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

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Wildflower Wednesday: Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

I wouldn't have a fall garden without the Asteraceae family members!

That doesn't mean that there aren't Asteraceaes blooming in the Spring or Summer. Of course there are, but, come September New England asters and other beauties take center stage as they step up to the job of feeding the visiting pollinators, birds and mammals as they prepare for winter.

One of my personal favorites is our Wildflower Wednesday star, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.  Ever since taxonomists placed New World Asters in two new Genera, I've affectionately referred to them as Ex-asters. You've got to admit that's easier than trying to pronounce than Symphyotrichum or Eurybia (the second Genus for New World Asters.)

 Tennessee has an abundance of ex-asters There are at least 32 in the two new genera:  Symphyotrichum and Eurybia. 

 I admit when ever one is in bloom, it's my favorite and right now, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae is in gorgeous bloom.


No matter what you call them, the late summer/early fall ex-asters provide more pollen and nectar return on investment than many other garden flowers combined. New England asters bloom just in time for the late arriving pollinators which are making a mad dash to collect as much nectar and pollen for their last brood. 

 Nature you are so amazing.

found in every state but a few western ones and LA, TX  and Fl

Mass plantings of New England Aster is the way to go! That's what I do. Its gorgeous shades of dark purple to pink blossoms make a powerful late Summer/Early Fall display.

New England Aster can grow to 6 feet tall with a two foot or more spread. It has hairy leaves that clasp the stems and help distinguish it from other ex-asters. Flower stalks and bracts are covered with gland-tipped hairs. Their flower heads are composed of a yellow center and pink-purple rays. It blooms for almost two months from August to October. It's easy peasy to grow...just make sure it gets more than a half day of sun and water during the droughty summer months.  

watch out little bees

 The colorful blooms and the abundant nectar are magnets for all kinds of insects, including some insects that are themselves food for spiders, birds and other insect eating critters. With all this buggy activity going on your garden will be a haven for pollinators and local and fall migrating birds. This fall look for Black-Capped Chickadee and American Goldfinch dining at the seedheads.

landing pads of deliciousness for butterflies, bees, wasps and moths.

 I have a special place in my heart for New England Asters. These rough and tumble wildflower beauties are often found growing in meadows, prairies and roadside ditches. Although, New England asters have been hybridized, I haven't any in my garden. I especially appreciate my species plants that haven't had their best characteristics bred out of them. They're beautiful, they're doing the job nature intended them to do, which is to make a lot of nectar and pollen, exactly when the critters need both.

Be careful soldier beetle, there's a crab spider lurking in that flower

They're nondescript towering green giants until they bloom and then they're magnificent. I Chelsea Chop them (cut back) by a third if they're going to tower over smaller perennials, but, those in the back of the garden are left alone. Stop stopping by mid-June or you will  not have any flowers! Chopping them back not only keeps them from towering over other plants, it keeps them from flopping. Planting them with other assertive growers like Solidago, Cup plant, taller Coreopsis and Rudbeckias will keep them in check. Grasses like Little Bluestem and Panicum will keep them upright. 
Trust me they can survive among aggressive plants! But, do watch some of the Solidago.
 summer bloom pops open in shades of pale pink to deep purple

New England asters are a must have nectar and pollen plant for my garden/habitat, but, they are a critical late season pollen and nectar source for migrating Monarch Butterfly. So, if you garden under a flyway plant New England asters.


The Particulars

Family: Asteraceae

Common Name: New England aster 

Herbatious perennial  

Native Range: Eastern North America 


Zone: 4 to 8 

Size: 3.00 to 6.00 feet tall with a  2.00 to 3.00 foot spread

Bloom: August to September 

Bloom Description: Deep pink-purple 

Sun: Full sun 

Water: Medium 

Maintenance: Medium 

Suggested Use: Naturalize, Rain Garden Flower: Showy, Good Cut 

Wildlife value: "The flowers are visited primarily by long-tongued bees, bee flies, butterflies, and skippers. Short-tongued bees and Syrphid flies also visit the flowers, but they collect pollen primarily and are non-pollinating. Among the long-tongued bees, are such visitors as bumblebees, honeybees, Miner bees, and large Leaf-Cutting bees. Cross-pollination by these insects is essential, otherwise the seeds will be infertile. The larvae of at least 40 moths feed on various parts of this and other asters (see Moth Table). Other insects feeding on this plant include Lygus lineolaris (Tarnished Plant Bug), Poccilocapsus lineatus (Four-Lined Plant Bug), Corythuche marmorata (Chrysanthemum Lace Bug), and Macrosiphum euphoriaca (Potato Aphid). The seeds and leaves of this plant are eaten to a limited extent by the Wild Turkey, while deer, livestock, and rabbits occasionally browse on the foliage, sometimes eating the entire plant. However, New England Aster isn't a preferred food source for these animals. " (Illinois Wildflowers Source)

Companion Planting: Canadian Goldenrod, Ironweed, Smooth Blue Aster, Aromatic Aster, Perennial Black-Eyed-Susan, Tall Sunflower, Showy Goldenrod, Spotted Bee Balm, native grasses, Frostweed

holding its own with other wildflowers

Comments: Can tolerate clay soil, needs some regular moisture, will spread assertively by seed. I leave the seed heads on for any birds that might want to eat them, but, if you are concerned about it spreading too much, just remove them before the achenes blow away.

Happy Wildflower Wednesday. 


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 or not, and, it doesn't matter if we all share the same plants. It's all about celebrating wildflowers. Please leave your link in comments section.

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. A beauty! Asters are really the star of the fall garden but there are so many fall bloomers to love. I've posted my pick for September on my blog.

  2. The cold spell we are going through have put the bees to slumbering. Love the asters. Mine are just beginning to bloom.

  3. Beautiful photos. I love asters and all the insects and butterflies they attract.

  4. I love the New England Asters, and all the others, too. We are still warm here in Wisconsin, so lots of blooms are still going strong. We are a bit dry, but the native plants can take it. Lovely post!

  5. I was recently at a local park, enjoying the monarchs passing through the field, and it was clear they much preferred the asters. They’d occasionally stop at the goldenrod, but it was rare.


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