Compositae — also known as Asteraceae — is a family of plants characterized by its multiple flowering heads, intricate root and stem systems, and reproductive methods. The term comes from the Latin word compositus, which means "made up of parts." Also referred to as the sunflower, daisy, or aster family due to various well-known plant species that make up the Compositae group, this plant family includes more than 20,000 species and is found in nearly every part of the world. Popular flowers in the Compositae family range from bright yellow sunflowers and vivid pink dahlias to pesky weeds like thistle and ragweed.
Originally recognized by the Greeks, it was not until the 1800s that clear relationships were drawn between these plants. Henri Cassini first outlined these relationships, and others later tweaked his work to reflect the modern day definition of the Compositae group. It is the largest known family of vascular plants. The large group is broken down into several different types and styles.
These plants have numerous and varied uses. The sunflower, for example, produces edible seeds that are often shelled and salted before eating. Other plants are used in teas and as sweeteners for food or drink. Several are considered to have medicinal uses. The more brightly colored flowers, including zinnias and marigolds, are prized among gardeners and often found in outdoor flower beds and window boxes.
Though it is known primarily for its flowers, shrubs and trees are also part of the Compositae family. In the flowering plants, vividly colored thin petals come in groups of five or more and spread around the center of the flower. Most noticeable are the rigid, upright green stems and the florets branching off. Florets, the individual flower heads of a plant, are numerous in this type of flower. The thin main stem branches into a number of even smaller stems near the top, each with a flower attached.
During the spring, the flowers appear in full bloom. Often they grow in groups, and rolling fields of daises are not an uncommon sight. The center of the plant forms hundreds of seeds, which are carried away by the wind to spread out and produce new plants. After the warm months pass and cool weather settles in, the plants die off. During the growing season, the plants can prove quite tricky to kill and many, such as the daisy, are considered weeds by gardeners and homeowners.