PLANT PROFILE:
Heath Aster

heath aster symphyotrichum ericoides native perennial ftimg

Heath Aster

Symphyotrichum ericoides

Description & Overview

A bushy, clump-forming native forb that spreads by creeping rhizomes. Abundant, white ¼” flowers with yellow centers are produced from August through October. Performs best in full sun, sandy to loamy, well-draining soils. Pollinators and wildlife will flock to asters in late summer and fall as they prepare for winter and migration. Formerly listed as Aster ericoides. May also be known as white heath aster, white prairie aster, and wreath aster.


Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 1-3 feet
Mature Spread: 18-24 inches
Growth Rate: Fast
Growth Form: Compact perennial that develops a bushy appearance and spreads rhizomatously
Light Requirements: Full Sun
Site Requirements: Drier, well-drained, limestone soils
Flower: Tiny, daisy-like, white flowers, 1/2 – 1″ wide with 8 to 20 rays; not fragrant
Bloom Period: August through October
Foliage: Abundant, medium-green, linear leaves that are stalkless, less than 3” long and ¼” wide
Fall Color: N/A
Fruit Notes: Small seeds (achenes) have tiny white hairs that lend itself to be wind dispersed (anemochory)

Suggested Uses:

Once flowers start to appear, the plant will have dropped most of its leaves except those directly beneath the flower head. Between the colonizing habit and the ragged appearance of a mostly leafless plant, this plant isn’t recommended for typical urban homeowners.

Native restoration plantings can benefit with Heath aster as it is a colonizer, salt and drought tolerant, and fast growing.

Water-wise sites, wildflower gardens, and native plantings are also great uses for this adaptive forb. It’s also a great cut flower for floral arrangements!

flowering heath aster symphyotrichum ericoides at johnson's nursery wisconsin natives

Wildlife Value:

Bees, wasps, and allies: Long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, wasp, flies, Bumblebees, Honeybees, cuckoo bees, leaf-cutting bees, Halictid bees, Andrenid bees.

Butterflies and moths: Larvae of Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis), Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos), and Wavy-lined Emerald Moth (Synchlora aerata) feed on the foliage and flowers

Birds: Heath aster is pollinated by insects. As migrating birds pass through, the insect buffet provided by the asters supplies a critical source of protein during their long journey. Once the insects and migratory birds are gone for the season, Black-capped Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, and American Goldfinches will pick at the overwintering seed heads.

Mostly resistant to deer browsing – younger plants look more appealing to herbivores than do mature plants.

Wild turkeys are known to gobble up seeds and sometimes the foliage.

Maintenance Tips:

As part of any healthy prairie, fire disturbance is important to the health, biodiversity, and longevity of the ecosystem. Heath aster resprouts from its rhizomes after fire disturbance, and its growth is vigorous the following growing season.

At the time of flowering, the plant will drop most its leaves except those directly beneath the flower head. Deadheading is not needed but reduces unwanted seedlings.

We encourage you to leave spent plants up through winter. This perennial can be cut back to the ground in Spring with the others.

Pests/Problems:

Aphids and lace bugs suck sugary juices from the plant; this will likely be unnoticeable and not detrimental to the plant.

This is one aster that is mildew resistant! Go native!

Leaf Lore:

Native to the Southern two-thirds of Wisconsin, commonly found in dry meadows and prairies, and in sandy to loamy soil. Was reportedly used to revive unconscious patients. Native Americans used Heath aster during their sweat baths by burning flowering plants on the hot rocks to produce an herbal steam.

Listed as endangered in some other states.

Livestock tends to leave heath aster alone.

Differentiating between other asters can be difficult. The main point of difference is the blunt point of the bracts beneath the flower head – other asters are sharply pointed or adpressed to the inflorescence. One plant can produce up to 100 flower heads!

The genus Symphyotrichum translates roughly to “Coming together hair”, possibly referring to the flower anthers. The species, ericoides, means to “heath-like”, pertaining to the needle-like green bracts on the flowering stems, giving this plant a heath-like (heather) appearance.

Can hybridize with New England Asters, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae.

Companion Plants:

Fill your native gardens with late summer bloomers such as: Sweet Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa), Goldenrods (Solidago spp.), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), Sky Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense), and White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra).


Heath aster, white heath aster, white prairie aster, wreath aster symphyotrichum ericoides benchcard

HEATH ASTER BENCHCARD