Look no further for a carefree perennial wildflower that attracts multitudes of pollinators and revels in shady conditions. Typically growing 2-3 feet tall and wide, calico aster does best in part or full shade in a range of well-drained soils, including clay. It can handle drought once established, and tolerates full sun if the soil is consistently moist. Spreading by self-seeding and roots, calico aster form clumps and large colonies. Panicles of daisy-like white flowers bloom on the upper sides of the branches that arch out from the central stem (another common name is side-flowering aster). Just as its common name suggests, calico aster’s flowers display a multicolored pattern as the little centers gradually morph from varied yellows to pinks and reds. With its airy form, it’s great for filling in spaces among other plants. For a bushier and more-compact form, pinch back the tips of stems in early summer. Divide woody plants every few years to invigorate and improve airflow.
Native habitats include roadsides, low-lying areas, meadows, moist and sunny areas, and edges of forests. Plant in naturalized areas, along ponds, in woodlands or pollinator gardens, or en masse as a screen or low hedge. Lower leaves usually fall off when the plant flowers, so try pairing it with shorter grasses, sedges, or flowering plants that can hide the aster’s leggy stems. Aster can also be grown near walnut trees.
Grows 2-3’ tall and wide.
Grows best in full or part shade; soil must be kept moist in full sun.
Prefers well-drained clay, loamy, or sandy soils that are slightly moist to slightly dry.
Saucer-shaped flowers with 7-20 white rays bloom September-November in panicles up to 10” long and 6” wide. The center flowerheads give way to tiny, narrow achenes with sprays of fine, white hairs for wind dispersal.
Leaves are 4” long, lance shaped, and medium green with mostly smooth margins. Fall color has bronze tones.
Stems are light green to reddish brown with fine, white hairs and lateral branching.
Host plant to 112 species of lepidoptera larvae, including specialists aster flowerhead, aster-head phaneta and Hoffman's cochlid moths, and silvery checkerspot and pearl crescent butterflies. Because it blooms in early fall, calico aster is a critical food source for over 100 species of bees, flies, wasps, moths, butterflies, and beetles. The plant’s short nectar tubes also attract specialized bees such as Andrena asteris and asteroides. Bumble bee queens and monarchs are often found on asters as they stock up on energy before hibernating and migrating, respectively. Songbirds and small mammals eat the seeds.
Medicinal, Edible, and Other Uses:
Native Americans used parts of aster plants to treat headaches and venereal diseases. Iroquois combined it with bloodroot and other plants to make a laxative. The root has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine.
Indigenous people added aster to tea blends and to salads.
Parts of the plant may cause skin irritation in some people.
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