Saturday, September 7, 2019

Smooth Blue Aster - Symphyotrichum laeve


There are nearly 30 species of Symphyotrichum asters native to Florida. Some are widespread, but a good many are species with extremely limited natural ranges here - species more common north of us and  ones that have snuck over our border in just a few locations. Smooth blue aster (S. laeve) is one of those. It is vouchered only from Jackson County, west of Tallahassee along the Georgia border. It is widespread north of us, however, and occurs in most states east of the Mississippi River. 
As its common name suggests, this species has smooth leaves and stems - without trichomes (hairs) of any kind. It is a perennial that dies back to the ground each winter and emerges early in spring, eventually reaching a mature height of about 3 feet.  The distinctive leaves are sessile to the stem, wrapping around it in a heart-shaped pattern. The leaves are alternate along the stem, about 1/2 inch wide and 2-3 inches long - becoming smaller as they go up the stems.
Many aster flowers are light blue with yellow disk flowers and this is no exception. These are especially attractive however. The photo above does not do them justice and I hope to get better ones as this plant matures. Each composite flower head is about 1/2 - 3/4 inch wide. A great many of them are produced in late summer to fall at the top of each stem.
This is a species of well-drained open habitats. Over the past few years, I have made a concerted effort to add Symphyotrichum asters to my home landscape and to what I can offer at Hawthorn Hill. All are exceptional at attracting pollinators and I find them to be equally attractive to my eye as well.  Historically, very few of these asters has been cultivated by native nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries. Currently, I have about a dozen species here in my landscape at Hawthorn Hill and I was very excited to find this one for sale recently at The Native Nurseries of Tallahassee. It is reportedly being grown at Superior Trees, Inc. in Lee Florida. It is my hope that I will get seed from this plant and that I can offer it as well next year.

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