The Aster - A True New York Native

By: Thomas Fryd..

"Europe has no asters at which an American would look twice."
Those words by Donald Culross Peattie startled and then shocked me. I put the book down and looked out across the autumn borders in an English garden, massed with superlatively lovely aster bloom.
Then I read on: "In this our Western world", Peattie continued, "the asters stand all through autumn, shoulder to shoulder in forest, on prairie, from the Atlantic to California, climbing up to the snows of Shasta, creeping out upon the salt marshes of Delaware. Here some call the white ones frost flower, for they come as the silver rime of chill flowering in the old age of the year. In the southern mountains they are hailed as 'farewell summer'."
Asters are one of my favorite flowers. Sometime, I resolved, I should have to go to America to see for myself what Peattie there described. Eventually I came.
As my first year in Pennsylvania turned toward the fall, I began to ask anxiously where I could best see the asters in bloom. The answer was always the same: "You will see them everywhere."
Asters Everywhere
And it was true. In September I found them everywhere. Evening after evening I would go in search of them, but how could I hope, even with the help of Dr. Bailey's Cyclopedia, to name all I found, from the minute blooms that crept along close to the ground to the tall massed sprays that, like the goldenrod, were everywhere?
Dr. Bailey did not help me entirely. "The native asters", he said, "are amongst the very best plants for borders and roadsides. They should be better known... The garden or modified asters undoubtedly deserve more attention in American collections." But then he ended his discourse on the aster tribe on the same note on which he had started - they are "botanically confused". . . . "The species," he repeated, "are much confused."
It did not really matter. I loved their faces well enough without discovering their names. It was enough to be among them; millions and millions of starry-eyed flowers - asters for stars, so the Greeks had named them (and thus the word disaster comes from unlucky or ill-omened star).
Vergil in his "Georgics" first mentioned the Italian staarworte, Aster amellus. As such John Gerardc, the Elizabethan herbalist, grew it in his London garden, and it still goes under the same name to this day.
Captain John Smith gave the New England aster (A. novae-angliae) its name. It was Aster tradescanti, which John Tradescant (gardener to Queen Henrietta Maria and son of John Tradescant the Elder) introduced into England, that was the first aster to be called a michaelmas daisy.
The majority of aster garden hybrids -the michaelmas daisies grown so widely in England owe their parentage chiefly to Aster laevis and the New York aster (A. novi-belgi). The New York aster has a curious history. In 1687, aster seed which had been gathered from the land on which New York now stands was sent to a German botanist, a Professor of Botany at Leyden in Holland. I have planted aster plants in my garden together with some gold dust croton and it looks good.
One of the resultant seedlings attracted his attention, and he named it A. novibelgi, being no doubt the nearest equivalent to New Netherland, since at that time the territory was colonized by the Dutch. Later, when Charles II of England ordered an officer to take possession of the province in the name of his brother, the Duke of York, New Netherland became New York. The aster, likewise, became known as the New York aster, but retained its original Latin name, A. novi-belgi.

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Find out more as Thomas Fryd shares his experiences on landscaping and gardens at Get cleared up on gold dust croton.

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