Calico aster (Symphyotrichum laterifolium) is a common aster native to much of north Florida and the Panhandle in partly sunny locations within deciduous woodlands and roadsides. It also has been vouchered in every state east of the Mississippi River as well as a line from east Texas to the Dakotas and all of the Canadian provinces from the Atlantic to Manitoba. Throughout this extensive range, it occurs in sandy to moist habitats, often in partial sun.
Like most true asters in this genus, calico aster is a perennial wildflower that dies back in the winter and reemerges in the spring. It produces a basal cluster of ovate leaves with dentate margins. Multiple stems emerge and reach a mature height of 3-4 feet in the early fall. The stem leaves are elliptical and numerous. The mostly hairless leaves have a characteristic hairy midrib on their back faces, and branching is usually horizontal or in what can appear to be a zigzag pattern.
Flowering occurs in late summer to mid-fall. The flowers of calico aster are small compared to most Symphyotrichum species. They have an average of white ray florets which are rarely tinted pink or purple. The disc flower centers begin as cream to yellow and often become pink, purple, or brown as they mature. There are roughly florets, each with five lobes that strongly reflex (bend backwards) when open. Like other members of this genus, these blooms attract a wide variety of pollinators.
Calico aster is one of the asters that forms extensive colonies over time which may be one reason why it is so rarely propagated by native plant nurseries in Florida. It makes an excellent ground cover for open areas of a landscape, but does not play well in a smaller pollinator garden where diversity is desired. It is one of the asters that I have added lately to what I am growing at Hawthorn Hill.