October 2019 – Native Plant of the Month
Written by Guest Contributor: Elenore Goode
Plant: Asters/Symphyotrichum genus species
Focusing on a few of the most common species for central Texas: Fall Aster/Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, Drummond’s Aster/Symphyotrichum drummondii var. texanum, Tall Aster/Symphyotrichum praeltum var. praealtum, White Heath Aster/Symphyotrichum ericoides
Fall flowers are a soothing reprieve after the stifling summer heat, and a vital necessity for many creatures that are preparing for migration or winter.
The many Symphyotrichum, or Aster species that grow in Texas delight every possible landscape – from deep woods to open prairies, and wetlands to rocky hillsides. Their great diversity of physical forms and growing preferences makes this genus especially reliable for enlivening late season gardens. These hardy perennials typically begin the year as small rosettes, growing stalks throughout summer for their fall blooms, and then crumpling down to the ground again in winter. Many of these species will also briefly bloom in late spring/early summer if it is cool and rainy.
These are just a few of the local asters I enjoy greeting in the “second spring” that refreshes us after the diminished growth of summer – Tall Aster thrives in deeper prairie soils and slightly wetter conditions with full sun to part shade, though can be easily grown in quite a range of different garden conditions. It will send its roots out to form large colonies, sending up stalks usually to 3-4 feet, topped with bunches of purple-white flowers. Tall Aster is one of the easiest asters to transplant, and any root dug from the ground will happily grow in a new home, and cutting the top of the stalk off will help it along. It does best in large colonies and with other plants that can provide extra support for the long stalks, like Goldenrod, Maximilian Sunflower, or Indiangrass.
White Heath Aster can grow in a range of soil and moisture conditions, proving to be very hardy growing in anything from steep cliffs and caliche seeps to deep soils in open prairies. It is also fond of the part-shade made by north-facing slopes. The misty white blooms of this species catch the morning sun in a charming way; their white petals themselves are reminiscent of the cold and often dewey air of fall cool fronts that soon dots these same flowers after they open.
Drummond’s, or Texas Aster, is a common woodland aster that is a staple amongst the forest floor herbs of steep hills with shallow soils. Though they may be easy to overlook while they are growing, a forest dotted with these will take on a mystical character when the purple fairy flowers announce their presence
Drummond’s or Texas Aster
Fall Aster is perhaps the most well-known and ubiquitous of this genus in central TX, and with it’s manageable and small woody shrub-like form and happy demeanor, it is an essential garden plant for the hardy native landscape. Fall Asters spread well through their roots to form wide colonies, though not as vigorous a spreader as Tall Aster, and a bit hardier. Their habits, needs, and their radiant bunches of little purple flowers compliment very well with other fall blooming native plants. Their roots are also easy to transplant to make a whole new patch, and their above-ground structure is often better able to infiltrate rainfall into the soil than some asters – some of the other species are really meant to grow in a prairie-like matrix with the surface structures and roots of many other species filling in the gaps for the other, as well as providing physical support. Every species has its strong points, and by combining as many plants of complimentary growing habit together as possible, we can allow for stronger roots systems that soak in more rainfall, feed a more diverse group of soil micro-organisms, and create a more resilient and complex layer of nutrient-rich humus comprised from the various qualities of all the different types of leaves.
Symphyotrichum is another overall dependable genus of much-needed native perennials that can be utilized anywhere from prominent stars of fall display gardens, to background support plants for garden edges and wildlife habitat. All of these different species in their myriad of forms are all nonetheless recognizable as Asters by their flowers, and provide a consistent friendly presence for pollinators on long journeys, as their adaptability and diversity allows them to shine in so many places.
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