Forest Findings: Calico Aster

by Colleen Dabrowski

Symphyotrichum lateriflorum, known colloquially as the Calico Aster, is a wild flowering plant that is native to eastern North America. The Missouri Botanical Garden website says that the genus name comes the Greek term “symph,” meaning “coming together,” and “trich,” meaning hair. According to New Moon Nurseries, the Calico Aster is also called The Lady in Black due to its dark green leaves with a purplish tinge.

The Calico Aster is a perennial plant, meaning it lives more than two years. It is a sizeable plant, growing anywhere from one to five feet, with toothed alternate leaves on stiff, hairy stems that are light red, purplish or light brown according to Wikipedia. The flowers are white to pale violet in color with a bloom size of approximately 0.5 inch. Each plant has about ten flowers. The blooms have 6 to 13 delicate petals. The bloom lasts one to two months from late summer through fall with little scent. The Calico Aster grows in a variety of habitats; woodlands, woodland borders, swamps and shaded fields are all prime growth areas.

The Aster is popular for many gardens because of its late-blooming, providing color once most things have died. The plant is a remarkably hardy grower, able to survive in full and partial sun, as well as shade. It can also do well in soil that is anywhere from dry to moist, according to North Creek Nurseries, and can withstand both droughts and floods.

Calico Asters are important in their habitat and attract all sorts of insects, namely bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, skippers, beetles and bugs that eat nectar and pollen. The caterpillars of several butterfly species such as Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot) and Phyciodes tharos (Pearl Crescent) use the plants as a source of food. The White-Tailed Deer and Cottontail Rabbit also use the plant as a source of food.

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