New England Aster is a showy native, erect, perennial aster with stout bristly haired stems reaching up to 6 feet high. Stems and branches are usually covered with short white hair and are light brown to dark brown to purplish in color. The main stem branches profusely near the top.
The leaves are alternate, oblong, stiff but thin, mostly entire, with hairy edges and clasp the stem tightly with rounded lobes. The leaf underside has fine hair with longer hair on the mid-vein. Within the floral array leaves are reduced in size and lower leaves on the stem, which are larger, usually drop by flowering time.
The floral array is a branched panicle atop the stems. These clusters are leafy and crowded with stalked flowers.
Flowers: The are 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches wide and composed of two types of florets. The outer ray florets can be reddish-purple, rose, violet or sometimes white, with numerous rays, 50 to 75+. These are pistillate and fertile. These surround the tubular central disc florets which number 50 to 110, have a yellow corolla tube with 5 pointed lobes, turning reddish-purple as maturity like most asters of this genus. These florets are bisexual and fertile. They open from the outside of the disc to the center. Anthers of the stamens are yellow, with the five stamens appressed around the single style. The flower stalk has green bracts that have short hair and glandular hair. These bracts grade into 3 to 5 series of linear, glandular-hairy dark green to purple tinged phyllaries, which tend to spread outward at the tips.
Seed: Fertile flowers produce a dry 7 to 10 nerved cypsela which has a tawny color pappus attached for wind dispersion. Seeds are light - 66,000 to the ounce. Seeds require 60 days of cold stratification for germination.
Types: In the Garden flowers with purplish and rose ray flowers exist. Most of the rose ones are found at the eastern side of the Upland Garden.
Habitat: New England Aster grows from short rhizomes and fibrous roots and forms thick woody branched caudices. Full sun is preferred with well drained upland soils and moist to moderate moisture. Like all asters, this one is susceptible to stem rot if kept too wet. There can also be some leaf mildew if air circulation is not good in damp weather. Cultivars of this species are readily available in the nursery trade for home garden use. In the home garden, the native variety can reach seven feet in height whereas certain cultivars such as "Purple Dome" can be dwarf size. Seed gathered in the fall can be immediately planted, but if held for spring planting it must be cold-stratified. The plant is not invasive but will self seed.
Names: An older scientific name for this species is Aster novae-angliae. The species name novae-angliae, means "of New England". Botanists have recently re-classified this plant and other new world asters into the genus Symphyotrichum. The genus name is from the Greek symphysis, for 'junction', and 'trichos', for hair, all of which relates to a fine division by botanists of certain plant characteristics. The author names for the plant classification are: First to classify was '(L.)' which refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. His work was amended by ‘G. L. Nesom’ which is for Guy L. Nesom (b. 1945) American botanist who has published papers on the nomenclature of asters.
Comparisons: The large purple or rose tinted ray flowers on a plant where the leaves are short and clasp the stem, make this aster easy to identify. Sometimes the coloration of Redstem Aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum (L.)) is similar to the purple ray florets here, but that species has longer leaves, far fewer ray florets and prefers marshy soil.
Above: 1st photo - Rose color type ray florets. 2nd photo - The floral array is a dense panicle atop each stem. 3rd photo - Purplish color ray floret type
Below: 1st photo - Rose color ray florets. 2nd photo - purple color ray florets.
Below: 1st photo - The phyllaries of the flower head are glandular-hairy with dark green to purplish tips. Shown below them on the flower stalk is one of the larger leafy bracts. 2nd photo - The disc florets have yellow corolla tubes with 5 pointed lobes, slightly spreading when the floret opens. Opening progresses from the edge to the center. Intermixed with the ray florets in the photo, note the purplish tips of the phyllaries.
Below: Seeds are a small, ribbed, dry cypsela with a tawny pappus attached for wind dispersion.
Below: Showing the configuration of the leaves that tightly clasp the stem. Note the hairy edges of the leaves, the reddish stem color with white hair.
Below: The underside of the leaf has fine hair all over the surface, longer hair on the mid-vein and short stiff hairs on margins. The lobes on the base end clasp but do not encircle the stem.
Below: A grouping of rose colored flowers.
Notes: New England Aster is not indigenous to the Garden itself. Eloise Butler's records show that she first obtained plants of this species from Lake City, MN in 1910 and from Glenwood Park (Minneapolis - which surrounds the Garden and is now named Theodore Wirth Park) in 1911, from Glenwood Springs (near the Garden) in 1913; from Twin Lake and Orchard Lake in 1914; more plantings in '17, '18, '19, and '20. She planted the rose colored variety of this species on Sept. 18, 1912 with a root obtained from Ft. Snelling and again on Sept. 27, 1929 with plants obtained from the Minnetonka Mills area of Minnetonka, MN. Martha Crone also planted the species in 1935, '37, '39, over 100 in '44 and more in '45; and she also recorded planting the rose colored variety in 1933 and in 1936.This plant was listed on Martha Crone's 1951 inventory of plants in the Garden at that time. Cary George planted the species in 1993 and 1995.
New England Aster is native to most of Minnesota except some counties in the NE Quadrant. In North America it is widespread. Most Canadian provinces have it except the far north. In the U.S. only Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana and Florida do not report it. Asters are difficult to study. There are twenty-four species just of Symphyotrichum listed by the DNR and the U of M as being found in Minnesota, some with several subspecies.
Eloise Butler wrote about the asters in the Garden in her 1915 report to the Board of Park Commissioners. Of this species she said: "Aster novae-angliae is truly a splendid plant - tall, late-blooming, with prodigal large flowers of many shades of rich blue and pink purple. It often has the striking tone of the ironweed." She also wrote an essay on the Garden asters for the Agassiz Association for publication in the Asa Gray Bulletin.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"