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What Time is it in Nature: Aromatic Aster

October 25, 2013

Fall has just started, which means that big changes are coming to the Prairie Ridge trees and other plants.  One of the most spectacular plants in the fall is the late-blooming Aromatic Aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium, found in our Nature Neighborhood Garden.

Aromatic aster

The Aromatic Aster is native to the eastern and northern United States and is commonly found in American prairies.  Like other members of its genus, this aster make an excellent ground cover plant, growing dense foliage 1-3 feet tall and up to 3 feet wide in dry, sunny areas.  The hairy stems and leaves give off a pleasant scent when crushed and give the plant its common name.  Aster flowers are made up of two types of flowers, and Aromatic Aster is no exception.  The ray flowers are what most people consider the “petals” and give the blooms the bright purple-blue color you see in the image above.  The yellow disc flowers are found clustered at the center.  The combination of colors and the fall blooming period make this aster a very distinctive species and easy to identify.

Aromatic Aster is an attractive late-blooming plant with many flowers, but it is also an important plant.  It grows well in disturbed, dry, clay, or rocky soils and has been used with great success in land restoration projects.  As one of the latest flowers to bloom, it is also a very valuable source of nectar and pollen at a time of year when food sources for pollinators become scarce.  You can currently find bumblebees, honey bees, and bee-mimicking hover flies on the Aromatic Asters at Prairie Ridge, but the foliage is also consumed by a variety of butterfly and moth larvae and is sometimes browsed by birds and mammals.

Both the Aromatic Aster and its close relative the Frost Aster are currently in bloom at Prairie Ridge.  You can’t miss the Aromatic Aster’s bright flowers in the Nature Neighborhood Garden!  The flowers should be in bloom a few more weeks, so stop by and take a look before they disappear for the winter.

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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