Aster: September Birthflower

COMMON NAME: aster
GENUS: Aster
SPECIES, HYBRIDS, CULTIVARS:
Most hybrids were developed from A. Novae-belgii and A. Novae-angliae.
‘Eventide’- purple; 4 to 5 feet tall; from A. Novae-belgii, ‘Harrington’s Pink’- light pink; 5 feet tall; from A. Novae-angliae. Dwarf forms also available.
FAMILY: Compositae
BLOOMS: Fall
TYPE: annuals and perennials
DESCRIPTION: Small daisy-like flowers come in shades of pink, purple, and red. Yellow centers contrast beautifully with the colored ray flowers. Taller varieties grow to be 36 to 56 inches tall. Dwarf varieties grow as short as 8 inches.
CULTIVATION: Plants should be divided in very early spring and replanted immediately. Native species come very easily from seed but might not stay true to the color of the parent plant. Asters are adaptable to varying environmental conditions but perform best with full sun and ample moisture.
Asters are ancient wildflowers that were considered sacred to Greek and Roman deities. Two myths told of the origin of the aster. The first said that Virgo scattered stardust on the earth, and fields bloomed with asters. The second said that the Goddess Asterea looked down upon the earth and saw no stars. The sight saddened her so that she began to cry, and where her tears fell, there the asters bloomed.
Known as starwort in England and Germany and as an eye of Christ in France, asters have always been thought to carry magical powers. In ancient Greece, aster leaves were burned to keep away evil spirits and drive off serpents. An ointment made from asters was supposed to cure the bite of a mad dog.
Virgil wrote that asters boiled in wine and placed near a beehive would improve the flavor of the honey.
In 1637 John Tradescant, Jr., took native asters from America and introduced them to Europe. Europeans liked this wild member of the daisy family and it soon became a favorite garden flower. Two of the most popular asters the New England aster {A. Novae-angliae} and New York aster {A. Novae-belgii}. The species name for New York aster is “New Belgium” because New York was originally called New Amsterdam; the Dutch were the first to settle that area, and Holland was at one time included in a Roman province called Belgica.
Purple asters were often used to dye wool a greenish gold color.
Aster is the flower chosen as the floral emblem for September.
The Chinese asters are not true asters but are in the genus Callistephus. Jesuit missionaries found these plants growing wild near Peking. They sent plants back to Europe and since they resembled asters from America, they were nicknamed Chinese asters. Seeds from these plants were sent to Paris in 1728, and the first plants were grown in Versailles. They were soon hybridized to produce double and even quadruple florets. So enthusiastic were the Germans about hybridizing this plant they were sometimes known as German asters. By 1750, it was said that Chinese asters grew from Scotland to the Rhine. They were introduced to America in 1806.
Chinese aster comes in so many subtle shades that it is a symbol of variety. It was planted in Chinese gardens in pots with one shade blending into another and was said to look like a rainbow. The genus name is from two Latin words, kallistos, meaning “most beautiful,” and stephos, meaning “crown.”
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