White Heath Aster

Featured Photo Credit: Environmental Protection Agency, Public domain.

White Heath Aster is a bushy, compact plant with many branched stems smothered in sprays of small, daisy-like white flowers. These sprays are so densely packed with blooms that the plant turns completely white as a result of the sheer number of flowers. The flowers are usually white, but they can be blue or pink on occasion, and the center disks are yellow. It blooms into the fall, giving a garden one last burst of color before winter. It is simple to grow and requires little care.

Quick Growing Guide

Botanical Name: Symphyotrichum ericoides

Botanical Family: Asteraceae

Also Called: Oldfield aster

En français: Aster éricoïde

See More Plants in this Botanical Family:

Colours:

Blooms:

Water: Drought resistant once established

Pollinators:

The Heath Aster belongs to the family Asteraceae, which also includes herbs, occasionally shrubs or vines, and infrequently trees. Herbs in this family have simple or complex, alternate, or opposite-leaved leaves. A ring of green bracts surrounds a single, tiny flower that is radially symmetrical and grouped into larger heads of flowers.

Characteristics

For its hairy, “frosted” appearance, the Aster is also known by the common names frost, hairy, and hairy white Oldfield aster. The old scientific name for this plant was Aster pilosus, but in the 1990s, botanists made it clear that only Old World species should be included in the large genus Aster and that our native “asters” should have their own names instead.

A dense, multi-stemmed habit is produced by a large number of small, rigid, heath-like leaves. The plant produces tiny white flowers with many petals throughout the summer into the fall, adding some late-season interest to the yard. It is a great plant for wildlife because moths, butterflies, and other pollinators visit the flowers, while birds and mammals eat the seeds and foliage.

In much of its distribution, it co-occurs with Symphyotrichum pilosum, which is sometimes confused with it. S. pilosum has larger flowerheads with ray petals that are longer. The phyllaries on S. pilosum have spine tips, whereas those on S. ericoides do not, despite having curled edges.

Planting and Care

Plant heath aster in full sun and sandy to loamy or rocky soil that is moist, dry, and well-drained. The plant is more resistant to drought after it is established.

White heath asters are low maintenance and are an excellent border plant for a butterfly or pollinator garden. You can appreciate the magnificent blossoms in a xeriscape planting, cottage garden, or cut flower garden. It can be used as an accent in a rock garden, mass-planted along a walkway, or planted in tiny groupings along the perimeter of a forest garden.

This species offers the best color and texture in the late autumn. The delicate, branching stalks that the flowers are held on have tiny, narrow, dark green leaves. They make a wonderful choice for autumn floral centerpieces because of their airy tendency.

Pollinators

Many butterflies, skippers, moths, bees, flies, and beetles are drawn to the abundant floral display. The Pearl Crescent butterfly and the Silvery Checkerspot butterfly both feed on White Heath Aster. Many moth caterpillars feed on the foliage or flowers as well. Bumblebees, cuckoo bees, little carpenter bees, leaf-cutting bees, sweat bees, plasterer bees, and miner bees are among the bee visitors.

Flowers

Black Heath Although light blue or pink ray florets is uncommon. Asters have flowers with 10 to 18 white ray florets. The rays encircled a cluster of 6–12+ mature yellow disc florets that become brownish. These are tightly clustered on a panicle with branches and range in width from 1/3 to 1/2 inch. When in bloom, the thin, brief, “heath”-like leaves have rough edges and are attached to a hairy, brownish stem.

The stalks’ little green bracts develop into an overlapping set of three to four phyllaries that are uneven in size, hairy, and have green tips that resemble spades or diamonds. The upper leaves’ undersides feature thick, short hairs in the second photo. The stiff edge hair on all leaves gives them a harsh feel.

The floral arrangement is a panicle with branches, and the blooms are tightly packed and frequently overlap along the limbs of the panicle. The flower stalks and branch stems have hair on them.

Growing Habitat

Occurs in practically all habitat types, including uplands, bottomlands, prairies, glades, woodlands, savannas, banks of streams and rivers, margins of lakes, ponds, fallow fields, pastures, sinkhole ponds, and old fields, roadsides, fencerows, gardens, railroads, and open, disturbed places.

In native settings of the highest grade, this species is uncommon. Overgrazed pastures, roadside ditches, and other disturbed areas are where it is more frequently found. It makes an abundant, late-blooming member of a wildflower garden and is quite hardy and simple to establish. It can spread aggressively since it easily self-seeds.

Medicinal Uses

Native Americans in North America have utilized symphyotrichum ericoides as medicine. It is known that the Meskwaki utilized the plant as herbal steam in a sweat bath as well as to revive the unconscious.

Relationship with Nature

This hardy native Aster’s pink-flowered variety can be utilized as a lovely, carefree late-season decorative in wildflower gardens, but its tendency to become weedy can be a concern. Several different sorts of insects, including monarch butterflies that are moving south, receive nectar from asters and other late-season bloomers.

A favored nectar source for the locally widespread dogface butterfly and Leonardus skipper in the Ozarks has been identified as white heath aster. The Leonardus skipper only flies from late August to mid-October and is a single-brooded bird. Visit brushy fields and open forests in the Ozarks in the late summer and fall, where white heath aster is abundant if you want to see either of these butterflies. This and other “weedy” pioneer plants help to bind the soil and stop erosion by being among the first to colonize damaged land.

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