For many gardeners, the autumn season signifies the beginning of the end. After a year of tender-loving-care for our gardens and landscapes, it’s time once again to begin wrapping up the growing season and preparing for the return of winter. Most flowers have exhausted their blooms by this time, their withered heads having served their purpose. But for some species of wildflowers, autumn is just the beginning. Aster wildflowers, a member of the Asteraceae family, are one such species. Named after the Greek word for “star”, these cheerful little guys are a welcome addition to an otherwise spent garden and will persist until overwhelmed by frost. Besides providing this much needed fall color to the landscape, humans have always had an interest in asters.
Tradition and Folklore of the Aster
This relationship between humans and asters can be traced back to ancient times. Greek folklore explains that the aster was created when the tears of the goddess Virgo mixed with stardust, fell to the earth, and formed asters. Considered an enchanted flower, it was said that burning the leaves of the aster plant would keep evil spirits away. Others legends tell of burning the leaves of aster wildflowers as a form of snake repellent. I have no idea if this really works or not, and I’m not about to test it out. Other cultures have long regarded the aster as a symbol of patience. In France, asters were often placed on the graves of soldiers. Asters are also the September birth flower and are sometimes used during birthday parties of those born in September.
Member of the Asteraceae Family
Asters come in a wide variety of colors and forms. The Pacific aster is found throughout the American West and forms delicate white and lavender blooms. On the other side of the country, the New England aster is the dominant species. It produces the well-known deep blue and purple flowers that many eastern gardeners consider a staple in their fall gardens. Asters are interesting in that they’re not what they seem to be. What at first looks to be a single flower is actually a combination of hundreds of smaller flowers known as disk flowers. Surrounding these disk flowers are the petals, which are also made up of individual flowers called ray flowers. Together, these disk and ray flowers give the appearance of one single, large flower. This feature is common to the Asteraceae family which includes daisies, sunflowers, and thousands of other species.
Planting and Maintenance
It comes as no surprise that asters are popular among gardeners. On top of their famous fall color, asters are able to survive in all hardiness zones and are easily grown from seed or divisions. While spreading seed directly on the soil surface works fine, many folks like to start their asters indoors during the winter months, transplanting them in the early spring once the treat of frost has passed. Germination takes around 15-30 days. Asters prefer well-drained, fertile soils in full sun but can handle light shade. They also require plenty of water, so be sure to place them in areas where regular irrigation is possible especially in the hot summer months. Like many other perennial flowers, asters will benefit from division every 2-3 years. Division helps maintain vigor and control size, as well as giving you more asters to plant or give away.
A Wildflower of Many Uses
Asters can be found all over the world. Appearing in both annual and perennial form and with over 600 known species, asters are extremely flexible in their landscaping use. Many gardeners use them in mass plantings and borders, while florists find them great for filler in cut arrangements. They’re also a must in butterfly gardens, their nectar a favorite of the monarch butterfly.
Look for aster wildflowers in many of our premium wildflower blends, including our Great Basin wildflower blend, Low-Growing wildflower blend, Northeast wildflower blend, Rocky Mountain wildflower blend, Southwest wildflower blend, and Sun & Shade wildflower blend. This autumn, take some time to appreciate these late blooming little beauties before the winter season reclaims them.