I wander through a universe of flowers.
Asters, that is. The stars of the October prairie.
Literally. The name, aster, from the Latin and the Greek, means “star.” It’s an apt reference to the constellations of flowers clustered across the tallgrass; too many to count.
But the name “aster” is deceptively simple these days. Scientists changed the classifications and names of many of the asters. Restorationists and prairie lovers still struggle to ID them, and give them their proper names.
Some call the reclassification “the aster disaster.” Take the New England aster, as one example, which once had the friendly scientific moniker, Aster novae-angliae.
New name? Symphyotrichum novae-angliae. So many syllables! It’s enough to make you swear off asters for good. These unwieldy names are the “fault in our stars” — the last straw for many of us in our desire to learn to ID a few fall prairie plants.
And yet. We plow through an impossible black hole of endlessly difficult aster names in pursuit of knowing the seemingly unknowable. The starfields of deep purples, blues, and whites of the asters draw us in. They woo us. They dazzle us. Delight us.
They are the perfect foil for the goldenrods, which sun-shower the prairie with brightness.
And so. Every October, I stroll through this temporary universe, field guide in hand, trying to decipher a smooth blue aster from a sky blue aster. A panicled aster from a side-flowering aster. Hairy aster? Or? I attempt to pronounce those unpronounceable scientific names their proud parents, the botanists, dubbed them with. And find it all worthwhile, no matter how frustrating it becomes.
Because a stroll through a grassland galaxy, twinkling with asters, is one of the joys of October. As I walk, I wish upon a star or two. An aster. Who knows what might happen?
All aster photos above are from the Schulenberg Prairie at The Morton Arboretum by Cindy Crosby.