Saturday, May 7, 2011
Late Purple Aster - Symphyotrichum patens
I love asters for a number of reasons. They have great value in the butterfly garden and most have wonderful blossoms that open primarily in the fall. Regrettably, few of Florida's many native asters are grown and sold commercially at this time. It has been one of my primary missions at Hawthorn Hill to rectify this and bring the best into cultivation - including the beautiful late purple aster (Symphyotrichum patens).
Late purple aster has been reported in scattered populations within 6 counties in north Florida. from the far western panhandle to Dixie and Duval County. It is more common to our north, however, and is found in nearly every state in the eastern half of the U.S. from Maine to Texas.
This is a drought tolerant perennial aster and occurs in a variety of upland habitats; but not the most excessively well-drained sandhills and scrubs. Plants die back to the ground in winter and emerge in early spring. Growth is rather rapid and plants reach their mature height of 2-3 feet by mid-summer. Multiple stems are common and each plant may be nearly as wide as tall.
Foliage is a rich green and the leaves are about 1 inch long and elliptical, sometimes with a wider base where they attach to the stem. The leaves get noticeably smaller up the stem and closer to the flowers.
Late purple aster produces extremely showy flowers in late summer to fall. The ray petals are a rich lavender color and they surround a bright yellow central disk. A mature plant in full bloom may have dozens of flowers open at one time and they beckon a wide variety of pollinating insects, including butterflies and bees.
Like most native asters, late purple aster suckers - but not aggressively. Over time, multiple stems emerge adjacent to the main stem and plants become quite "bushy." For this reason, they should be initially spaced no closer than 2-3 feet apart in the garden. Use this wonderful aster in a mixed wildflower planting in average growing conditions and plant them in the middle of the garden. It mixes well with other asters, grassleaf goldenaster, downy phlox, black-eyed susan and other medium-sized species.
I am not aware of any nursery associated with FANN (the Florida Association of Native Nurseries) that has ever offered this stunning aster for sale. We are hoping to have seedlings available at Hawthorn Hill in spring 2012. If you are interested, let me know.