Asters are a great addition to local gardens, as their large brilliant blooms provide great color in the mid summer, after most other flowers have completed their bloom. Several hundred different species of asters exist, with about 200 species considered new world, or North American, and many hundreds more old world, or Eurasian. The Greek word aster, meaning star, fits the starburst flower. Asters grow in a variety of soils, thrive in direct sunlight and will tolerate hot dry conditions. Most species are perennial, and the plants can be broken apart and transplanted. The aster is the flower for September birth dates, and the 20th wedding anniversary flower. One attractive native aster for lightly shaded woodlands is the white wood aster (Aster divaricatus or Eurybia divaricata). It blooms mid-summer, earlier than most asters, with small white flowers on an airy 2 foot plant. It will spread to nice-sized clumps, with a single plant spreading to several feet. Cultivars of the New England aster (Aster novae-angliae) are sold in nurseries; it is a sun-loving plant. They can be cut back until July to encourage a more compact form, as with mums. Generally these have the pink, lavender or purple blooms in late summer.
Aster novi-belgii, the New York aster or Michaelmas daisy, are generally shorter than the New England asters. Again, many cultivars of the native species are available in a variety of colors. Other asters native to the Chesapeake Bay watershed as listed in the US Fish and Wildlife Service book Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping are: flat-top white, golden, heart-leaved, smooth blue and stiff-leaf. Some of these can be quite large; some are suited for day areas, and others prefer moist soil.
Nature Notes for 6/16/2013