Host plant for caterpillar species
In early fall, heart-leaved aster’s mounding, pale blue blossoms transform the shade garden into a dreamscape. Many animals inhabit this ethereal realm, from buzzing bumble bees to fast-flying pearl crescent butterflies. The latter are stunning creatures, their black and amber wings possessing a warm glow, like the light of a campfire. In the caterpillar stage, pearl crescents consume the foliage of heart-leaved aster and other closely related plants. As adults, they probe the centers of the aster flowerheads for nectar while perching on the petal-like rays. The configuration of the aster flowerhead is perfectly suited for butterflies to obtain nectar with minimal work, and the pearl crescent is just one of many who do so. Bees provisioning their nests for winter also depend on asters, and one group, the fall mining bees, includes species whose larvae require aster pollen. Due to the special importance that asters have for so many organisms, they have been named “keystone plants,” and it is recommended that all gardens have at least one aster. Heart leaved aster is a great one to start with.
Heart-leaved aster is a native component of NE Ohio natural areas such as forests and forest edges, as well as disturbed sites, such as vacant lots. The plant prefers to grow in soils of moderate to moderately dry moisture, and under partial shade, though it can tolerate full shade as well as full sun. In the garden, heart-leaved aster may re-seed heavily, so removing old flowerheads prior to seed dispersal (aka deadheading) may be desirable. Heart-leaved aster can grow up to 4’ tall, and taller plants may lean or flop. To prevent this, the plant may be cut back to a more desirable height (aka “pinched”) by mid-July, which will also encourage more branching and a shrubbier form. An outstanding aesthetic and wildlife plant for shady spaces, heart-leaved aster pairs well with white snakeroot and zigzag goldenrod.
Photo by Thomas Quine.