Asteraceae or Compositae (commonly referred to as the aster, daisy, composite, or sunflower family) is a very large and widespread family of flowering plants (Angiospermae). The family currently has 32,913 accepted species names, in 1,911 genera and 13 subfamilies. In terms of numbers of species, the Asteraceae are rivaled only by the Orchidaceae. (Which of the two families is actually larger is unclear, owing to uncertainty about exactly how many species exist in each family.) Many members have composite flowers in the form of flower heads (capitula or pseudanthia) surrounded by involucral bracts. When viewed from a distance, each capitulum may have the appearance of being a single flower. The name Asteraceae comes from the type genus Aster, from the Greek ἀστήρ, meaning star, and refers to the star-like form of the inflorescence. Compositae is an older (but still valid) name which refers to the fact that the family is one of the few angiosperm families to have composite flowers.
Most members of Asteraceae are herbaceous, but a significant number are also shrubs, vines, or trees. The family has a worldwide distribution, from the polar regions to the tropics, colonizing a wide variety of habitats. It is most common in the arid and semiarid regions of subtropical and lower temperate latitudes. The Asteraceae may represent as much as 10% of autochthonous flora in many regions of the world.
Asteraceae is an economically important family, providing products such as cooking oils, lettuce, sunflower seeds, artichokes, sweetening agents, coffee substitutes and herbal teas. Several genera are of horticultural importance, including pot marigold, Calendula officinalis, Echinacea (cone flowers), various daisies, fleabane, chrysanthemums, dahlias, zinnias, and heleniums. Asteraceae are important in herbal medicine, including Grindelia, yarrow, and many others. A number of species are considered invasive, including, most notably in North America, dandelion, which was originally introduced by European settlers who used the young leaves as a salad green.
The study of this family is known as synantherology.
The distinguishing characteristic of Asteraceae is their inflorescence, a type of specialised, composite flower head or pseudanthium, technically called a calathium or capitulum, that may look superficially like a single flower. The capitulum is a contracted raceme composed of numerous individual sessile flowers, called florets, all sharing the same receptacle.
The florets have five petals fused at the base to form a corolla tube and they may be either actinomorphic or zygomorphic. Disc florets are usually actinomorphic, with five petal lips on the rim of the corolla tube. The petal lips may be either very short, or long, in which case they form deeply lobed petals. The latter is the only kind of floret in the Carduoideae, while the first kind is more widespread. Ray florets are always highly zygomorphic and are characterised by the presence of a ligule, a strap-shaped structure on the edge of the corolla tube consisting of fused petals. In the Asteroideae and other minor subfamilies these are usually borne only on florets at the circumference of the capitulum and have a 3+2 scheme — above the fused corolla tube, three very long fused petals form the ligule, with the other two petals being inconspicuously small. The Cichorioideae has only ray florets, with a 5+0 scheme — all five petals form the ligule. A 4+1 scheme is found in the Barnadesioideae. The tip of the ligule is often divided into teeth, each one representing a petal. Some marginal florets may have no petals at all (filiform floret).
There are usually five stamens. The filaments are fused to the corolla, while the anthers are generally connate (syngenesious anthers), thus forming a sort of tube around the style (theca). They commonly have basal and/or apical appendages. Pollen is released inside the tube and is collected around the growing style, and then, as the style elongates, is pushed out of the tube (nüdelspritze).
The pistil consists of two connate carpels. The style has two lobes. Stigmatic tissue may be located in the interior surface or form two lateral lines. The ovary is inferior and has only one ovule, with basal placentation.