Friday, October 24, 2014

Wildflower Wednesday: Mystery Aster

Why am I always late for Wildflower Wednesday?  I don't mean a couple days late: our hostess Gail of Clay and Limestone celebrates wildflowers all month long and isn't fussy about deadlines for her monthly meme.  No, I'm talking about being a whole month late.

Back in late September I had planned to show off the New England asters that have taken over were blooming in the small butterfly/native garden.

In September these purple and various pink blooms were covered with all kinds of bees filling up with nectar for the long winter ahead.

There were also butterflies a-plenty back in September in this little backyard garden, including the late-arriving Painted Ladies, sharing the goodness with the bees.

Most of the goldenrod was also blooming back in September, its bright yellow blooms covered with all kinds of little critters.

Oh, I could have done a nice little post just on the asters and goldenrod blooming in September.  But you see, I was waiting for something else.  Two tall plants had suddenly, or so it seemed, emerged at the very back of the butterfly garden.  Earlier, I had mistakenly thought they were Obedient Plant, because the stems and leaves looked somewhat similar.  But as they grew and grew, reaching five feet, and began to show small little buds on the top stems, I realized they were something entirely different.  But what were they?

This would make an interesting addition to my Wildflower Wednesday post, I thought, and so I waited as September turned into October.  The buds turned a pinkish cast, but still did not open.

While I waited, I tried to figure out what these two plants could be.  I didn't remember planting anything in this corner, and I searched my garden journal for native plant purchases in the last year or two, with nothing noted that would look anything like this.  I consulted my two favorite wildflower references without much luck either.  Perhaps it was an Aster tataricus,  a tall, late-blooming aster.  But the leaves are alternate, and one source said this aster's leaves were opposite.  Could it be a Vernonia, or Ironweed, which does have alternate leaves?  I began to hope it was Ironweed, a plant I've always wanted to add to this area.  Only time would tell .  . .

While one week turned into the next, another flower suddenly burst into bloom at the front of the butterfly garden.  This wildflower is no stranger here, usually appearing in the fall in various places around the outbuildings.  Some time ago  I identified this as a Aster pilosus or Frost aster, also called a Hairy Aster, though I'm not 100% positive that is correct.

This is definitely a weedy wildflower and not to everyone's taste.  I usually pull them when they appear throughout the garden, but I was too lazy didn't have time to pull this one before it bloomed, and I'm actually glad I left it alone.  The bees don't care whether it's some fancy type of aster or a weedy one.  Meanwhile, back to the mystery plant . . .

After weeks of waiting, the blooms on my tall mystery plant finally appeared.  Definitely not Ironweed!  The blooms are those of an aster, but what kind?

Perhaps it's an Aster tataricus, but it doesn't quite look like the images I've found.  I have trouble distinguishing one aster--or Symphyotrichum for botanical purists--from another.  Its tall, sturdy stem sways in the breeze, but doesn't bend; it's nice to have a tall plant at the back of the garden that doesn't need staking.

The asters in the early photos have long since faded to brown, but after two weeks, this maybe-aster is still blooming, and I am no closer to solving the mystery of its identity.  I also haven't solved the mystery of how it came to be in my garden.  Perhaps it's just another of the many gifts I receive each year from the birds sharing seeds with me.  Whatever this plant is, I'm enjoying its late blooms in my garden.

Wildflower Wednesday is hosted the fourth Wednesday of every month by Gail of Clay and Limestone.  


  1. This looks like the Aster in my garden that I call Tataricus. Of course I am usually wrong. ;) I have that weedy white one out front too. I pull and pull on it and it comes back just as the obedient plant does. I wouldn't mind them if they didn't try to take over the world. Like you say the bees and bugs don't mind the weeds. They thrive on them. Happy WW.

  2. I do love some of the garden surprises that the birds send my way! I wish I knew more about native wildflowers to be identify it for you. I often find myself online on native plant id websites trying to find the plants in my yard! I don't know what yours is, but it is pretty!

  3. Lisa, I'm inclined to think it's an Aster tataricus, too, though I have no idea where it came from. I don't know how people tell all these asters apart:)

    Indie, I usually consult the Illinois Wildflowers website, which is a great source. But it doesn't even list Aster Tataricus, and none of the other asters look similar. I'm sure someone will be able to identify it for me.

