White Heath Aster, an Important Native Plant for Pollinators

I have been delighted to find White Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) growing around my 5 acres and even showing up in some of my flowerbeds. I have also seen them growing abundantly around Williamson County this fall. A mature cluster of White Heath Aster provides an attractive late season flowering plant in a native plant garden. Gardeners will appreciate its deer resistance. Asters are important fall nectar plants for many bee species, butterfly species and moth species. White Heath Aster is also the larval host for the Pearl Crescent butterfly. Winter sparrows and goldfinches eat the seeds.

The plant grows one to three feet tall. It is bushy with densely clustered small daisy like small flowers. A single plant can produce one hundred flowers. The word aster comes from the Greek word for star. Roots are considered adventitious and rhizome. Adventitious roots are roots that can form from any nonroot tissue meaning that White Heath Aster can be grown from cuttings. Rhizomes are root systems that continue to send out shoots from the roots. Roots that have been cut will form new plants. When left alone it will spread about one foot per year and it will self-seed. Seeds can be collected after the flowering period ends. Seed heads contain clusters of seed with white fluff. The wind catches the white hair effectively spreading the seeds. Cut the mature seed heads and shake them in a container to separate the seeds. If growing from seeds, plant in late fall or early spring. Plant on the soil surface, compress the soil slightly, and water only once. The plant may need staking or support. Mature plants will benefit from division after a few years of growth.

The White Heath Aster is a low water use plant that does well in dry soils. While it prefers dry and average soils, it adapts well to rocky shallow soil and clay. It is drought and heat tolerant. It requires full sun.

In a pasture, this is an aggressive plant that may need control. Livestock will not eat it and it lowers the forage value of prairie hay.

Native Americans used it for sweat baths because it produces an invigorating herbal steam. They also used it to revive unconscious patients.

Range is from the southern United States up through northern Quebec.

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