Description & Overview

Calico Aster sports inflorescences up to 10″ long and six inches across, comprised of small flowers with white rays and disc florets (center) that begin pale yellow then aging to reddish purple, eventually giving way to a fluffy seed that blows away in the wind. The leaves of Calico Aster are medium green on top and pale green underneath. This Wisconsin native perennial can be found scattered throughout the state in moist woods, meadows, floodplains, and along stream banks. Calico Aster may also be known as Goblet Aster and Side-flowering Aster.

Core Characteristics

Category: Perennial

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 24-36 inches

Mature Spread: 12-24 inches

Growth Rate: Moderate

Growth Form: Erect, naturalizes

Light Requirements: Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Average to moist soils, rich

Flower: White, 1/3", yellow, purple, reddish center

Bloom Period: September – October

Foliage: Green, about 4 ½" long and ½" across, becoming smaller ascending the stem

Fall Color: None

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: Dry seed with fluffy pappus

Suggested Uses

Calico Aster is happiest in dappled shade, partly sunny, and moist conditions. Its rhizomes help to prevent soil erosion on woodland slopes, hills, or along stream or creek banks. This can be a great addition to any restoration planting in a woodland setting or along a woodland’s edge, especially once honeysuckle and buckthorn have been removed from the understory.

Calico Aster’s smaller size lends itself to a more natural border or an understory planting, as well as pollinator gardens, cottage gardens, butterfly gardens, woodland, and shade gardens. As a rain garden plant, Calico Aster performs well if the garden is set in a lower-lying area.

This plant will naturalize in the area in which they are planted. If a garden with a certain level of formality is desired then this may not be the best choice as they will spread.

Wildlife Value

Calico Aster, along with many others of the genus Aster and Symphytotrichum, attracts myriad insects.

As a host plant, it supports the larvae of the Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos), Gorgone Checkerspot (Chlosyne gorgone), Northern Crescent (Phyciodes cocyta), Wavy-lined Emerald moth (Synchlora aerata), Canadian Sonia moth (Sonia canadana), Robinson’s Pelochrista moth (Eucosma robinsonana), Aster-head Eucosma moth (Phaneta tomonana), Landryia impositella, Striped Garden Caterpllar moth (Trichordestra legitima), Goldenrod Flower Moth (Schinia nundina), Arcigera Flower Moth (Schinia arcigera), Aster Borer Moth (Papaipema impecuniosa), Burdock Borer Moth (Papaipema cataphracta), Dark-spotted Palthis moth (Palthis angulalis), Black Arches (Melanchra assimilis), Brown-hooded Owlet (Cucullia convexipennis), The Asteroid (Cucullia asteroids), White-dotted Groundling (Condica videns), Common Tan Wave (Pleuroprucha insulsaria), and Narrow Bucculatrix (Bucculatrix angustata).

Calico Aster, again, along with other plants of the genus Aster and Symphytotrichum, attracts several genera of specialist bees that feast on the pollen exclusively.

These include the Simple Miner bee (Andrena simplex), Peaceful Miner bee (Andrena placata), Aster Miner bee (Andrena asteris), Sunflower Miner bee (Andrena helianthi), Dwarf–dandelion Mining bee (Andrena krigiana), Coneflower Mining Bee (Andrena rudbeckiae), Canadian Miner Bee (Andrena canadensis), Pigmented Miner bee (Andrena chromotricha), Hairy-banded Mining bee (Andrena hirticincta), Cloudy-winged Mining bee (Andrena nubecula), Protandrena albitarsis, Eastern Bare-miner bee (Protandrena andrenoides), Agile Long-horned bee (Melissodes agilis), Drury’s long-horned bee (Melissodes druriellus), Denticulate Longhorn bee (Melissodes denticulatus), Dark-veined Longhorn bee (Melissodes trinodis), Oblique Longhorn bee (Svastra obliqua), Aster Cellophane bee (Colletes compactus), Pugnacious Leafcutter bee (Megachile pugnata), and the Spine-shouldered Cellophane bee (Colletes simulans).

Calico Aster also attracts tons of other bees, wasps, butterflies, and their allies.

These include Small Carpenter bees (Ceratina spp.), Leafcutter bees (Megachile spp.) such as the Broad-handed Leafcutter bees (Megachile latimanus) and Bumble bees (Bombus spp.) like the Golden Northern Bumble bees (Bombus fervidus) and the Half-black Bumble bees (Bombus vagans), Long-horned bees (Melissodes spp.), Cuckoo bees (Triepeolus spp.), Green Sweat bees (Agapostemon spp.), Bee flies (Bombylius spp.), Syrphid flies (Syrphus spp., Eristalis spp.), Soldier bees (Chauliognathus spp.), Monarchs (Danaus plexippus), Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia), Dark-spotted Looper moth (Diachrysia aereoides), American Angle Shades (Euplexia benesimilis), Pale-banded Dart (Agnorisma badinodis), Isabella Tiger moth (Pyrrharctia isabella), the Confused Eusarca moth (Eusarca confusaria), Katydids, grasshoppers, aphids, gall flies, walkingsticks, weevils, and leaf-miner flies.

Given the sheer number of pollinators it supports, it is hard to overstate the importance of this genus.

Turkeys, Tree Sparrows, and Ruffed Grouse will feed on the foliage and seeds to some degree.

Maintenance Tips

The lower leaves will typically dry up when Calico Aster starts blooming– this is normal.

This plant spreads via short rhizomes, as well as by seeds that are carried away by the wind. To control spread, deadhead spent blooms before they set seed, or remove any offsets.

Supplemental watering during times of drought will reduce plant stress and foliar diseases.

Pests/Problems

Black Walnut Tolerant: Yes
Deer Resistant: No
Rabbit Resistant: No

Deer, rabbits, and livestock minimally browse on Calico Aster.

Leaf Lore

The genus Symphyotrichum translates roughly to “coming together hair,” possibly referring to the flower anthers. The specific epithet lateriflorum is a combination of the Latin words for “side” and “flower” in reference to the fact that the flowers of this species generally are located on one side of the stems.

Asters are a ubiquitous group of plants that have been used across many periods and cultures. The Meskwaki used the entire plant as smoke or steam in a sweat bath, and the blossoms were smudged to ‘cure a crazy person who has lost his mind.’

The ancient Greeks used Asters as an antidote for snakebites and to drive away snakes. The plant was often burned to keep away evil spirits.

Still, today, Asters are associated with elegance and daintiness. They were once talismans of love and considered the herb of Venus.

The common name is because of the variety of colors of the blossoms’ central disks.

Companion Plants

Other plants that do well in part shade and somewhat moist soil include:

  • Zig Zag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis)
  • Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)
  • Rafinesque Viburnum (Viburnum rafinesquianum)
  • Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii)
  • Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens)
  • False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum)
  • Upland White Aster (Solidago ptarmicoides)
  • White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)
  • Labrador Violet (Viola labradorica)
  • Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)
  • and Poke Milkweed (Aslepias exaltata)
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Written by Beth DeLain