Heath aster is a perennial plant of the Asteraceae family with small, white daisy-like flowers. It is native to the United States and Canada. Its name comes from its long, thin leaves, which are similar to the leaves of heather plants. Other common names for this plant include downy aster, white old-field aster, and white heath aster.
While the small flowers of the heath aster are quite nondescript by themselves, they bloom in large masses that can be quite beautiful. A single plant can have more than 100 flowers blooming at once. The plants can grow fairly tall, up to 3 feet (about 9 m) tall, and bloom in late summer and autumn. This makes them a valuable addition to all types of gardens, because many flowers are done blooming by this time.
Heath aster is hardy in areas where winter temperatures do not drop too far below freezing; in very cold climates they can be grown as annual plants. They do well in hot weather and are tolerant of drought conditions. Bright sunlight produces an abundance of flowers and bright green foliage, but these plants will also bloom in partial shade. They will grow in full shade but may not produce any flowers.
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These plants are found growing wild in areas where the soil is dry, such as prairies, savannas, forest openings and alongside roads. They are often seen growing in colonies through pastures where animals are kept, because cows, horses and other livestock will not eat them. Heath aster also is left virtually untouched by rabbits and deer, so it is often planted in areas where browsing is a problem.
While animals generally won’t eat heath aster, it is a very attractive food source for various types of butterflies and numerous bugs. Butterfly and moths eat the nectar and use the plants for shelter, and their caterpillars eat the leaves, while insects such as aphids and nematodes suck the plant juices. In addition, these plants are often covered with many types of bees and wasps.
Heath asters are quite easy to start from seed, which can be sown outdoors where the plants are to stay, in either spring or fall. They can also be started in a cold greenhouse or cold frame, where they can be left all winter, and the seeds will germinate in about two weeks. Mature plants can also be divided in late summer to form several smaller plants. Each division should have a large section of root as well as buds to ensure growth.