August 27, 2013

Summer passed

Firefly fast

Now dancing asters

Have a blast…

                                                  -Amy VanDerwater

Though asters begin to bloom in summer, it is as the autumn approaches that we really begin to appreciate their returning beauty. Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) wrote of the aster, “the everlasting fashion of eternity.” If not eternal, at least ancient, as both Greek and Roman mythology praised these wildflowers. Some Greeks believed that Virgo scattered stardust on the earth, resulting in fields of flowering asters. The word aster is from the Greek word “astron” for star. Early Romans said that Asterea, the goddess of innocence and purity, looking down upon the earth saw no stars. This saddened her and she began to cry, where her tears fell, the asters bloomed.

With an array of colors from glowing purples, cool blues, pale pinks, to clear whites, these cold-hardy perennials are visually seductive, as well as rugged enough to stand up to autumn’s wilder winds. Many asters are easily recognized, by their distinctive flowers, looking similar to miniature daisies.  Their central composite, flower heads, often a yellow or reddish color, are surrounded by the more striking, and varied-colored, infertile rays, which help attract pollinators. These ecologically valuable flowers provide late-season nectar and pollen for butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, and bees.

In our modern era, taxonomists have been grappling with re-classifying the hundreds of worldwide species within the genus Aster. Recently many plants-people have been bemoaning the “aster disaster”, as new genera with difficult to pronounce botanical names such as Symphyotrichum and Eurybia have been created from the formerly larger, more encompassing genus Aster. Regardless of these name changes, many people maintain a deep affection for these wild, as well as garden hybrid flowers, which are a true floral symbol of September. On your next visit to Mount Auburn, look for some of our blooming asters on Azalea Path, and in our colorful Greenhouse Garden.


The Windflower and the Violet,

they perished long ago

And the Brier-rose and the Orchis died

amid the summer glow;

But on the hills the Goldenrod

and the Aster in the wood,

And the yellow Sunflower by the brook,

in autumn beauty stood.

                                                     -William Cullen Bryant


…I am not far from my going forth

By picking the faded blue

Of the last remaining aster flower

To carry again to you

                                     -Robert Frost


About the Author: Jim Gorman

Visitor Services Assistant View all posts by Jim Gorman →

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