Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, New England Aster

New England Asters are the asters that Robin Wall Kimmerer admired growing wild with goldenrods in her seminal book, Braiding Sweetgrass. They have the height and vigor to compete with Canada Goldenrod, the wild goldenrods that dominate old fields in the Northeastern U.S. The showy purple flowers provide a beautiful contrast to the yellows of both Goldenrods (Solidago spp.) and Wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) which bloom in Floyd at the same time during the fall. And, as it turns out, not only does purple directly contrast yellow in color theory, but this kind of contrast is important (and highly attractive) to butterflies.

Cultivation

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae is clump-forming, but vigorous, tending to be tall, and self-sows readily, making it a challenge in the small tidy garden. However, there are at least 50 cultivars available, due to its dense showy blooms in the fall when most of the color in the garden has faded. Mt. Cuba Center introduced the ‘Purple Dome’ cultivar in 1989 from a naturally occurring specimen. It grows in tidy 2′ mounds covered in purple flowers in the fall. Not all cultivars provide the same ecosystem services of the straight native species, but many come close and are worth trying.

Best results with the straight species will be had by planting in moist rich soil in full sun, but this plant grows well in average well-drained soil here in Floyd, and has been found even in dry sandy soil. “When New England Aster blooms the lower leaves usually dry up, and this is normal. If height becomes an issue, cutting back the stems by mid-July can help control the need for staking.” (Prairie Nursery)

Ecology

This Tallamy keystone species supports upwards of 100 species of butterfly and moth larvae as well as more than 30 species of native bees (not all of which are found in Floyd County). The Wavy Lined Emerald (Synchlora aerata) is one of these and has really bizarre-looking larval stages, so please don’t crush these when you find them on your asters! Generally, if you want butterflies and moths, you’ll need to tolerate caterpillars munching your host plants ūüôā

Human Uses

“Among Indigenous peoples of North America, it has been documented that the Cherokee have made a poultice of the roots for pain, an infusion of the roots for diarrhea, an infusion of the plant for fever, and have sniffed the ooze from the roots for catarrh. Both the Meskwaki and the Potawatomi have used the plant to revive people: the Meskwaki by smudging, and the Potawatomi through fumigation. The Iroquois have made a decoction of the plant for weak skin and of the roots and leaves for fevers. They have used the plant as a love medicine. Both the Mohawk people and the Iroquois have used an infusion of the whole plant in combination with rhizomes from another plant to treat mothers with intestinal fevers. The Chippewa have smoked the root in pipes to attract game.” (Wikipedia, 2023)

Obviously this was a plant that attracted a lot attention and gave back to the people in many ways.

PLANT FACTS


Scientific Name

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Other names: Aster novae-angliae, Hairy Michaelmas-daisy, Michaelmas Daisy

Family: Asteraceae (asters).

Native Status

Native to Floyd County

Native Range Map (Virginia Counties) for Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Source: Digital Atlas of the Virginia Flora

Native to most of the central and northeastern United States and southeastern Canada, from Manitoba south to Louisiana and east to Maine. It is absent from much of the far southeastern United States and from boreal regions in North America. There are isolated populations to the west of the main range, such as in New Mexico and in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Other Floyd County native Symphyotrichum: S. cordifolium, S. dumosum var. dumosum, S. dumosum var. strictior, S. lanceolatum, S. lateriflorum, S. oblongifolium, S. patensvar. patens, S. phlogifolium, S. pilosum, S. pilosum var. pilosum, S. pilosum var. pringlei, S. prenanthoides, S. puniceum var. puniceum, S. undulatum.

Culture Notes

Height: 3-6 ft, Spacing guide: 2'-3'. Bloom Color: Pink, Purple. Bloom Time: Fall (Aug-Nov). Light: Full sun to part shade. Moisture: Semi-dry to wet (submesic to hydric) conditions. Soils: Moist rich to occasionally dry and sandy soils.

Habitat

USDA Zones: 4-8. National Wetland Status Indicator: FACW. C-Value: 5. Successional Role: Subclimax, stable.

Virginia Ecology

Virginia Habitat: "Calcareous fens and spring marshes, wet meadows, and alluvial fields; also commonly cultivated and escaped to moist roadsides and clearings. Infrequent to locally common in the mountains; infrequent in the Piedmont; rare in the Coastal Plain; likely introduced in the Coastal Plain and many of the Piedmont localities." (The Flora, 2023). Virginia Natural Communities:

Ecosystem Services

*Keystone for Lepidoptera, *Keystone for Native Bees, *Of Special Value to Native Bees, *Of Special Value to Bumblebees, *Of Special Value to Honeybees, *Of Special Value to Native Butterflies, *Monarch Butterfly Host & Nectar Plants, Nectar for Native Nectar-Feeders, Larval Host for Butterflies & Moths, Bird Food

Wildlife Supported: Hosts many species of butterfly and moth including the Wavy-Lined Emerald (Synchlora aerata), Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos), and Gorgone Checkerspot (Chlosyne gorgone). Generalist nectar-feeding insects including butterflies, moths, ants, flies, and bees, as well as long-tongued bumblebees more so than short-tongued. Broad-Handed Leafcutter Bee (Megachile latimanus) and Drury's Long-Horned Bee (Melissodes druriellus) collect the pollen. Seeds provide an important fall and winter food source for songbirds.

Propagation

By seed, softwood cuttings taken in the spring, or division of mature plants. To collect seeds, shake the nutlets loose after the first frost or pluck them from the head. Air-dry and store in sealed, refrigerated containers. Cold moist stratify for 60 days prior to planting in the spring. Seed Germination: C60 - 60 days cold moist stratification required

Where to Buy

Prairie Moon Nursery, Prairie Nursery, New Moon Nursery, many other sources online. Locally, Mother’s Child Farm and other Farmers Market vendors.