Its showy fall flowers couldn’t come at a better time.

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After last week’s post about sumac totally destroyed the notion that I diss native plants, Grumpy is doubling down. I hereby heap highest praise upon a native perennial called blue wood aster (Symphyotrichon cordifolius). This delightful plant has been blooming in my woodland garden for weeks, providing spiritual joy to me and nectar to passing butterflies and bees.

Blue Wood Aster
Credit: Steve Bender

I first encountered blue wood aster while on a hike one autumn in Oak Mountain State Park, the largest state park in Alabama. Pretty blue flowers peaked out along the shady trail. They intrigued me because few plants bloom in shade and certainly not ones with blue flowers. I wanted to take one home, but that would be illegal and I’m a law-and-order Grump.

After a thorough internet search, I managed to ID the plant, even though the plant-naming dopes had recently changed its genus name from Aster (which makes perfect sense) to Symphyotrichon (which makes none at all). That allowed to find a mail-order source, Mail Order Natives, in Lee, Florida. I placed an order for six plants and was very pleased with the size and quality when they arrived.

My plan was to line them along a lightly shaded path, so that in fall, color in the trees would be matched by color near the ground. What an ingenious idea that proved to be! The plants now stand 24 to 30 inches tall with multiple sprays of about 30 blooms each. Nickel-sized, light blue blossoms sport yellow centers that turn reddish-purple. Blooming stems form graceful arches, ideal shapes for an informal, natural area.

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From my experience, blue wood aster needs no special care. No bugs or animals eat it and it doesn’t get mildew. It tolerates heat and drought and needs no fertilizer. Though it thrives in light shade, it does fine in sun too. I would, however, recommend planting in loose, well-drained soil that contains plenty of organic matter. Grow it in Zones 3 to 8B.

I was on the verge of ordering more blue wood asters, but alas! Emily, the nice owner of Mail Order Natives, is going on maternity leave. She will resume shipping next March, so you and I will have to be patient. In the meantime, she has already picked out the baby’s name. Symphotrichon.