Eloise Butler images

Asters in the Wild Garden.

by Eloise Butler, from Annals of the Wild Life Reserve, June 1915

Note: Since Eloise Butler's time, the scientific names of plants and the classification of plant families has undergone extensive revision. In brackets within the text, have been added when necessary, the revised scientific name for the references she used in her article. This is particularly true of the asters - all of the New World asters have been reclassiified. Nomenclature is based on the latest published information from Flora of North America, USDA and the Annotated Checklist of Vascular Flora of Minnesota. Other information in brackets may add clarification to what she is saying.


From year to year I become more and more attached to wild asters. They are so varied in color, habit and form. They bloom from August well into October, defying frosts. The one I look at last, I like best of all, for each species has a charm peculiar to itself.

Asters indigenous to the wild garden:

Sky-blue AsterAster azureus [Symphyotrichum oolentangiense (Riddell) G.L. Nesom var. oolentangiense; Sky Blue Aster] still burgeons on the hillsides (October 5). It is a sine qua non not only on account of its late blossoms, but because of their profusion and bright, pure color.


Northern Bog Aster Aster junceus [Northern Bog Aster, Symphyotrichum boreale (Torr. & A. Gray) A. Löve & D. Löve] is a pleasing adjunct of the meadows. It appears early and has a long period of bloom. The flowers, white and palely tinted, the slender stalks, and linear leaves, make it a fitting companion for its associate, the marsh bellflower, Campanula aparinoides. Photo ©Merel R. Black, University of Wisconsin, Steven's Point.


Smooth Blue Aster Aster laevis [Smooth Blue Aster, Symphyotrichum laeve var. laeve (L.) A. Löve & D. Löve] with richly colored flowers, smooth, thick leaves, and sturdy habit, is also still in evidence on dry, sandy soil. [As of her date of writing - Oct. 5]


Calico Aster“O, you cunning little thing!” we exclaim at the wee blossoms peeping out through the leaves densely clothing the diffusely branched stems of Aster lateriflorus - the so-called Calico Aster - [Side-flowering Aster, Symphyotrichum lateriflorum (L.) A. Love & D. Love] the purple disks and pale rays forming a pattern on the background of the small green leaves.

Ontario asterAster lateriflorus var. hirsuticaulis [Calico Aster, Symphyotrichum lateriflorum (L.) A. Love & Love var. lateriflorum] has somewhat larger flowers with yellow discs [Photo right. Note: The distinction of varieties within S. lateriflorum is not recognized today by most authorities including Flora of North American and the U of M Herbarium and MN DNR] and seems to form a connecting link with A. tradescanti, [Ontario Aster, Symphyotrichum ontarionis (Wiegand) G.L.Nesom - photo at left]the Michaelmas daisy, which is also sparsely found in the garden. The variety has a stricter habit than the type.


White Heath AsterAster multiflorus [White Heath Aster, Symphyotrichum ericoides (L.) G.L. Nesom var. ericoides] has been largely planted in the garden, but last season I found a specimen of it well established in my swampy meadow, where I never should have thought of planting it - the inhabitant of dry prairies. This aster with its small rigid leaves and multiplicity of flowers might well be called ericoides if the name had not been preempted, for it looks like a heath [see notes below in the "introduced" section below]. Robust specimens are fully as fine as the overworked Spirea Van Houttei.


New England Aster Aster novae-angliae [New England Aster, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae (L.) Nesom] is truly a splendid plant - tall, late-blooming, with prodigal large flowers of many shades of rich blue and pink purple. It often has the striking tone of the ironweed.


White Panicle AsterAster paniculatus [White Panicle Aster, Symphyotrichum lanceolatum (Willd.) G.L. Nesom - Note: There are three varieties of this aster recognized as present in Minnesota] is often mistaken for Boltonia in the distance. The inflorescence, however, is not flat-topped like that of Boltonia, and the disk-flowers are of a deeper color. This aster is highly decorative, growing as it does in large masses.

Aster salicifolius [Willowleaf Aster or Veiny lined aster, Symphyotrichum praealtum (Poir.) G.L. Nesom var. praealtum] has a similar habit and, when the flowers are white, is scarcely distinguished from it. [Not shown]


Aster puniceus, the Red-stemmed Swamp Aster, [Symphyotrichum puniceum (L.) A. Löve & D. Löve var. puniceum] is nearly as showy as A. novae-angliae. The typical plants, tall and bushy, their flowers with narrow rays, deep blue or pale, or even white, with orange disks, look as if studded with stars.

Red-stem AsterAster puniceus var. lucidulus [Purplestem aster, Symphyotrichum puniceum (L.) A. Löve & D. Löve var. puniceum] is a late bloomer and the most abundant aster in the garden, growing in large masses in the meadow bordering the west side of the tamarack bog. The stem is yellowish brown, more simple and far less hairy than that of the type. The flower is of the palest blue and somewhat smaller. The leaves are glossy and shining. [Note: The variation of A. puniceus that Eloise lists as Purplestem Aster is currently considered the same plant as Redstemmed Aster, A. puniceus, just a variation of local ecotypes of the same plant, and the reclassification the new world asters now classifies both ecotypes as Symphyotrichum puniceum (L.) A. Löve & D. Löve var. puniceum]


White Arrowleaf AsterAster sagittifolius [White Arrowleaf Aster, Symphyotrichum urophyllum (Lindl.) G.L. Nesom] is of refined beauty. It has a wand-like habit and is crowed with blossoms of medium size, generally white or pale blue, with purplish disks.


Drummond's AsterAster drummondii [Drummond’s aster, Symphyotrichum drummondii (Lindl.) G.L. Nesom var. drummondii] is said to be hardly distinct from it; but, with me, A. drummondii has larger, thicker leaves, larger and darker blue flowers, a less brittle stem, and a more gregarious habit. Photo ©Mark Feider, University of Wisconsin, Steven's Point.


