Submitted by Curtis Fowler, Range Technician at Land Between The Lakes
The asters are blooming, the asters are blooming!! When you stop by the Elk & Bison Prairie to see the majestic animals, take some time to look at nature’s smaller wonders. These little Aromatic Asters (Aster oblongifolius) are providing late season sustenance to lots of little flying insects. Go pollinators!
Description and Adaptation
Aromatic aster is a native perennial wildflower that grows from 1–3 feet tall. The aster’s rigid stems branch out from the base and give off a balsam-like scent when crushed. The flowers are composite with purple ray flowers along their edges and yellow disk flowers within the center. There are approximately 30 purple or violet ray florets per flower. Flowers appear in fall (September-November) and give way to flat, hairy achenes (dry fruits). Aromatic aster spreads by stolons (horizontal stems that produce new plants from buds).
Distribution: Aromatic aster grows in well-drained moist to dry soils in full sun to partial shade. It is widely distributed from New York west to Montana and south to North Carolina and Texas.
Habitat: Aromatic aster is very adaptable as it grows in rocky and sandy soils such as those found in prairies and bluffs as well as in moist woodland habitats.
Many insects visit the flowers, including long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, small to medium-sized butterflies, and skippers. These insects seek nectar primarily, although the bees also collect pollen. Many kinds of insects feed on the foliage and other parts of asters, including the caterpillars of the butterfly Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot) and many moth species . The Wild Turkey and possibly other upland game birds eat the seeds and foliage to a limited extent. Mammalian herbivores occasionally eat the foliage of asters, even though their food value is low.
Description, adaptation and faunal associations provided by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Fact Sheet.