  4. Yes, it could be a gift from birds or from wind! Any way, it is attractive and blooms when many other plants are already gone. A keeper!

  5. Hi Rose: I'm not the best at IDing Asters, either. Sounds like maybe you have it in a good spot, and as you say the bees and butterflies are happy. Any plant that blooms late is great for them. I enjoyed the creativity of this post, Rose. You had me chuckling several times. ;-)

  6. I love these beautiful wildflowers !
    Great pictures !

  7. Rose I love the wildflowers and the sunshine made me feel like it was September again...we are pretty much done and the garden is being cleared.

    I adore asters too and my white garden was overrun with hairy aster and I loved it. You had me smiling the whole way through! Thank you for that!!

  8. Your photos always do such a great job of motivating me to go back out into the garden :-)

  9. You are doing a wonderful job of bringing in the variety of species! Could this happy accident be a case of "If you plant it, they will come?" lol. Aren't you enjoying this wonderful, late Fall?? :-)

  10. It looks like a tatarian aster to me; the height, the flowers and the leaves match. :)

  11. Definitely the tatarian aster. I love these beauties! They will spread like crazy but that is a good thing. Easy to share!

  12. Tatyana, yes, I like that these bloom so much later than the other asters.

    Beth, I tried to grow some Tatarian asters several years ago, but I'm sure these aren't the same ones, so I'm scratching my head how they got here. If the birds planted them, they did a good job--they're in the back of this garden area, the perfect spot!

    Ela, Thanks as always for visiting! I wish I could have gotten a photo of some bees visiting this plant, too.

    Donna, This may be the last week for much of the garden--it's supposed to dip below freezing later this week. Those hairy asters can run rampant!

  13. Well, I would be thankful for that late bloomer. It is quite lovely. We are almost out of blooms here in RI. I will have to turn my attention to other things.

  14. Cassi, Glad I can be a motivator--wish I could motivate myself to work a little harder in the garden:)

    Shady, This fall has indeed been beautiful. October started out so wet and rainy, but the last two weeks have been gorgeous--I wish it would last another month!

    Indie and Tina, Thanks so much for identifying this for me. The Tatarian is the only aster I could think of, but I'd still like to know how they got here:) But I am so happy to have tem!

  15. Layanee, I still have some bulbs to plant and other garden chores, but yes, I'm about ready to rest from the garden for awhile, too. I have a baby quilt to finish before the end of the year, and I'd better get busy!

  16. Well, you've got me stumped. This is definitely not one that I know. Great photos, though.

  17. I missed the late asters this year since I have been away. They are hard to differentiate, especially if you got a volunteer with the help of birds. I know I get the wild ones in my garden late summer and fall.Funny about the ones planted, each year some fade out and others seed like crazy. I never know which ones will be the stars of Fall.

  18. Lovely asters! I'm sorry that I can't help you identify your latest, although it looks like others were more helpful. I love how you cultivate wildflowers for the pollinators. Our asters are no longer blooming but we haven't quite frosted either. Now is the time of fall foliage.

    Thanks for your kind comments on my daughter's song!

  19. Your Asters are looking lovely, especially love the photo with the butterflies clustered on it. Mine didn't seem to last long in the garden this year.

  20. Your pictures are asters are just beautiful Rose. I especially love the shot with a number of butterflies. Believe it or not, I don't have any asters in the garden (a huge oversight on my part) and so would have been no help with the mystery plant. Glad some other bloggers were able to help you identify it.

  21. Jason, Several have suggested this is an Aster tataricus, so that's what I'm going with:)

    Donna, I started with a single New England aster plant purchased at a Prairie Plant Society sale, and the rest is history:) I'm impressed by people who can tell all these apart.

    Sarah, The wildflowers I plant are partly for me, but partly for the pollinators. I've been trying to get some milkweed going here for the Monarchs--that's my next goal.

    Paula, This particular aster seems to last longer than the others, which I'm glad about.

    Jennifer, I added the first aster after a couple of years of gardening when I realized I had nothing blooming in September! Mine are a little wild, but a welcome sight in the fall.

  22. All asters are fabulous, especially the mystery ones. The bees like them all. How fun to have such a cool plant show up at the party. :o)

  23. Well I can certainly think of worse plants to be over run with than asters! I love your mystery aster, such a tall plant, a completely different habit to most of the ones I am used to.


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