Native asters, along with goldenrods, mist flower, lobelias, and other showy late-season wildflowers, contribute to Missouri’s fall color in a big way. Scenic beauty contributes to tourism, and tourism contributes to our economy.
A number of New World asters are cultivated in gardens, and some of the species with larger heads and purple or pink rays are choice ornamentals for the garden. Be careful if you’re considering any of the species with smaller heads and white ray flowers, as most of them can spread aggressively by both seeds and by the rootstocks. If you’re looking for a native plant with large displays of white-rayed flowerheads, instead consider species of Boltonia (false aster), especially false starwort (B. asteroides), which would be easier to manage.
One of the hottest fields within the study of biology is called plant-insect interactions. It focuses on insects that eat, pollinate, live on, or otherwise interact with plants, and the specific plants they rely upon. In addition to providing information that helps agriculture, landscaping, forestry, and habitat management, this field of study also gives us solid information about the importance of all life-forms.
Humans are masters of language, and learning the word for a thing is equivalent to learning the thing itself. In botany, it helps to have strong language skills. First, you must learn the names for various plant parts and their descriptions. But then there’s the names of the plants themselves, where it helps to know some Latin. When this genus changed from Aster to Symphyotrichum, the endings of many of the species names changed, too, to match the gender of the new Latin name. For example, Aster cordifolius changed to Symphyotrichum cordifolium.
The enormous family that includes asters, daisies, sunflowers, dandelions, lettuces, and so on, is called the Asteraceae (aster-AY-cee-ee), named for the representative genus Aster. Before botanists standardized all plant-family names to be based on a representative genus name plus the ending "-aceae," this family was called the Compositae (com-POZ-uh-tee), a descriptive name based on the group's distinctive composite flowerheads.
The word aster means "star." It is used in the words astronomy (the study of stars) and astrology (the metaphysical study of how star positions, as seen from Earth, might affect people's lives). But here's a new one for you: asterology is the branch of botany dealing with asters!