You've seen the bright displays of potted asters at your local garden center but did you know these cultivars are have a lovely wild cousin? There are hundreds of varieties of wild asters in North America and they are blooming right about now in the upper Midwest. One of the last wildflowers to bloom before the frost, these lovely star-shaped flowers are an important food source for late-season pollinators including solidary bees and monarchs.
Wild Asters range from 1-3 feet tall in our neck of the woods and bloom in whites and pale lavenders. There are two asters common to our area, the New England Aster and the New York Aster. There are several other varieties but we simply don't know them all. Interestingly, they hybridize regularly so we have no idea which is which when we see them in fields and forest edges. They are in bloom right now and we're happy to simply know they are Asters.
In the wild, they are often browsed by deer and rabbits and that can keep them a little shorter and denser although it does delay flowering. If they are able to grow, they can be quite leggy and spread out with fewer flowers. They spread by root and also seed and can be aggressive spreaders in the garden. They are perennial, meaning they grow back each spring when they survive the winter. The types near us prefer sun and well drained soils but they are types that grow well in partial shade and wetter soil as well. They are food for a lot of wild animals before they flower including several types of caterpillars so they can be challenging to start growing but once established, they are a tough plant to eradicate.