The composite (also called Asteraceae ) are the most numerous family of plants flower , with over 20,000 species: about 10% of all species of known flower. In nature, this family includes species taxonomically very different and able to colonize the most diverse habitats. Within this large family are in fact very different species, some wild and other cultivated for their use as ornamental plants, oilseed, tuber and even medicines.
The composite plants now have a worldwide spread, even though recent phylogenetic studies have identified South America as the center of origin of this family.
Composite ornamental plants
The characteristic flowers gathered in heads and surrounded by colored sepals distinguish this family of plants and make them very popular as ornamental species, garden and even inside homes as cut flowers. Many flowers of the composite also show a positive heliotropism , ie, such as sunflower, follow in the course of the sun from east to west.
Among the most famous ornamental species there is the gerbera , from showy inflorescences yellow, red or orange. Among other ornamental composite we remember the chrysanthemum , the daisy and cineraria.
Most of these species grows easily in Italy, delighting the gardens with blooms that begin in the spring and continue into the late autumn. Different colors of inflorescences can create pleasing mix of color and nuances within the garden.
Among the most aesthetically beautiful species also we remember the edelweiss or edelweiss , the symbol of the Alps, which grows in the wild at elevations ranging from 1500 to 2600 meters.
Oil and Vegetables
About 260 species belonging to this family are grown for agricultural purposes.
The sunflower, Helianthus annuus , is grown for the ‘ high fat content in the seed , as well as other species such as safflower , Carthamus tinctorius. From these plants we are obtained the oils: some suitable for food use other for the industry. The safflower oil is often used within the colors of oil painting. Furthermore, the high energy content of the seeds of these plants has recently encouraged the cultivation for the production of fuels: the famousbio-diesel .
The lettuce , Lactuca sativa , the chicory ,Cichorium intybus , and l ‘ endive , endive Chicorium , are among the species of vegetable crops grown for consumption of the leaves. The artichoke, Cynara scolimus , has instead grown for consumption of the heads. Among the cultivated species to the tuber there is the Jerusalem artichoke , also known as Jerusalem artichoke.
Medicinal plants and phytochemical interest
Artemisia annua is a kind from which we extract the artemisinin molecule used in the treatment of malaria. Belonging to the same genre, the ‘Artemisia absinthium , contains wormwood, used in many alcoholic beverages.
The dandelion , Tarassacum officinale , is used in folk medicine for anti-rheumatic activity, anti-inflammatory and diuretic.
The chamomile , Matricaria chamomilla , known for its relaxing and sedative properties, it also contains anti-inflammatory substances.
The calendula , Calendula officinalis , used in herbal medicine in many ointments healing or soothing properties.
Among other interesting species are the pyrethrum , cinerariifolium Feverfew , a plant from which it extracts a widely used insecticide in the past.
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