Asters are a great addition to local gardens, as their large brilliant blooms provide great color in midsummer 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. It is the flower for September birth dates and the 20th wedding anniversary flower.
The most common native asters in the nursery trade are cultivars of the New England asters (Aster novae-angliae) and New York asters (Aster novi-belgii). Both like moist conditions and sun, but can grow in drier areas.. They can be cut back like mums as late as mid-July, then set flowers for early fall. The shorter Aster divaricatus, the white wood aster, takes part shade. An Internet search will acquaint you with many other asters and cultivars.
Asters are valuable to birds, mammals, and insects alike. Their nectar and pollen feed butterflies, moths, bees, and other beneficial insects. If left to go to seed, birds will enjoy the feast in the winter.
Nature Notes for 8/29/2010