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What Time is it in Nature: Frost Aster

October 23, 2012

The prairie is awash with white flowers!  The Frost Asters (Symphyotrichum pilosum) have bloomed in the last few weeks and are everywhere you look at Prairie Ridge.  Like the Narrow-leaf Sunflower featured last week, the Frost Asters are important late-blooming plants that will remain in flower until the end of October, or until the first frost abruptly ends their growing season.

frost asters

Frost Asters, as their name suggests, belong to the plant family Asteraceae and sport the typical composite flowers of the group.  The central disk flowers are a rich, buttery yellow or orange surrounded by multiple white ray flowers.  The plants can develop either as single stalks with a few flowers or as short, shrubby bushes with many flowers.  You can distinguish Frost Asters from other small, white asters by looking at their stems.  The “trichum” in their scientific name refers to hair, and their stems are indeed covered with many fine hairs that give them the appearance of having a light dusting of frost.

Frost Asters grow well in our climate and in a wide variety of soils types.  They tolerate full sun and both wet and dry soils.  They also grow extremely well in disturbed areas.  Because of their tolerance for otherwise inhospitable locations, Frost Asters can be found growing in a huge variety of habitat types, including dry areas, boggy areas, and areas dominated by clay soils.  You will often find them in roadside ditches.

Many late-season pollinators take advantage of Frost Aster nectar and pollen for food, including bumblebees, honey bees, hover flies, a variety of wasps, and butterflies.  We have seen dozens of Monarchs feeding on the Prairie Ridge Frost Aster flowers over the last week.  Perhaps they are grabbing a quick snack in our prairie as they head south for the winter?

Here at Prairie Ridge, the Frost Asters are blooming throughout the prairie, but they are most abundant around our pond and bird blind.  Frost Asters are everywhere there, along with a huge variety of pollinators.  Come on out and see them!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Musuem’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation. Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Photos by Chris Goforth)

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