Autumn brings with it a change in wildflowers. Early on, Goldenrod started its golden reign; now, as the season advances, it is joined by another numerous plant, making its presence known in modest white and purple blooms that often fill the landscape.
Asters are a large group of plants. They not only include what we think of as classic Asters, but also sunflowers, coneflowers, daisies and other plants. This grouping is sometimes known as the Composite family. This is because what looks like a single flower is actually a grouping of many little flowers. If you examine them closely, you’ll see that the disk of the flower head is made up of dozens of tiny tubelike flowers; sometimes the rays are tiny flowers as well. Each of these mini-flowers will produce one seed. Nature is remarkable in its various workings!
The word ‘aster’ in Ancient Greek means ‘star’, referring to the flower’s appearance. We tend to think of generic flowers as the typical disk surrounded by rays that makes up the typical Aster. They often remind one of miniature daisies. These flowers have been domesticated and can be found in gardens in the Old and New Worlds as well as in the wild.
Asters are not just popular with gardeners and nature aficionados. They also attract many insects, including lots of butterfly larvae. Ants seem to be attracted to them.
Asters can sometimes be mistaken for fleabane, which look similar, and are a member of the same family. Generally speaking, Fleabane has narrower rays, and its leaves look different. Fleabane is more of a spring and summer flower, but some persist into the autumn.
Classic Asters bloom in the autumn. Their colors range from white to purple. They can be found in fields, along roadsides, fencelines and bike paths, wood edges, and other out-of-the-way places. Certain species can even be found in lightly wooded areas. Generally, Asters like sunshine and can grow in a variety of soil conditions.
A common species is the White Aster, also known as Heath Aster. It has numerous flower heads on each plant, has a plentiful amount of white rays surrounding each yellow disk. It is common to find many of these plants in a field together.
Another common species is Calico Aster, which has a smaller number of rays and differently-colored disks- hence the calico name.
A very distinctive species is the New England Aster. This species is strikingly purple in color, with bright disks. The flower heads are larger on this species than on most other Asters. This roadside wildflower is hard to miss!
There are light purple varieties such as the Heart-leaved Aster. These like a woodland habitat more than other Asters.
Asters help make the autumn season a showier place. They are a good compliment to all of the Goldenrod one sees this time of year. Enjoy them while you can!