The aster (Asteraceae)

Asters are prize-winning perennials that will fill your fall garden with late-season color. An estimated 180 species, plus hundreds of hybrids and cultivars, are widely available. They can enliven a garden after other plants have finished blooming. The most common color is lilac or purple. They also bloom pink, white, red, and blue.

Their botanical name comes from the Greek word for star, and this flower's distinctive starburst blooms are easy to spot. Plants in the Aster family sport petals that look like rays fanning out from a yellow center. Relatives include the daisy, chrysanthemum, sunflower, echinacea, and marigold.

fleabane image

(an aster relative, Erigeron annuus, in my yard)

Two main categories are the most popular: New England asters (Aster novae-angliae) and New York asters (Aster novi-belgii). The first tends to be taller, growing 3-4 ft. high. New York asters are typically around 2 ft.; however, some cultivars can top 6 ft.

These plants are among the last of the year to bloom. They produce flowers from late summer until late fall and are an important food source for butterflies and bees.

Asters thrive in well-drained soil in full to partial sun.

Get your own perennial Purple dome aster right here.

New England aster

(my photo)

Native New England aster (Aster novae-angliae and novae-belgii)

New England asters are sometimes considered the most spectacular. The genus is native to North America and one of the most common fall-blooming plants.

Grow these notable cultivars:

KICKIN'® (Aster novae-angliae)

'Barr’s Pink' (Aster novae-angliae)

'Purple Cloud' (Aster novae-angliae)

'Rosa Sieger' (Aster novae-angliae)

'September Ruby' (Aster novae-angliae)

New York Asters (Aster novi-belgii)

'Ada Ballard' Asters (Aster novi-belgii)

'Chatterbox' New York Asters

'Royal Ruby' (Aster novi-belgii)

'Fellowship' (Aster novi-belgii)

'Prof. Anton Kippenberg' (Aster novi-belgii)

peachie's pick aster

(above: my Stokes' aster variety 'Peachie's Pick' looks blue in shade)

Others you may want to grow:

Aster sedifolius 'Nanus'

Aster ericoides f. prostratum 'Snow Flurry'

Aster amellus 'King George' (Italian Asters)

Rosa Erfullung (Aster amellus)

Grunder Asters (Aster amellus)

Aster dumosus 'Sapphire'

Monch’ Frikart’s (Aster x frikartii 'Monch')

Aster Cordifolius 'Little Carlow'

Symphyotrichum pilosum ‘Ochtendgloren’

Symbolism

The aster has several symbolic meanings. In general, this flower stands for love, faith, and wisdom. The Victorians used asters to represent charm, patience, and elegance. When burned, the odor emitted by asters was said to ward off serpents.

The morning glory (Convolvulaceae)

blue morning glory

(all morning glory photos taken by Debra Carson)

multi-colored morning glories

Easily recognized by funnel-shaped blossoms that unfurl, these plants usually climb and twine their way up trellises or anything else nearby.

The Convolvulaceae family contains 60 genera and more than 1,650 species of mostly herbaceous vines. It also contains trees, shrubs, and plants such as the sweet potato, along with several other edible tubers.

sweet potato tuber
(sweet potato tuber; my photo)

Useful or problematic?

Members of this botanical family can be showy garden plants or troublesome weeds. The latter category includes bindweed and dodder. This family also contains a medium-size tree, Humbertia madagascariensis. Its wood is used to make xylophones.

Due to the laxative properties of the seeds, several morning glory species are used medicinally.

Consuming the flowers, particularly the seeds, produces a euphoria similar to marijuana. Don't try this at home! Large doses can cause effects similar to LSD. This has resulted in at least one recorded death. Some chemicals present in the seeds can also pass into breast milk and prove fatal for a baby or cause serious brain damage.

rasta musician

Symbolism

The cultural symbolism of morning glories varies depending on geographic location and flower color. There is an abundance of Chinese folklore surrounding this flower, including the story of lovers only allowed to meet one day a year.

It not only stands for unrequited love but can also represents mortality. However, the meaning changes significantly depending on the flower's color.

As with most white flowers, the white morning glory represents purity and innocence. Red morning glory flowers symbolize passion and courage. Pink usually signifies romance, gentleness, and thoughtfulness. Blue means trust, respect, and deep emotions. And a purple morning glory indicates nobility, royalty, and beauty.

If you can't make up your mind, here's a great mix of various morning glory seeds in a variety of colors.

moonflower

morning glory

purple morning glories

Cultural significance

For several cultures, the morning glory has deep significance. In China, morning glories symbolize lovers who can only meet one day of the year. It's said that if two young people fall in love, they will neglect their responsibilities. Once they ignore their duties, the gods will begin to display intense dissatisfaction.

In Victorian literature, morning glories signify eternal love or love that was never reciprocated.

Because they bloom and die in a single day, some believe morning glories symbolize the finite nature of this life. Every flower represents a life, and life is best seen and understood in the daylight.

pink morning glory

blue morning glory

Not all morning glories are legal

Commonly known as water morning glory, water spinach, water convolvulus, ong-choy, kang-kung, or swamp cabbage, Ipomoea aquatica is a popular green vegetable in East and Southeast Asian cuisines.

In the United States, it's categorized as a noxious weed and can be illegal to grow, possess, sell, or import without a permit. However, there is still a culinary market for this plant.

water spinach

(above and below: water spinach)

water spinach

poetry

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