Description & Overview

Smooth Aster, a native Wisconsin perennial, blooms late in the season signifying that fall is just about here and winter is around the corner. Eye-catching purple rays with bright yellow centers pair beautifully with goldenrods and sunflowers and together provide the last bit of pollen and nectar to countless pollinators before the long winter arrives.

Core Characteristics

Category: Perennial

Wisconsin Native: Yes

USDA Hardiness Zone: to zone 3

Mature Height: 12-36 inches

Mature Spread: 12-24 inches

Growth Rate: Moderate

Growth Form: Upright, clump-forming

Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade

Site Requirements: Dry – moderate moisture, sandy/loamy soil

Flower: Blue-purple rays, ~1" wide

Bloom Period: August – October

Foliage: Stalkless/clasping leaves, stiff, mostly along the reddish stems, smooth

Fall Color: Yellow

Urban Approved: Yes

Fruit Notes: Achenes, one seeded tipped with red bristles

Suggested Uses

Smooth Aster is found in all but the northernmost counties of Wisconsin. It is very likely that you are already acquainted with its sweet little blossoms. Many a child has spent time picking these small, precious flowers that just so happen to do great in floral arrangements, whether dry or fresh! Cut them as they open and place the stems into water immediately.

Smooth Aster would do well in any low-maintenance wildflower/pollinator garden. It provides nectar and pollen and is a host plant to many creatures. The late bloom time means that there will be something in the garden to provide a pop of color when many plants are done blooming for the season.

Ease of maintenance and low water needs make Smooth Aster a wonderful planting for a restoration or revegetation project. Taking out that lawn or turf grass for something more natural? This is the perfect option for revegetating roadsides and prairies. A drought-tolerant forb is much easier to care for than picky turf grass. It will self-seed and spread over time.

Smooth Aster, a native Wisconsin perennial, blooms late in the season signifying that fall is just about here and winter is around the corner. Eye-cat…

Wildlife Value

It is a good thing that Smooth Aster is ubiquitous because it serves so many! Not only do Ruffed Grouse and Wild Turkey feed on the seeds and leaves, but Tree Sparrows and white-footed mice also eat the seeds.

It is a host plant to the Northern Crescent butterfly (Phyciodes cocyta), Aster Borer Moth (Papaipema impecuniosa), Reticulated Fruitworm Moth (Sparganothis reticulatana), Pearl Crescent (Phycoides tharos), Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis), Canadian Sonia Moth (Sonia canadana), Arcigera Flower Moth (Schinia arcigera), Confused Eusarca (Eusarca confusaria), Dainty Sulphur (Nathalis iole), Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella), and The Asteroid (Cucullia asteroides).

It provides nectar/pollen/browse source for Common Branded Skipper (Hesperia comma), Eufala Skipper (Lerodea eufala), Eastern-tailed Blue butterfly (Cupido comyntas), Leonard’s Skipper (Hesperia leonardus), Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui), Checkered White (Pontia protodice), Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), American copper (Lycaena phlaeas), Common Checkered Skipper (Burnsius communis), Common Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia), Viceroy butterfly (Limenitis archippus), Arctic Fritillary butterfly (Boloria chariclea), Small Carpenter Bees (Ceratina spp.), Leafcutter Bees (Megachile spp.), Bumblebees (Bombus spp.), 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.), and Short-winged Meadow Katydid (Conocephalus brevipennis).

Maintenance Tips

Water at the base of the plants, avoiding overhead watering that may promote disease.

A layer of mulch around the base will keep weeds at bay and help keep the roots cool.

Pinching back the tips of the stems early in the season (never after June) will force side branching, creating a bushier plant that will produce more flowers. If you want fewer but larger blooms for cut flowers, you can skip this altogether.

Deadheading will prevent reseeding if you don’t want them to spread. Otherwise, leave the seeds up for birds and for self-seeding.

Pests/Problems

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

Though occasionally browsed upon there is no significant impact. Smooth Aster doesn’t have any serious insect or disease issues, although providing adequate air circulation will help prevent powdery mildew.

Staking may be required if the plants become very tall and begin to flop. Planting amongst other tall perennials will help provide support.

Leaf Lore

The genus name Symphyotrichum is from the Greek language symph meaning “coming or growing together” and trich meaning “hair.” The specific epithet laeve means ‘smooth.’

Interestingly, a mixture of asters was used to treat the bite of a mad dog. Similarly, ancient Greeks used it treat snakebites or to drive snakes away.

According to Virgil, boiling aster leaves in wine and placing it close to a beehive would improve the honey. The Shakers used asters to clear complexions.

The Meskwaki people burned the plant and forced smoke into their nostrils to revive them, and used the entire plant to create smoke in a sweat bath.

Companion Plants

Companion plants for a prairie area would include Yellow Coneflower, Heath Aster, Hoary Vervain, Cream Wild Indigo, Stiff Coreopsis, Prairie Dropseed, New Jersey Tea, Wild Senna, Sullivant’s Milkweed, Rough Blazingstar, Switch Grass, Stiff Goldenrod, and Spiderwort.

Fellow late-summer bloomers include Sky Blue Aster, Sand Coreopsis, Showy Blazingstar, Upland White Goldenrod, Elm-leaved Goldenrod, and Indian Grass.

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Written by Beth DeLain