Nature Bulletin No. 431-A October 30, 1971
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
One of the charms of our American autumn is the profusion of asters
that decorate the landscape from late August until the killing frosts of
October or November. Some kinds, last wildflowers of the dying year,
are still blooming when even the goldenrods are gone. Some are white;
a few are pinkish; others range in color from pale blue to purple. They
are very hardy but people who gather armloads of asters are
disappointed to find that they close up and lose their beauty almost as
soon as picked.
The asters belong to that largest of all plant families, the Composites,
which includes such common flowers as goldenrods, daisies,
sunflowers, thistles and dandelions. The name aster, from the Latin and
Greek word meaning "star", was given them because the flower head
has a showy ring of rays or florets -- similar to those of a daisy,
sunflower and chicory -- around a yellow center that turns reddish or
purplish brown with age. Almost all are perennials. Each tiny seed has a
short tuft of fuzz by which it is carried away in the wind.
The asters are found mostly in North America where there are scores of
species. They have their greatest variety and abundance in the eastern
half of the United States and, of 40 kinds found in the Chicago region,
only 10 are uncommon or rare. Some bloom early; some late. Each
species prefers a certain kind of habitat: dry wooded hills, open woods,
fields and prairies, sandy soils, rich bottomlands, stream banks,
swamps, or even bogs. Those growing in shady places usually have
broad heart-shaped leaves, whereas those in fields and open spaces
have slender or needle-shaped leaves. There is a bewildering array of
species but, for you and me, it is of little consequence whether or not
we can tell them apart, as far as our enjoyment is concerned.
Except as weedy cover protecting soils from erosion, asters have little
practical importance. The Indians apparently used the roots, the bottom
leaves, or the flowers of a few kinds for medicines. Some were burned
as a smudge to drive away evil spirits, or as hunting charms to attract
deer and counterfeit the scent of a gland between the toes of that
The New England Aster, blooming late, is the largest and handsomest
of all. It grows in erect clumps, often as tall as your head, in fields and
along roadsides but especially in moist ground. It bears loose clusters of
flower heads each with 40 to 50 rays of deep blue or purple. The entire
plant is pungently aromatic. The strikingly ornamental Smooth Aster
has more numerous blue or violet flowers. Its foliage and gracefully
bending stems have a bluish green cast. Like the New England aster, it
has been cultivated in gardens.
one end of Illinois to the other, our country roads, pastures and
abandoned fields in the uplands are whitened by the Heath Aster, also
called Frost Aster. Seldom more than knee-high, it is densely bushy, has
stiff narrow leaves, and bears masses of little frosty-white flowers. The
Multiflora Aster, which also has masses of small white flowers, is very
abundant in the prairies and abandoned fields of this region. We
frequently see several acres thickly covered with it.
There are many other familiar kinds, with all sorts of common names,
all combining to end the year's seasons of blooming wildflowers with a
grand flourish. After frost has come and their seeds have been shed, the
remnants of the flower heads are still star-like and can be used to make
attractive winter bouquets. Ave Asters !
To return to the Nature Bulletins Click Here!
Update: June 2012