The aster is a flower with a bit of a wild appearance, but it fits nicely in many garden settings. The aster flower is the birth flower for the month of September, and is often used to mark twenty years of marriage.
In gardens, asters continue to attract bees and butterflies long after most other flowers have disappeared. People have enjoyed the simple beauty of aster flowers for many generations, and it is likely that these flowers will continue to be celebrated for years to come.
Aster is the scientific name for an entire genus of flowers, which also belong to the order Asterales. There are a number of flowers that use the word "aster" in their common names, but not as a part of their scientific names.
Scientific names for species within the Aster genus include Aster dumosus (Bushy Asther), Aster patens (Late Purple Aster), Aster vimineus (Small White Aster), and Aster praealtus (Willow Aster).
The word Aster has Greek origins and means "star." The name was originally given by the botanist Carl von Linnaeus to describe the radiate shape of the flower head.
There has been quite a bit of confusion in recent years over what qualifies as an aster and what doesn't. Extensive genetic research has determined that many of the flowers once considered a part of the aster genus were incorrectly classified. These flowers look like real asters, but actually fit better in other genera.
Most of the misidentified aster flowers originated in North America, but the Asther alpinus is the only true aster native to North America. The other 180 species within the genus are native to various regions of Europe and Asia. Many asters native to Eurasia have been transplanted and can be found growing in the United States and Canada.
There are two main types of flowers with aster in the common name that are no longer scientifically classified as asters.
The first is the New England Aster, which used to have the scientific name of Aster novae angligae. Now, this flower is called the Symphyotrichum novae angliae. With purple ray flowers and a yellow disc, the New England Aster is easily mistaken for a member of the genus Aster. The main difference is that there are far more ray flowers in the New England Aster than in native asters.
Another flower known commonly as an aster is the Aromatic Aster, formerly labeled Aster oblongifolius. The Aromatic Aster is now classified as Symphyotrichum oblongifolium. The beautiful flowers greatly resemble other asters, but are low growing in comparison to other members of the genus Aster.
Description and Characteristics
Due to the recent narrowing of the Aster genus, identifying asters can be difficult. Every aster species features composite flowers, meaning that the aster has a circular disc flower in the center, as well as several longer ray flowers that radiate out from the disc flower.
The ray flowers are often mistaken for flower petals, but they are actually individual flowers. In general, the disc flower of an aster will be yellow or brown in color, while color of the ray flowers varies greatly from one species to the next.
Asters generally have coarser stems which are often woody near the bottom. The leaves tend to be dark green, and are often long and narrow, much like the ray flowers.
A historic tradition of the Dutch is to collect large bouquets of asters and display them in colorful windowsill decorations. French soldiers used them to decorate another environment: the graves of fallen soldiers. The aster was also commonly featured at the feast of St. Michaelmas, as they were one of the only flowers still in bloom when the festival arrived.
For this reason, certain species of the aster are still referred to as Michaelmas flowers. Currently, the aster is the birth flower for the month of September, which makes sense, since asters bloom near the beginning of September. The red aster and blue aster both signify new beginnings, such as the start of the academic year.
Cultivation and Care
Aster flowers should be planted in areas with plenty of exposure to sunshine. They also require well-drained soil and aren't suited to areas that collect large amounts of water. Aster seeds are best planted in mid Spring, while seedlings can be planted in midsummer.
Most asters need regular care, but are hardy enough to do alright if you have to go on vacation for a week or two. The dwarf aster is especially hardy and may be a good choice for those with little gardening experience.
Water asters regularly with a soaker hose. To enhance the growth of the aster plant, feed it water soluble plant food twice each month. If the asters are growing in well-mulched soil, you may not need to use fertilizer at all. Mulching the environment of the aster is also a great way to keep pests away.
Diseases and Pests
The main pest attracted by aster flowers is the aphid. This pesky little insect consumes the aster leaves and can damage the overall health of the flower. Pesticides can be used to keep aphids away, as can releasing ladybugs in your flower garden.
Asters are commonly seen in bouquets and gardens. Their roots can be used to make a delicious red wine. And the ray flowers are used as a treatment for snakebite in many cultures.
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