Spreading Aster Bonanza

The brush cutter now devastates the roadside every early summer. This has changed the plant communities along the road. One of the beneficiaries is the spreading aster.

spreading aster plant
I find spreading asters along the road. The stalks start growing up straight, but often fall over except for the tips which point up and are lined with flowers. They seem to favor the east and south facing roadsides in drier areas.

One reason these asters defy the brush cutter is being able to regrow after being sheared off. The far showier New England asters are a much taller plant with royal purple rays, but they do not recover as well after the brush cutter goes by as they are beginning to grow.

Another advantage spreading aster has is growing in drier areas. This summer has had long hot, dry spells.

spreading aster flower
Like all members of the aster family, spreading aster flowers are really a group of flowers. The petals are ray flowers The disk is packed with tube flowers.

There are lots of asters in this part of the Ozarks, New England, woodland, silky, sky blue and spreading among them. Their blue to purple blooms appear in late summer.

Many of these asters look similar. Their flowers have similar blue rays, yellow disks and spreading growth.

Spreading aster has the blue rays, but they often have a lighter section close to the disk. The green cup below the flower has numerous bracts with dark green tips. these bracts are layered, but lie flat as though shingling the cup.

spreading aster leaf
A spreading aster leaf clasps or surrounds the stem and has no petiole or stalk. Short hairs line the edges and cover the upper and lower surfaces of the leaf.

Another feature is the leaf shape. It’s long and the same width much of its length. The stem end wraps around the stem with no petiole. Both the stem and leaves are covered with short, stiff hairs.

These asters do get about eighteen inches tall, when they grow upright. More often their stems sprawl over the ground with the tips growing upwards to hold their flowers several inches off the ground.

spreading aster side flower
The cup below the flower is where the seeds will develop. In the aster family this cup is important for identification as many flowers are similar. This one has many bracts lying smoothly on the cup.

The plants prefer sunny spots with few competitors towering over them. They bloom from mid August to frost. Their flowers are about an inch and a half across, which is smaller than many garden flowers. There are lots of flowers opening a few each day giving a continuous bloom now dressing up the roadside.

Asters are featured flowers in “Exploring the Ozark Hills.”