Plant Profile: Climbing Aster

By Craig Huegel

Reprinted from The Understory, Feb.–Mar. 1997
Illustration by Cathy Vogelsong

Note: The scientific name of this plant has been changed to Symphyotrichum carolinianus since this article was published.

Illustration © Cathy Vogelsong Few herbaceous wildflowers bloom as late in the year as the climbing aster, Aster carolinianus, and fewer still do it with such enthusiasm. Climbing aster has a great many characteristics that enhance its value in the home garden, yet I imagine that it is relatively unknown and certainly is under-used.

Asters are one of the largest genera in the largest family of wildflowers—the composites. They also are one of the most complicated to key out and identify. Asters, as a genus, occur nearly everywhere and in nearly every conceivable habitat. Florida is no exception. We have a great variety of Aster species, but very few are available commercially. The one species that is grown by a number of native plant nurseries is climbing aster, and it is unique within the group.

Climbing aster occurs nearly statewide in moist soils. It most frequently is seen at the fringes of freshwater wetlands, in sunny patches. Although it prefers moist soils, it will adapt to normal yard conditions if some care is provided. Water should be provided during long rainless periods and mulches should be used as an added protection against water loss and heat stress.

As its name implies, climbing aster grows more like a vine than an upright plant. At the Pinellas County Extension Office, I have let it grow up and around a clump of saw palmetto. It can be similarly grown using any woody shrub as a support, but it is a vigorous grower and it could overwhelm the more diminutive shrubs. Take this into consideration. In most yards, climbing aster is probably used best along a fence. Here it can find the support it needs to show itself off and it will serve you best by hiding an otherwise drab structure.

Climbing aster "climbs" without the tendrils or other structures that one normally associates with vines. As such, it is not too aggressive. It also is deciduous, but it stays green well into early winter and remains leafless for only a few weeks. It prefers a mostly sunny location and will not bloom well if given too much shade.

What sets climbing aster above all other Florida asters and most other wildflowers is its blooms. From late November through mid-December, climbing aster is awash with light lavender flowers. Each bloom measures nearly one inch across, including the yellow center, and each is deliciously fragrant. These traits endear it to butterflies and a vast host of other pollinating insects. The timing of its flowering enhances its attractiveness, as little else is available, and makes it a center of attention.

Climbing aster is available from several central Florida native nurseries. It also can be grown easily from seed collected in the winter, or from cuttings taken spring through summer.

Published on  06.01.2013