Heath Aster – Weekly Weeder #36
Today’s featured plant is Heath Aster, Aster ericoides.
Heath aster is also known as White Aster, Awl-aster, Subulate-bracted Aster, Hairy Aster, Soft Aster, Squarrose White Aster, White Prairie Aster, Heath White Aster, Many-flowered Aster, and Tufted White Prairie Aster.
DePauw.edu shares, “Heath aster is also known as farewell-to-summer and goodbye-meadow, first because it ushers in the fall and second because it tends to take over a field.” Given how it has spread in our wild prairie area, I would believe this.
Range and Identification of Heath Aster
White heath aster is native to the United States. It occurs from Maine to southern Saskatchewan, south to Virginia, Texas, northern Mexico and southeast Arizona. (see map). It's a prairie plan, preferring full sun and dry conditions. This year with the drought, ours has really taken off. It can be found in many of the usual “weed” areas – roadsides, meadows, along railroad tracks, in gravel pits and quarries. It copes will with both established prairies and disturbed areas. Here's a nice area in our yard where you can see health aster, New England aster , milkweed and goldenrod.
Heath aster plants grow from 1-3 feet tall. Leaves are attached in an alternating pattern up the stem, 3″ long and ¼” across toward the base of the plant, becoming less than 1″ long and 1/8″ across near the flowering stems. The plant is a perennial. (See Illinois Wildflowers) Lower leaves die off as the plant matures, and the stems turn from green to brown. The plant is just a little bit fuzzy, not outright hairy. If you look in detail at any of the photos with leaves, you can see this a little better. The roots are rhizomes, so they tend to spread in clumps, but the seeds are also carried on the wind.
Heath aster blooms from August until hard frost, which is great because they provide nectar when many other plants have already finished blooming. Our meadows are humming. A single plant can produce over 100 flowers, which are clustered near the top of the plant. They have a compound flower, like the ox-eye daisy, made up of tiny florets, and measuring under 1/2 inch across (you can use my hand for a rough scale). There are 8-20 rays (petals) surrounding a center disk that turns from yellow to brown as the flower matures.
Once the flowers have faded, the seed heads get tufts of white hairs, which allow them to be spread on the wind (as mentioned above).
Heath Aster as Animal Habitat
The abundant flowers of health aster are attractive to many species of butterflies, bees and other pollinators, even though they don't have much of a scent. Illinois Wildflowers lists the faunal associations of heath aster:
A wide variety of insects are attracted to the flowers, including long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, wasps, flies, butterflies, skippers, moths, beetles, and plant bugs. Bee visitors include honeybees, bumblebees, cuckoo bees, little carpenter bees, leaf-cutting bees, Halictid bees, plasterer bees, and Andrenid bees. Wasp visitors include thread-waisted wasps, bee wolves, spider wasps, sand wasps, paper wasps, Ichneumonid wasps, and Braconid wasps.
Among the flies, are such visitors as bee flies, Syrphid flies, thick-headed flies, Tachinid flies, Muscid flies, and others. Various insects suck juices from the plant, including aphids, lace bugs, and plant bugs. The caterpillars of the butterfly Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot) feed on the foliage or flowers, as does the caterpillars of many moth species (see Moth Table). Wild Turkeys nibble on the seeds and foliage to a limited extent. Mammalian herbivores, including the White-Tailed Deer, Cottontail Rabbit, and various kinds of livestock, also feed on the tender growth of young plants occasionally, but are less likely to bother mature plants later in the year.
Medicinal Uses of Heath Aster
The University of Montana – Missoula states: “The Navajo used this aster to make teas and lotions used for curing snake bites. Other groups used these asters in steam lodges, laying branches on the hot rocks to create herbal steam.”
GardenGuides.com states: “Native Americans used white heath aster in sweat baths. Flowering plants served as binding to the structure of the sweat lodge and were added to hot rocks to produce herbal steam. White heath aster was also used medicinally to revive unconscious patients.”
No dosage recommendations were readily available.
As always, any medical information is for informational purposes only. Always exercise caution when using any wild plants and make sure you have positively identified the plant.
Please Like, Pin or otherwise share this post if you would like the Weekly Weeder series to continue.
I have a question, this looks like flea bane, could you clarify this for me. I think I see a difference but it would be cool for you to describe any difference. Thanks much.
Which kind of fleabane? There is Daisy Fleabane, which I think looks most similar, and Annual Fleabane. (There probably other fleabanes, too – this ID stuff can be tricky!)
Daisy fleabane has a tap root instead of rhizomes, and more white ray flowers (petals). It also has a scent. You can see photos and get more info at Illinois Wildflowers – http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/prairie/plantx/ds_fleabanex.htm
Annual fleabane has hairs on the stem, and tends to be a bit taller. It, too, has more white ray flowers (petals) and may have a scent. The leaves appear larger towards the top of the plant, not delicate like the Heath Aster.
Just what I was searching for, appreciate it for posting.
Why does my dog like to eat my asters?
Dogs eat plants for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, they just want some roughage (they are omnivores). There may also be a missing nutrient in the dog’s diet. Other times dogs eat plants (usually grass) to stimulate vomiting. Animals sometimes self-medicate,too, seeking out specific plants/herbs/dirt for different conditions.
My dogs ha e been eating the tender new leaves on the purple tall asters for over 30 yrs they keep them paracite free let them forage on own for they no how to micro dose self.
Red Road Creations
Barring a dog with an eating disorder (which unfortunately does happen), I agree that most animals will safely self-medicate. We’ve seen it with our cats and chickens, too, and bees will do it as well.
Can I add heath aster to bundles of sage for smudging?
I haven’t seen this suggested, but I don’t see a problem with it, given its historical uses.
Glad I found this site. Is it worth putting heath asters in my garden?
If you enjoy them, there’s no harm in doing so.
Are there any tea blends you suggest using with white heath aster?
I’m not aware of any commercial tea blends that use this plant.
Can you dry to use in teas??
Yes. The flowers become fluffy as they dry, but are still usable.
Are the leaves and stems prickly? I was thinking of this for a ground cover in a small contained portion of the lawn to replace grass but don’t want something that will be prickly on my dog’s paws.
It’s not prickly, but the plants are pretty tall, around 1-3 feet, so it wouldn’t make a good groundcover. You can see in the one photo where we’ve mowed a walking path through the health aster patch.
I have been looking for a good close-up photo of White Heath Aster to add to a fact sheet that I am creating on this plant for our native seed and native plant giveaways in Colorado. May I use one of your excellent photos? Thank you for considering!
Yes, you may use photos with a credit to the source location.