Favorite Flora: Asters

Who art thou, o aster?

Aster SymphyotrichumPurple Dome flw crop

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 EurybiaAster Symphyotrichum purple Dome plant crop resize

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”.

aster illustrations

One response to “Favorite Flora: Asters

  1. cindydonahey

    Hope this works, if not, if not.   There is the prettiest little white (with a yellow center) aster at the former Columbus Coated Fabric site on south campus, closer to E. 5th than E. 11th.  It started growing in a drainage ditch and has spread enormously, maybe double the area, that it was last year.  The foliage is a bright clean green.  It is just coming into bloom.  We have a lot of abandoned buildings, and along the alley on N. 5th or N. 6th, it is growing prolifically also in at least one back yard. I have never seen it anywhere else.  It is not by the railroad tracks, but closer to the street parallel to the railroad tracks, the new one with all the turnarounds and so forth.  It must have been growin in the lot at the Columbus Coated Fabrics site.  A lot of shale is exposed in the drainage ditch.  The area is slated to be developed at some point, so it is probably going going to be gone soon.  The is a relatively common purple aster in the University Area and a weedy little white with lots of runnered roots, but this aster is different than those two.   I got a purple aster in Perry County (on land we owned at the time), where it was growing in acid soil – when it bloomed it was maybe two feet, many years ago.  Here it can get to four feet in our mildly alkaline (spelling) soil.   This bloom many places in the Wayne National Forest with a soft yellow goldenrod, a nice color combination.

    >________________________________ > From: heartlandgardening >To: cindydonahey@yahoo.com >Sent: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 6:16 AM >Subject: [New post] Favorite Flora: Asters > > WordPress.com >heartlandgardening posted: “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 as” >

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