February Plant of the Month — Aromatic Aster Symphyotrichum oblongifolium

Today we are going to give some attention to one of the hard-to-miss species along the Low Line – Aromatic Aster Symphyotrichum oblongifolium. If you have visited the Low Line Gardens in the fall, we’re sure you’ve seen its showy purple flowers and bushy growth extending down the Virginia Capital Trail. Despite the somewhat misleading name, “Aromatic Aster”, the vibrant blooms aren’t particularly fragrant. Catching a “wiff” of these plants requires crushing the foliage or flower heads which will yield a balsam-like smell. 

Range map from the Digital Atlas of Virginia Flora.

Though native to the State of Virginia, Aromatic Aster is historically only found in the western part of the state. This is another species that has thrived along the Low Line thanks to its ability to grow in disturbed soil and tolerate a range of growing conditions. Its low growth habit has made this an important landscape plant for our gardens as a thick, and beneficial ground cover. 

One of the things we love most about the aromatic aster is the tremendous value it brings for our insect friends! As one of the last wildflowers to bloom for the year, it is a valuable late-season food source for fall pollinators before frost hits. It supports several different types of native solitary bee species, and is also the host plant for the silvery checkerspot butterfly larvae, which feeds on the foliage throughout their development.  Plus, this aster can also attract predatory and parasitoid insects known to prey on garden pests, this helps manage pest populations in a sustainable and eco-friendly way.

Though we are past its primary bloom time, some small seed heads and dried flowers can still be seen clinging to the stems along the Low Line, providing a safe haven for overwintering insects, and little pops of texture and color in the gardens. We look forward to Aromatic Aster blooming each fall, and we hope you’ll look forward to it now too!

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