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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Best Native Ex-Aster Is A Very, Very Late Bloomer!

Symphyotrichum praealtum with its telltale prominent veining
'Miss Bessie' is a very, very, late blooming flower in my garden. It begins opening in mid to late October just as the Little ex-asters are starting to fade and continues to bloom through much of November. It has survived light frosts and we'll see today whether it survived the freezing fog that is forecast this morning.
Even after fifteen straight hours of rain the willow aster is the place to bee for nectar
It's an extremely important food source for pollinators still out and about on those beautiful warm fall days; one source suggests that it's a go to food source for migrating Monarch Butterflies. If you garden along the monarch trail I recommend planting this beauty (Prairie Moon Nursery has seeds).
Bumble moving very slow stops to nectar on 
I am thrilled when royalty stops by the garden, but, all the pollinators adore this beauty. By all, I mean every Bumble, tiny little fly, small bee or Skipper that's in the garden can be found nectaring on the sweet lilac-blue flowers from the time the sun moves past the canopy trees and warms up the garden, until it sets and everything cools off.
It leans toward the sun in less than full sun settings
Symphyotrichum praealtum is a tall grass prairie native that is harder to find than a tall grass prairie. It's listed as an endangered and threatened species in several states, including Tennessee, and in several Canadian provinces. (Go here to read about rescue efforts in Canada.) Luckily for me, blogging friend, Sweetbay, generously shared several starts of 'Miss Bessie' a few years ago. I am happy to say they bloomed that first fall and every one since then. It's ironic and wonderful that an endangered Middle Tennessee wildflower found its way home from NC. The resident pollinator send their thanks and love to you SB!
Willowleaf aster is an important late fall source of nectar and pollen
In my garden,  Willowleaf aster stands straight and tall until the top heavy blooms have it leaning toward the sun. It sways in the slightest breeze and only patience and hundreds of shots yields a good photo of any pollinators nectaring!  

You can tell this is a fly by its stubby antennae 
I'm scattering seeds and moving a plant or two to the hillside garden along with Chasmanthium laterfolium, Panicum virgatum and Rudbeckia triloba, where they can all colonize to their heart's content!

I can see it now~the best ever, late blooming native ex-aster swaying and dancing with the River Oats
while Bumbles nectar on its blooms.


PS It goes without saying, but you know me, I have to say it. If you want happy pollinators to live and visit your garden, you must, never, ever, ever, ever use pesticides. I'm not kidding...

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.


  1. It is so nice to see that you have bees and flies still out and about. Here they have been forced into hibernation even though there are still a few aster blooms. I haven't seen any insects lately. Brrrr it is getting cold.

  2. A true beauty...and anything that flowers at this time of year is invaluable!

  3. Thank you for the recommendation. I love the pic of the flower fly on your finger. How sweet.~~Dee

  4. i love this ex~aster. the photos are amazing. delicate and hardy...win, win. the fact that the pollinators don't mind your presence even more incredible.

  5. Gail I'm glad the pollinators are happy! They are all concentrating on 'Miss Bessie' and the groundsel trees here. As I recall the flowers are hardy down to the mid-20s. I don't think I've seen them ruined by cold.

  6. Hi Gail, that green bee is so beautiful against the aster color. I don't see it here though, maybe it is a temperate species, or is it a wasp? I already am excited for the next WW, already got a draft, haha!

  7. How nice to still have blooms in the garden. I enjoy having new blooms to anticipate through the season, so having one start for you at the end of October means that you can still be strolling around the garden, with that sense of adventure at spotting the first flower of another plant.

  8. I can see it now, too, dear Gail! What a lovely combination and so perfect to take the wild garden into winter. I must look for this aster!

  9. I like the idea of calling them ex-asters! Or perhaps "The composite formerly known as aster." Sounds better than Symphyotrichum. This is a new one on me, but it is lovely.

  10. I'm impressed you're still seeing bumbles...and ex-Asters! My native Asters have been done for a while. I just noticed your sidebar, that the next GBF is in San Francisco! Are you going? I'm so close, I think I just have to go next year. How exciting!

    1. Clare, I am planning on it and hope you attend...I would get to meet you and it's a lot of fun.

  11. Gardeners are SO generous! That was really nice of Sweet Bay to share the beautiful 'Miss Bessie' with you. I would say she definitely belongs in your garden anyway it took for her to get there. It is funny tho that she's a native & you had to 'import' her (so to speak!)
    Glad you have been enjoying a great fall Gail. Also, I totally get your garden & appreciate it for the wildlife oasis it is. My dad has a garden designed for wildlife so I got used to that idea young (even tho I've strayed from it with my own)
    Trying harder to get back....
    If I don't get by again, a very happy Thanksgiving to you & your family dear friend.

  12. North Carolinians can be very generous. I love the picture of your giant fingers with that little fly and the lovely flowers.

  13. Well I'm glad you knew it was a fly because at first blush I thought we needed an intervention for a gardener who was putting her health and pleasure at risk for a post???

    Love the wild asters and wish more people were aware of there existence. But when you see acres of mums in stores and you have to dig deep and early for the beautiful blue garden aster, there's plenty of groundwork to be done. And you're obviously kicking the ball down the field in your own small way with the wild ones.. Keep up the good work

  14. Love your asters. That photo of the fly was great and I had to look at it again to see the tiny blunt antennae. Something I did not know, as I thought it was a bee of some sort.

    Have a lovely Thanksgiving.


  15. You have sold me once again. Great fall blooms and pollinators love it.

  16. Miss Bessie is lovely Gail, and how wonderful the blooms are so hardy. It's such a pretty color.

  17. Can you believe I have a few ex-aster plants still going ..amazing

  18. You sold me, but then when you said it's hard to find I cried (well, not really but I was bummed). It's a beauty, and the fact that it's a late bloomer is a bonus. Thanks for highlighting Miss Bessie in this post.

  19. I would invite Miss Bessie to my garden any day of the week. She is lovely.

  20. Love your pictures :) What zone would these Ex-Asters thrive up to? I live in NH in zone 4, if they would do ok here I would not mind trying these beauties, thanks for any help.

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"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson