Wild Asters offer fall colour

There are many, many species of asters in North America–perhaps 120 in all. Of these, possibly 20 or more can be found in Northern Ontario.
These very large numbers are particularly American. There are very few wild asters in Europe. England, for example, has only one wild species.
Asters, as any gardener knows, have been widely cultivated for many years.
Our wild asters have flowers which are almost always blue or purple, but there also are a few pinkish or white ones. The plants range in size from very small (a foot or so) to very large (seven or eight feet).
There are species which grow in boggy places and others which are at home on dry, rocky soils. Some grow in shaded woods while others are commonly found in fields and along roadsides.
Possibly the best known—and certainly the most showy of them all—is the New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae). It has deep purple flowers, lance-shaped leaves, and may grow to a height of eight feet.
It is very easily and very often cultivated, and makes a highly-desirable flower for your garden.
Asters belong to a family of flowers called the Compositae, or Composite flowers. The “flower” is not really a single flower at all but a whole group of tiny flowers.
Not only that, there are two different kinds of these little florets, as they are called.
The ones around the outside, which have the showy petals and provide the main colour, are the ray florets while the ones in the centre, usually yellow, are the disc florets.
The ray florets—the brightly-coloured ones—are not complete flowers. They have only a pistil (the female reproductive organ in plants). The disc florets, on the other hand, are “perfect,” as botanists say, because they have the stamens (the male reproductive part) as well as the pistil.
Thus, all florets are capable of producing seed but only the disc florets can produce pollen for fertilization.
When the seeds are ripe, they are carried away by the wind. A group of fine hairs, called a pappus, forms a sort of natural parachute for this type of seed dispersal.
There are areas—even here in the north—where asters grow in great profusion. These great masses of purple, blue, and white flowers easily can become one of the main attractions of the fall season.
In some areas, especially along the Atlantic, the colours even rival those of the maples.
Incidentally, the early settlers were so impressed with the asters that they took them back to England with them for cultivation. Many have returned to us as various kinds of Michaelmas Daisies.

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