Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Wildflower Wednesday: Frost Aster's moment in the sun

The blue wood ex-asters have always over shadowed the Frost asters in my garden until this year!
That's when I noticed how delightful it looked arching over the Susans and other spent blooms in the sunniest garden beds. It's a blizzard of small bright white flowers and on sunny autumn days it's busy hosting bees of every size and any butterflies still out and about. Frost aster is doing the job I had hoped the Boltonias would do: blooming late and attracting pollinators. And it's doing it in dry soil.

Symphyotrichum pilosum is known by several common names, depending upon what part of its growing range you hail from: hairy aster, frost aster, hairy white aster, old-field aster, and, awl aster.

Often described as a bushy plant, it's a delicate arching plant at Clay and Limestone.  Snipping it back early in the summer might make for a shorter and bushier plant, but, I prefer the graceful look of arches in my garden to counteract the many tall wildflowers.

Frost aster started blooming as the S novae-angliae and Solidagoes were beginning to decline and just as the little asters everywhere began to bloom. They're still blooming and looking good after several heavy rainfalls and two frosty nights. I appreciate its long lasting floral display and so do the pollinators. Late blooming flowering plants are extremely important food sources for pollinators still out and about on beautiful warm fall days.

During the summer the green stems are hidden by Susans and other blooming beauties. You might consider combining them with bluestems (the red fall colors would be a delightful contrast) or perennials like Tradescantia and Phlox paniculatas.  If your garden is dry, Monarda punctata, Parthenium integrifolium and Asclepias tuberosa gone to seed would be good partners.

yellow centers are surrounded by many (16-35) white ray florets
Frost Aster has a lot going for it:
  • an easy peasy, no maintenance plant
  • a delightful extended season of bloom (Sept - Dec), 
  • showy white flowers
  • graceful arching stems
  • a floral display that keeps on keeping on~it's not stopped by rain, sleet, snow or freezing
  • a delicate sweet scent
  • a pollinator magnet 
the stems of this little aster are covered in fine, fuzz-like hairs
Frost aster is a Clay and Limestone rough and tumble wildflower.  It's a simple flower that blooms its heart out and require no special care. Please note, like many members of the Asteracea family, this one is a traveler (self seeding), but you can easily transplant any seedlings to other parts of your garden. If you don't want to edit, cut the flower heads off after bloom, but, remember,  you will be depriving song birds and small mammals of those seeds.

Symphyotrichum pilosum is native to every state in North America east of the Rockies and also to eastern Canadian provinces. In Latin, pilos means 'hairy' and the stems of this little aster are covered in fine, fuzz-like hairs.
 Symphyotrichum is a genus of about 90 species of herbaceous annual and perennial plants that were formerly treated within the genus Aster; I affectionately refer to them as the Ex-asters. Frost aster like the other ex-asters in my garden is native to Middle Tennessee. They all grow and thrive in the shallow clay soil and semi-shady to almost full sun conditions of my Zone7 garden (formerly Zone6b)
the yellow centers may become reddish with age
The Particulars

Botanical name: Symphyotrichum pilosum
Common Name: hairy aster, frost aster,  hairy white old-field aster, awl aster
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Asteraceae
Native Range: Eastern North America and western Canada
Zone: 4 to 8
Height: 2.00 to 4.00 feet
Spread: 2.00 to 4.00 feet
Bloom Time: September to October and into November (middle Tennessee)
Bloom Description: White rays and pale yellow center discs. Showy and attractive to native bees and butterflies
Leaves: Alternate, Simple, Entire; Long lance-shaped. The lower ones often disappear during hot summer months
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Mesic to dry conditions
Soil: Loam, clay-loam, sandy loam, or gravelly material
Maintenance: Low
Distinctive features: Very fuzzy stem, as if coated with a thick frost.
Comments: This aster is easy to cultivate, but it can spread aggressively by reseeding itself, especially in open disturbed areas. You'll see this plant out the car window in empty field, highway  medians,  disturbed areas, along railroad tracts and empty neighborhood lots.
Wildlife Value: Moderately deer resistant. Host plant for the Pearl Crescent butterfly. Flowers are attractive to bees and butterflies. Songbirds and small mammals eat the seeds. Members of the genus Symphyotrichum species support the following specialized bees: Andrena (Callandrena s.l.) asteris, Andrena (Callandrena s.l.) asteroides, Andrena (Cnemidandrena) hirticincta, Andrena (Cnemidandrena) nubecula, Andrena (Callandrena s.l.) placata, Andrena (Callandrena s.l.) simplex, and Colletes simulans.  (source)
Ecological Value: Because of its "weedy" nature it is great at colonizing disturbed and "waste places". It protects soil from erosion and provides food for wildlife where more sensitive plants cannot yet grow.(source)


*The Bumble Bees, honeybees, Miner bees, and large Leaf-Cutting bees (long-tongued bees), bee flies, butterflies, and skippers that visit all the late blooming ex-asters for nectar and pollen are essential for cross pollination or all those fluffy seeds would be infertile. So never, ever, ever, ever use pesticides, if you want pollinators to pollinate your ex-asters and other plants!

