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The aster is the birth flower for September and also holds honor as the 20th wedding anniversary flo

The name aster comes from the Ancient Greek word astron, derived through the Latin word astrum, meaning “star,” in referrence to the flower’s star-like shape. The English also called asters “starworts.” The word wort means “root” which applies to the plant’s healing properties. Of the 650 plus species of asters throughout the world, some forty-five types grow in Texas. Both in the wild and in cultivation, asters hybridized freely with one another without giving any respect for scientists who struggle to classify them.

The most popular varieties are the Michaelmas daisy, a perennial, and the China aster (callistephus), an annual.

 

Asters are suitable for rock gardens, herbaceous borders, open woodlands, and container gardens. Their daisy-like flowers bloom from late August until the end of October. The flowers range from white through lavender to purple, and through pink and rose to crimson.

 

Ancient societies believed that the aroma from aster leaves, when burnt, drove away evil serpents. Asters were placed on the graves of French soldiers to symbolize afterthought and with the wish that history had turned out differently. Mythology claims that asters were created from stardust when the goddess, Virgo, looked down from the heavens and wept. The Roman poet, Virgil, believed alters of the gods were often covered with asters as stated in his works. Today, asters symbolize patience, talisman of love, and daintiness.  Except in China, where they signify fidelity.

 

American Indians made a tea from the leaves of the aster to treat diarrhea and fevers. They also soaked the stems and flowers to make a wash to ease rheumatic aches and to treat bites from rabid animals and snake bites. The Chinese made aster wine from fermented leaves and stems of their native aster plants. Today, here in Texas, beekeepers value the annual aster as a source of delicious honey. This method dates back to the Ancient Romans who also associated asters with honey, and Virgil (the poet) recommended putting boiled aster leaves in wine near a beehive to improve the taste of honey.

 

In the old world, plants were an important part of everyday life, generally used as reminders, like a calendar. When asters from the New World were imported to England over three hundred years ago, the English welcomed them to their gardens and immediately began to hybridize them into a large number of new varieties. They called them Michaelmas daisies as the plants usually were in full bloom by St. Michaelmas Day (a church festival held on September 29 to honor the archangel Michael), which was also considered the date of beginnings: the academic year at Oxford and Cambridge, the quarterly court session, the day for debts to be settled and annual rents to be paid.

 

Numerous species and many hybrids make up perennial asters, which were from direct descends of plants found wild in North America and southern Europe. Modern varieties of these have been raised in Great Britain and in other European counties. Throughout England all asters are called Michaelmas daisies. In the United States the term is commonly applied only to the old standbys such as the New York and New England asters.

 

Michaelmas daisies bloom from late summer through October. Plants form clumps of narrow leaves and send up branching spikes of typical daisy flowers in single to nearly double and are generally 1 to 2 inches across. Shorter hybrids form almost solid mounts of color. Tall varieties are more open and graceful but usually need stalking. Colors include shades of lavender and pink (light and dark), white and reddish purples. These plants are not fussy about soil, but they need full sun and regular watering. Mildew is one problem they tend to develop. Divide plants every other year in the fall or early spring.

 

Species of the annual aster, Callistephus chinensis, were first cultivated in Asia; hence their nickname China aster. Introduced to Western gardens only 200 years ago, they

produce colorful single, semi-double chrysanthemum-like pompom flowers in shades of red, pink, purple, white, and blue-white. They complement perennial asters when planted together and, with careful selection of varieties, may be kept in flower from, early July until the first frost.

 

The fall aster, Aster oblongifolius, is a carefree perennial native to the Austin area. It bears showy lavender-purple daisy-like flowers from early fall until the first hard freeze. The plant spreads to form a dense clump about 2 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide. Fall aster thrives in full sun or partial shade with well-drained soil. It is drought tolerant and does not have any known pest problems. Prune the plant to ground level after the first hard freeze. In late spring, cut new stems back by one-third to keep the plants from getting floppy and to encourage more flowers in the fall.

 

The Aster subulatus, commonly known as annual aster, baby’s breath aster, or blackweed is also a native wildflower. It produces bunches of white or lavender heads, and are seen along roadsides and fields in the fall. Not all lawn owners are pleased to discover their presence when they suddenly start to spread throughout the yard; the more they cut the slender stems, the more the plants branch and spread.

 

Asters can be purchased at local garden centers and nurseries. New shipments arrive daily.

 

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