Latin for Gardeners: September 2018

September’s Native Maryland Plant
Symphyotrichum laeve (L.) Á. Löve & D. Löve var. laeve (sim-fy-oh-TRY-kum LEE-vey)
Common Name: Smooth Blue Aster


Aster is September’s birth flower, and I couldn’t be more delighted. My birthday is in September and that’s when I see the greatest variety of butterflies in my garden – all because of the Symphyotrichum laeve growing there. They flock to this nectar source – a tall, sturdy, multi-stemmed plant that produces an abundance of daisy-like pale blue flowers. It has a non-aggressive rhizomatous root system, spreading slowly and persisting in my garden, providing I keep the more aggressive taller plants at bay (e.g. Eupatorium maculatum aka Spotted Joe-Pye Weed). It prefers full sun and tolerates drier conditions, once established.

Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer but if you grow Symphyotrichum spp. you’ll continue to have beautiful blooms and many pollinators visit your garden, well into October.  This is an easy plant to propagate and it’s guaranteed to attract pollinators.  You can extend the bloom season even further by “pinching” (pruning with hedge shears) the stems back by about one-third in early June. This will delay the blooms a few weeks, so if you pinch some and leave some, you’ll have an overall longer fall bloom. Don’t pinch later than June – you’ll remove buds that are forming which will result in less flowering.

As we know, Latin (botanical) names are universal and are rarely changed.  However, due to DNA and genetic research findings, many of the Aster spp. were recently reclassified.  This plant, a member of the Family Asteraceae, was assigned its own Genus, Symphyotrichum, but is still commonly referred to as Aster in the horticultural trade.


~ Alison Milligan – MG 2013