The ‘Stars’ of September (Opinion)

John Roos

Look around – you may have ‘asters’ (Greek word for stars) blooming now in your yard right now! These perennial subshrub asters that light up the late summer/early fall gardens with their lavender to purple, maybe even pink or white blossoms. Now, take a look in the meadows and roadsides around Lake Tahoe, and you’re sure to find one of the ‘wild’ species this month!

Here in the Lake Tahoe area, and much of the Sierra Nevada, there are a number of native asters that have been blooming since mid or late August. Depending on the elevation and habitat you explore, there seems to be a species that fits each habitat, whether it be dry, sunny areas, moist meadows, or shady creek sides, there is an aster, or one of many related species, to grab your attention into early Fall.

As members of the Sunflower family (Asteraceae), asters and daisies are composite flowers, meaning they have two types of flowers on one flower. The “disk” flowers form the usually round yellow in the center, while the “ray” flowers form the “petals” that radiate from the center. Upon inspection you will see that they each have the complete parts needed for reproduction. There are isolated exceptions to this set-up in the family, but they will have some kind of alternative means of attracting a potential pollinator.

Speaking of pollinators – asters, and related genera, attract a wide variety of insects that either visit to lay their eggs, or to gather pollen. When in full bloom, it’s fun to watch the almost constant activity of bumblebees, native bees, butterflies (such as ‘fritillaries’, ‘blues,’ or ‘crescents’), and even moths.

Some of the common varieties of asters are: western mountain aster (Symphyotrichum spathulatum), thick-stem or wavy-leaved aster (Eurybia integrifolia), alpine aster (Symphyotrichum foliaceum), or Brewer’s golden aster (Doellingeria brewerii). Closely related are wandering daisy or fleabane (Erigeron peregrinus) Coulter’s daisy (Erigeron coulterii), Hoary aster (Dieteria canescens), and so on. Each have their own habitat and elevation where they grow best.

So, when you’re out exploring the wild places and trails this season, or maybe in your own garden, stop and take a look at the true ‘stars’ of the season. They’re sure to light brighten up your day.

John Roos is a Certified California Naturalist through the University of California, and is a 27 year resident of South Lake Tahoe.

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