10 Neat Things About Asters
by Shauna Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

September 23, 2018

1. September.

Aster is the flower of September. The concept of birth flowers is of an origin unknown, at least to the Internet. Several sources point to the ancient Romans, suggesting that they often gave flowers as a gift for birth or birthdays and that particular flowers became associated with the month. Asters are said to represent patience, daintiness, love and magic. If you were born in September, these are attributes you should have. The flowers are also said to be symbolic of undying love and are often given to a couple on their 20th wedding anniversary.

2. Evil spirit be gone!

Aster leaves were burnt by Greeks to ward off evil spirits and strewn on the floor to discourage snakes. Romans used wreaths made of aster blooms on altars to keep evil spirits away. Virgil noted that aster leaves could be boiled in wine and left near a bee hive to improve the flavour of the honey.

3. Stars.

The name aster comes from the Greek and Latin word for star.

4. Asteria and Astraea.

These are two women associated with Greek mythology. Asteria was the goddess of falling stars who was chased by Zeus until she became a quail and leapt into the sea to become the island Delos. Astraea was the virgin goddess who lived among humans until they became corrupt; then she went to become the constellation Virgo. There are some modern stories, retold by writers who don't name their sources (like me), that one or the other of these goddesses cried tears that fell to Earth and became asters. Other more scholarly writers make no mention of this myth.

5. Michaelmas.

Michaelmas is September 29, giving asters their common name Michaelmas daisies. Michaelmas is one of the old English quarter days, along with Lady Day (March 25, and previously the first day of the New Year), Midsummer Day (June 24) and Christmas day (December 25). These were the days to hire your servants, start your school term, pay your rent or resolve your lawsuit.

6. Revolution.

The Aster Revolution of 1918-19 in Hungary was so named because supporters wore asters in their boutonnieres or in their hats. Their leader, Miha?ly Ka?rolyi, became president of the Hungarian People's Republic, which lasted until it was overthrown by a communist putsch a few months later. It is interesting to think of a group using a common wildflower as a revolutionary symbol.

7. Forget what you knew.

The genus Aster used to have way more species before biologists tinkered with morphology in the 1990s and reduced the genus from 600 species to 180. All new world asters, except for one, have been redistributed into Canadanthus, Doellingeria, Eucephalus and others. True asters are all from Eurasia, with a particular subspecies of A. alpinus native to Canada and the US.

8. Tiny little flowers.

The purple petals of asters are technically ray florets, with the flowers being a collection of the tiny yellow tubes at the centre.

9. Eastern uses.

A. tataricus is known as a chwinamul in Korean, a fragrant leafy green that is edible. In China, the same species is used in traditional medicine to kill bacteria; it is one of the 50 or so fundamental herbs. In Nepal, the root juice of A. amellus is drunk to treat indigestion and used topically on boils.

10. Growing.

Asters are one of the easiest plants to grow in part to full sun. They like average soil but in the wild prefer poor sandy or silty soils, and don't need too much water. For cultivars, give them water when they are dry and plenty of compost to keep them flowering and looking vibrant. Most perennial species should be divided every three years.

Shauna Dobbie Copyright Pegasus Publications Inc.

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