside and at places like Oakland Cemetery’s gardens or the Atlanta Botanical Garden, showing off some of the last summer color before the leaves turn toward fall. At Oakland, there are large plots with mixed plantings, some in spaces twenty to thirty feet long and a half-dozen feet wide, filled with bees and wasps engaging in late season pollen-gathering. Many buzz off when I stomp up with the camera; but on a recent trip enough of them hung around that I was able to get some decent shots as they went about their business.

I’ll say it’s momentarily intimidating to realize you’re standing at the edge of a flowerbed and nearly surrounded by bees. And I do mean LOTS of bees. But they paid little attention unless I got too close, bopping from petal to petal and all but ignoring me — except for a single little wasp that flew in my left ear and drilled its way out my right one…

… which of course only happened in my imagination. My nervousness gave way pretty quickly, though, and I settled into this ethereal feeling that seems very specific to autumn: the quiet pleasure of cool temperatures, a mix of sunlight and clouds, light breezes, leaves tumbling along the ground, and — on this day — the zippy sounds of bumble- and wasp-wing mixing with it all.

The first gallery below shows a bumblebee on a beautifully colored flower, one that appears nearly brown in full sunlight but reveals these shades of red, orange, and magenta in the shade. This particular bee was hard for the camera to focus on: in addition to the bee’s constant motion, the camera seemed to get confused by its puffy fur coat — but at least I got a few images that were pretty sharp and in the third photo, you can (just barely!) see the bee’s eyes.

The second gallery shows a single wasp coming in for a landing. I have no idea how that worked out so well — I think I focused on the flower and pressed the shutter button as fast as I could. Sometimes you’re just giddy — aren’t you? — about your (photographic) luck!

If you take a close look at some of the subsequent photos — especially the last five — you can see clumps of yellow-orange pollen gathered around the bee’s knees. I guess that’s proof that they weren’t just flying around because they could (though that’s what I would do): they were busy, and hard at work!

Thanks for reading and taking a look!

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