With autumn’s arrival, Aster and Goldenrod have taken the stage to not only dazzle with pretty flowers, but also offer rich nectar sources for pollinators. These staples of gardens and natural areas are an important late-season stop for bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, and more. You may have noticed the bright golden flowers of Goldenrods in fields and roadsides. Asters’ small daisy-like blooms come in white, blue, lavender, purple and sometimes pink. They pair beautifully together and with the rich fall color of native grasses.
Many people confuse Goldenrod with Ragweed, but Goldenrod is insect pollinated, so their pollen is heavy and falls to the earth. Ragweed is wind pollinated, so its pollen is light, fluffy, and floats in the breeze, much to allergy sufferers distress. The brilliant yellow flowers of Goldenrod offer a striking late-season show and are a larval host for several moths. There are many species native to our area and you can find them mostly in sunny prairie conditions. However, there are a few Goldenrod that light up in the shade.
Blue Stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia)
A short, elegant goldenrod for part shade situations, Blue Stemmed Goldenrod forms groups of single stems topped by a cluster of bright yellow blossoms. Blooming into October, it does best in average soils and is named for the gray to bluish cast on its stems.
ZigZag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis)
A Goldenrod found in part to full shade, ZigZag Goldenrod thrives in nearly any soil and reaches about three feet high. Its flowers tend to zigzag between the dark green toothed leaves. Its clusters of yellow florets bloom August through October.
Elm-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago ulmifolia)
Wide-spreading panicles of yellow florets appear beginning in July and bloom into October on this Goldenrod. Found in part to full shade, Elm-leaved Goldenrod reaches about three feet in height and does well in average soils.
Asters bloom for months and charm us with their abundant flowers. They are beautiful season extenders in a perennial garden or natural area. Tough and pretty, Asters are host species for numerous moths. There is a broad array of Aster species native to Illinois and you’ll find one suitable for every site.
Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides)
Heath Aster can be found in sun to part shade in average to dry soils. It explodes into clouds of tiny white flowers all along its stems in August and blooms well into October. Heath Aster has needle-like foliage and a bushy to sprawling habit.
New England Aster (Symphyotrichum nova-angliae)
Large purple daisy flowers with yellow centers cover New England Aster in late summer. A robust, bushy aster, it can reach around five feet high. New England Aster may also sport lavender or light pink blossoms. It’s commonly found in sun to part shade and tolerates a wide range of soils.
Short’s Aster (Symphyotrichum shortii)
An aster for part to full shade, Short’s Aster thrives in average to dry soils with good drainage. This makes it a good choice for dry shade situations under trees. It features large light blue or purple flowers that bloom August through October.