Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Michaelmas Daisy

In the last week or two,
tiny purple asters have appeared in the grass along sidewalks and lanes.
They are a cheery sprinkling of color 
in a landscape fast losing its autumn hues.

Asters are one of the few flowers native to North America,
having been exported to England following the establishment 
of the Virginia Company at Jamestown Colony in the 17th century.
In England, an earlier Italian variety 
 was sometimes referred to as 'blew or purple marigold or Italian aster' 
(Gardener's Dictionary, cited in Coats).

Photo of asters courtesy of

According to Alice M. Coats in Flowers and their Histories,
 my favorite source for information about old flower varieties,
the aster is sometimes referred to as the Michaelmas daisy
because it blooms around Old Michaelmas,
the October 11th feast day of St. Michael and the other archangels, 
and continues blooming into early winter.
I don't think they bloom that early here in the Shire, 
nor do the ones we have continue to bloom into the Christmas season 
as some aster varieties do.
But it would be nice to see aster flowers through winter,
especially since they seem to have popped up everywhere.

In fact, the aster sows itself freely, a habit that prompted the American botanist
Asa Grey to lament "never was there so rascally a genus" (Coats 32).
On the other hand, Coats tells us the Gardener's Dictionary 
praised the aster's persistent and hardy blooms: 
''the cattle seldom browse upon them; 
so that they remain in the pastures after the grass is eaten bare, 
and making a fine appearance when they are full of flowers,
might well engage a poet's attention."

When summer flowers lie spent,
and autumn chrysanthemums begin to fade,
it's nice to know asters are just arriving to engage our attention.

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