One Dazzling Butterfly
and Two Splendid Asters.
It was chilly in my studio/office in the northeast corner of my house one day last week, so I set up my computer in my screened-in porch (facing southwest), where it was comfortably warmer. It wasn’t long before I noticed butterfly activity on the New England Aster right outside the porch windows. I moved over closer to get a better look and I was rewarded beyond my dreams! In addition to the 3 playful Yellow Sulfurs and a Monarch–for the 2nd time this year– then–could it be?
Yes it was! The Buckeye butterfly had chosen to visit my garden once again. (Last time was 10/21/2011.)
Buckeyes fly year around in the South, but they do not overwinter in the North; they migrate to warmer climates.
This year it nectared on the New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae). which in my experience is the best butterfly attractant. (Purple is the butterfly’s favorite color.)
The most colorful and well known of the species asters, New England Aster has golden-centered, intense royal purple flowers that bloom from early September until the end of October. Common in wet and mesic prairies, New England Aster is also found in ditches, and along roadsides and railroad tracks. It can grow as large as 4-6‘ tall and around. The narrow stem leaves grow closely together; the lower ones turn brown as the season progresses. My garden is so profuse, that imperfections are not noticed–at least not by me. If you wish, you can hide their bare ankles with Little Blue Stem or Prairie Drop Seed. (You also can whack the asters back by half on Memorial Day and again on the 4th of July to curtail their upward growth and to encourage side branching.)
As the plant matures over the years and becomes larger in circumference and other plants crowd in around it, its height is checked and it stands upright on its own.
Sometimes the flowers are fuchsia.
When the Buckeye visited in 2011, it preferred the Aromatic Aster (Aster oblongifolius).
While most asters are tall and upright, Aromatic Aster forms a 2’ to 3’ soft billowing mound covered with 1 1/2” daisies with pointed, deep-violet rays and yellow discs that bloom over a long period of time, from mid-September through the end of October. It flourishes in the mesic soil of my gardens, spreading quickly by rhizomes and seeds.
Not as common or as well known as New England Aster, Aromatic Aster is found in nature in dry calcareous hill prairies or in limestone barrens, according to Swink & Wilhelm. It needs a well-drained situation–it won’t survive in clay soil.
It likes to grow amongst limestone or flagstone.
Combine the deep lavender Aromatic Aster with the copper blades of Little Bluestem and the vermillion stems of Prairie Baby’s Breath for a stunning fire and ice picture.
The species is not widely available, but the cultivar called ‘October Skies’ is. I don’t know what the differences are–I would have to compare them side by side.
New England Aster and Aromatic Aster are the two latest asters to bloom in the Upper Midwest, a crucial time when butterflies are still migrating south. These asters are extraordinarily beautiful in their deep purple gowns, to us and to butterflies. I can’t recommend them highly enough.