Who art thou, o aster?
By Debra Knapke
Back in 2003 Neil Diboll of Prairie Nursery in Wisconsin called it the Aster Disaster. Not to bore you with the minutiae of name changes of plants, suffice it to say: in 1994, it was determined that the asters of the New World (ours) are different from the asters across the oceans. The New World asters were found to be more closely related to goldenrod (Solidago), fleabanes (Erigeron) and boltonia (Boltonia) than the species in the genus Aster. Thus began a series of name changes that are accepted by most, but not all, in botanical and horticultural communities.
We are adjusting to this name change in the horticultural and landscape worlds, but not without some angst. You are now seeing the newer genus names in the magazine articles you are reading and on the tags that accompany the asters you are buying. The majority of the asters that we encounter in print and in the garden center are now in the genus Symphyotrichum – aster was so much easier to spell! – with a few in Eurybia.
At the Ohio Botanical Symposium in April, attendees had the chance to further understand the name changes and “walk” through a key for the native asters in Ohio. In the tricky after-lunch slot, David Brandenburg showed how to master the native asters. His handouts included a comprehensive aster chart and a pictorial key drawn by an extremely talented artist, Sigrid Neilsen. Both her key – free download – and her beautifully illustrated book on native asters are available on her website:
Will the common name change? Probably not. To quote William Shakespeare: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.