Aster

October 20, 2021

Over the weekend Melissa and I decided to do some fall cleaning on our yard.  The cool temperatures meant the grass was slowing down, but the leaves had begun to fall.  I am not a raker, and instead prefer to mulch the leaves into the ground.  This is not a gardening thing but is based on pure laziness.  Melissa set to weeding her succulent beds while I tackled the rose bush bed.  Since it was late in the year, I took the weed eater to the bed and then spread the last three bags of mulch that I had purchased last summer on the bed.  When I went to the back patio, I noticed there were several wildflowers growing through the fence.  I have not been as diligent in weed eating the back of the house as I have the front (no one sees the back, right?).  As I grabbed the invasive aster Melissa told me to stop.  She had enjoyed seeing this plant as she worked from her office nook.  I left it alone.

When I looked online, I found the Frost Aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum), is a flowering plant in the family Asteraceae that is native to central and eastern North America in both Canada and the US.  The aster is a perennial, herbaceous plant that may reach 8 to 47 inches (20 to 120 centimeters) tall.  Its flowers have white ray florets and yellow disk florets.  It is widespread and common throughout its range, and its natural habitat includes prairies, open woodlands, and outcrops.  In general, asters respond positively to disturbance, and often occupy sunny, weedy habitats.  The Frost Aster can be used to extend the floral season in gardens, as it blooms for about six weeks in autumn.  The common name derives from the tiny white hairs that sometimes lend its leaves a hoary appearance.  Frost Aster is aggressive, spreading by seeds and rhizomes.  Apparently, it also likes yards that are not weeded.

Members of the Symphyotrichum genus were originally classified in the genus Aster, which contained over six hundred species.  All 600 have all been reclassified into ten different genera.  The genus name Symphyotrichum is from the Greek sýmphysis, meaning “growing together,” and thríx, or “hair.”  The scientific naming of plants (botanical nomenclature) gives every plant a two-part name called a binomial.  The first name is the genus, and the second name is the species (taxonomy).  Since both names are (usually) derived from Latin roots, they are italicized to indicate a foreign origin.  Taxonomic systems were initially based on superficial relationships like similar reproductive features and other easily visible traits and did not take evolutionary ancestry into account.  As DNA technology advances botanists are reclassifying plants by their genetic relationships.  This has resulted in a flurry of recent name changes that have caused gardeners headaches as they try and keep up with the scientific names.  I find it a struggle to remember the common names.

Thoughts:  It is interesting to note that an Aster is identified as a perennial weed and a wildflower.  The Oxford Dictionary defines a weed as “a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants.”  Weeding then is “removing unwanted plants from an area of ground.”  The various Aster/Symphyotrichum species grow wild throughout North America.  In pastures they are called wildflowers.  In cultivated fields, they are called weeds.  When the same species is found in a flower garden, they are called perennial flowers.  Our understanding of the species is based on how it relates to our wants and needs.  While this may work for plants, we cannot allow this to be how we relate to people.  People need to be understood on their own merit and sense of place, not what is convenient to us.  Do the work.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

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