Flat-topped Aster Aster umbellatus [Flat-topped Aster, Doellingeria umbellata (Mill.) var. pubens ] is highly esteemed because of its tallness, its ample flat-topped flower clusters of mingled gray and yellow that set off and harmonize with the luxuriant masses of Joe-Pye weed.


 

Introduced Asters:

White Prairie AsterAster commutatus [White Prairie Aster, Symphyotrichum falcatum (Lindl.) G.L. Nesom var. commutatum] is a sort of glorified Aster multiflorus. The flowers are quite a bit larger. I have but two roots in the garden and they have not yet blossomed. Photo ©Al Schneider, USDA-NRCS Plants Database


White Wood AsterAster divaricatus, [White Wood Aster, Eurybia divaricata (L.) G.L. Nesom] sparsely introduced, has entirely died out.

This is also the case with Aster ericoides. [Symphyotrichum ericoides (L.) G.L. Nesom; White Heath Aster] Both species were obtained from Massachusetts and probably could not withstand the rigours of our severer climate. [This name is a misapplication. Eloise's problem with this plant is probably explained by this note from Flora of North America: "A number of aster cultivars are sold under the name "Aster ericoides." These are all derived from European garden plants and are either cultivars of S. dumosum, S. lateriflorum, S. pilosum, or S. racemosum, or hybrids involving one of those species and another taxon. The misapplication of the epithet ericoides dates back to the nineteenth century and has persisted in the horticultural literature."

Large-leaved AsterThe large, rough basal leaves of Aster macrophyllus [Bigleaf Aster (Large-leaved Aster), Eurybia macrophylla (L.) Cass.] give the plant a marked individuality. The flowers, though pale in color, attract attention by their size and abundance. This aster is local in the vicinity of St. Paul and takes kindly to cultivation. [Note: This species is considered native to Minnesota].


New York AsterAster novi-belgii [New York Aster, Symphyotrichum novi-belgii (L.) G.L. Nesom var. novi-belgii] is not yet well established in the garden. I am not very familiar with its characteristics. [Note: Not native to Minnesota] Photo ©Robert Mohlenbrock, University of Wisconsin, Steven's Point.


Aromatic Aster Aster oblongifolius [Aromatic Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium (Nutt.) G.L. Nesom] is local on our prairies. it is pleasing by reason of the size, color and aromatic odor of the blossoms.


Late Purple ASterAster patens [Late Purple Aster, Symphyotrichum patens (Aiton) G.L. Nesom var. patens] did not put in an appearance this season. A particularly fine aster, its stems thickly clothed with sessile, cordate [heart-shaped] leaves, the flowers large and of rich purple hue. [Note: Not native to Minnesota] Photo ©Thomas G. Barnes, USDA-NRCS Plants Database


Prairie Goldenrod Aster ptarmicoides [Prairie Goldenrod, Oligoneuron album (Nutt.) G.L. Nesom] behaves like a biennial. I think every other year that it has petered out, but it comes up serenely the next season. The small flowers have the pure whiteness and texture of camellias. [Note: Not native to Minnesota] Photo ©Christopher Noll, University of Wisconsin, Steven's Point.


Silky AsterIf I have any special favorite, it is Aster sericeus [Silky Aster, Western Silver Aster, Symphyotrichum sericeum (Vent.) G.L. Nesom]. The flowers are lilac tinted, a shade peculiar to themselves, and the contrast with the silky, pale foliage is altogether charming. It is abundant on the hillsides just outside of the garden and I have introduced it in large quantities.


Heart-leaved AsterAster cordifolius [Heart-leaved Aster, Common Blue Wood Aster, Symphyotrichum cordifolium (L.) G.L. Nesom] is abundant in the woods along our river banks. I have specimens of remarkable beauty where I have planted it in burnt-over tracts, branching diffusely and crowded with pale blue flowers whose disks take on a richer tone in maturity.


Aster undulatus, [Wavy-leaf aster, Symphyotrichum undulatum (L.) G.L. Nesom] also introduced from Massachusetts, perhaps on account of its thick epidermis, thrives well in the garden. Its flowers are pleasing and about of the same tone as those of A cordifolius. [Note: Not native to Minnesota]


I would like to exchange roots of asters, if agreeable to any members of the chapter [see note at bottom of page for]. I wish to experiment again with my failures and would like some specimens also of:
Short's Aster Aster shortii [Short’s Aster, Symphyotrichum shortii (Lindl.) G.L. Nesom, native]
A. dumsous [Rice-button Aster, Symphyotrichum dumosum (L.) G.L. Nesom, many varieties, not known which, not native.]

 

Small White Oldfield Aster A. vimineus [Small white oldfield aster, Symphyotrichum racemosum (Elliot) G.L. Nesom. not native] Photo ©David Brezner USDA-NRCS Plants Database


A. polyphyllus [Pringle’s Aster, Symphyotrichum pilosum (Willd.) G.L. Nesom var. pringlei (A. Gray) G.L. Nesom] native.
A. modestus [Giant Mountain Aster, Canadanthus modestus (Lindl.) G.L. Nesom] native
A. angustus [Not found - name not resolved]

 

Stiff Aster I find that I have omitted from my list of introduced species, A. linariifolius [Stiff Aster, Flaxleaf Whitetop Aster, Ionactis linariifolius (L.) Greene] . They have not yet reached the blossoming stage. [Note: Not native to Minnesota] Photo ©Merle R. Black, University of Wisconsin, Steven's Point.


 

Note: Most asters pictured in this article have an information sheet, with photos and descriptions, posted on this website. Use the link on the name or these links to locate them: Common Name List - Scientific Name List.