Asters Famous and Obscure
I love asters. I love their clouds of little flowers, the way they positively hum with bees, the fresh color that they add to cool autumn days.
In my garden there are a number of aster species, some commonly found in gardens, others more easily found in the wild. I want to write about three of these in this post.
New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) is perhaps the most common aster of all. There are at least 70 cultivars developed from the species. I grow the straight species, which is beautiful though it can become shaggy and a bit ungainly. The one above is over six feet tall even after I cut it back by half in early June.
The petals (ray flowers) are closely arrayed. The flowers of this aster seem more substantial than those of others in the genus.
Like other asters, New England Aster is popular with bees and other pollinators.
The flowers range in color from purple to blue to pink. This is an aster that likes sun and moist soil.
Compared to New England Aster, Short’s Aster (Symphyotrichum shortii) lives in obscurity. Which is too bad, because it is a plant with many fine attributes.
The sky blue flowers are rather dainty but fetching, the rays a bit more sparse.
However, they congregate in great numbers, almost covering the entire plant.
Short’s Aster is self-reliant, tolerates shade, and is not too fussy about soil. It grows to about 4′ in my garden, and is much less inclined to flop than New England Aster.
I also like the name. Pronouncing the specific name shortii (shorty-EYE) makes a person feel more intelligent. All the names ending in “ii” are like that. I don’t know why, they just are.
Also, Short’s Aster is named after Charles Wilkins Short, a Kentucky botanist and physician from the first half of the 19th Century. Short was an avid scientist, an expert on medicinal plants, and an early opponent of slavery.
One last Aster I’d like to mention is Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum).
Calico Aster is more common than Short’s Aster but far less well-known than New England Aster. There are a handful of cultivars, but again I grow the straight species. The habit is dense and shrubby.
Calico Aster’s flowers are very tiny but very profuse. They are white with maroon centers. They are also extremely popular with pollinators. One of the few times I’ve been stung was when I was trying to remove a Calico Aster that was still blooming.
Do you have a favorite aster?