Welcome to Clay and Limestone and Wildflower Wednesday.  This day is about sharing wildflowers and other native plants no matter where one gardens~the UK, tropical Florida, Europe, Australia, Africa, South America, India or the coldest reaches of Canada. It doesn't matter if we sometimes share the same plants. It doesn't matter if they're in bloom (think winter sharing), how they grow and thrive in your garden is what matters most.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wordless Wednesday: Last and First

The last of the summer Phlox and the first of the woodland ex-asters, both stalwart wildflowers at Clay and Limestone. I can't imagine gardening without either of them. This may be the only photo I have of an ex-aster without pollinators!


PS I think one of the ex-asters will be the October Wildflower Wednesday star (October 24, 2018).

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wildflower Wednesday: Fleischmannia incarnata

I found our Wildflower Wednesday star in the Susan's bed a few years ago. It looked like  Conoclinium coelestinum/Blue Mistflower, but, the flowers were less numerous and pink. There were a few other differences, too. Blue Mistflower is a sturdy plant with upright reddish stems, while this little beauty could be best described as airy and loose limbed.

I rather liked what I saw.

I'm never surprised to discover a new native plant in this neighborhood or even in my garden. Plants frequently appear, either having gone unnoticed or because conditions were favorable for growth of seeds in the soil seed bank. This was a woodland not so very long ago and there must be many wildflower seeds laying dormant in the soil.

Wildflowers and other Central Basin natives grew with happy abandon in the forested woodland where this garden now stands. Sixty three years ago a neighborhood was carved from the woodland and a house was built. Homeowners came and went, while the wildflowers grew quietly on the woodland  edge. Thirty three years ago, my husband I bought this garden and that brand new gardener fell head over heals in love with the Goldenrods and blue clouds of ex-asters that were covered with bees and butterflies. The woodland remnants in my backyard and side yards were where I discovered the beautiful wildflowers that have become my gardening soulmates: False Soloman's Seal, Spring Beauties, Rue Anemone, Trout-lily, False Garlic, Blue-eyed Grass, Wild Sweet William, Sweet Betsy, Goldenrods, Blue Mistflower, Frostweed and those many white and blue ex-asters.

Long time readers might remember that I built this garden around those native beauties, so, finding  Fleischmannia incarnata to add to the mix was delightful.
photo by Richard and Teresa Ware   
Fleischmannia incarnata is a North American species of flowering plant in the Asteracea family. It is native to the United States from Florida north as far as Virginia, Ohio, and Illinois, and west to Texas and Oklahoma.  It's found happily growing in moist woodlands, thickets, marshes, and along streambanks. In optimal growing conditions, it can reach 6 feet tall, but, in my garden it's a low branching sprawler.  It produces numerous flower heads in a flat-topped array at the ends of the stems, each head has about 20 pink or whitish-pink disk flowers per head. There are no ray flowers.

The leaves are opposite, widely spaced at nodes, and triangular shaped; they remind me of Nepeta. They're softer to the touch than leaves of Blue Mistflower, which is another way to tell them apart.

It has an airy, loose limbed attractiveness and is a good partner for Eupatorium serotinum, both are found in moist shade. It's not unusual to find it sprawling against neighboring plants in a lax fashion. Training it on a trellis might help show off it's pretty flower faces to the world.

Foraging bees are frequent visitors. Skippers hover around it, doing their lovely mating dances. It doesn't appear to be a host plant for butterflies, but, if anyone reading this knows otherwise, please let me know.
Florets (Source)
Dried plants are said to have an odor similar to vanilla. I must admit, I've not noticed, but, will make a point this fall when I collect seeds. I will definitely propagate it, because, one needs more sprawling beauties luxuriating in a garden.


The particulars

Botanical name: Fleischmannia incarnata
Common Name: pink slender thoroughwort, pink thoroughwort, pink boneset
Herbaceous perennial
Native Range: In the USA: AL, AR, AZ, FL, GA, IL, IN, KY, LA, MO, MS, NC, OH, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV
Tennessee Range:

Size: 12 in. - 6 ft. | 30 cm - 1.8 m, low branching growth habit, sprawling.
Bloom Time: Aug–Dec. depending upon where you garden
Bloom Description:Inflorescence - Flat-topped panicles of heads at branch tips and flower heads with disc florets and no ray florets.
Best Plant Description: In appearance it is reminiscent of a tall, gangly ageratum with pale pinkish florets and catnip-like leaves.
Sun Light: Shade, Partial to Full Shade
Water: Prefers moist soil
National Wetland Indicator Status: FACU+ FAC
Maintenance: Low, as long as it is not allowed to dry out.
Propagation Methods: From seed; direct sow outdoors in fall or direct sow after last frost.
Seed Collecting: Allow seedheads to dry on plants; remove and collect seeds.
Comments:Woodlands, thickets, moist soil, roads, ditches, stream banks, bottomlands, swamps, depressions, cedar glades and if your lucky in your garden.
Wildlife value: This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds (seeds). Doesn't appear to be a butterfly host plant, but, it is an excellent nectar source.
Flowers are fragrant
Commercially available: One Beaufort, SC nursery had it for sale.


Welcome to Clay and Limestone's Wildflower Wednesday celebration. WW is about sharing and celebrating wildflowers from all over this great big, beautiful world. Join us on the fourth Wednesday of each month. Remember, it doesn't matter if they are in bloom  and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. 

Please leave your link in the comment section if Mr Linky does not work.

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


Related Posts with Thumbnails


Related Posts with Thumbnails