White Wood Aster - A Shade-Tolerant Wildflower Native to Eastern North America

by cazort

The white wood aster is among the most shade tolerant of fall-blooming wildflowers native to Eastern North America. It is a versatile and robust plant, easy to cultivate.

The white wood aster, scientific name Eurybia divaricata (formerly Aster divaricatus) is a fall-blooming wildflower native to Eastern North America, which is among the most shade tolerant of all fall-blooming wildflowers.

It is also one of my favorite landscaping plants in its native range, versatile and adaptable to a wide range of shady conditions.

This plant is easy to cultivate and propagate. Read on to find out how to propagate this plant, and how to use this plant in your garden.

White Wood Aster in Bloom in Shade
White Wood Aster in Bloom in Shade
White Wood Aster - Spring Foliage
White Wood Aster - Spring Foliage

Cultivation and Growing Requirements

The white wood aster is not terribly picky about its growing conditions, but it has a strong preference for some shade, and for drier conditions.  It can tolerate full shade, even quite deep shade.  It is one of the few fall-blooming plants that will grow and even flower at the base of trees in a forested area.

In terms of moisture and soil type, the white wood aster can handle average to dry conditions.  It will do fine in wet weather only if the soil it is planted in is well-drained.

This plant is not picky about soil, so long as it is well-drained.  It can tolerate gravel, well-drained clay, and grows equally well in soils rich and poor in organic matter.

There are two things that this plant generally cannot handle, however: full sun and soggy soil.  While it can take several hours of direct sun, it does not like full sun in exposed locations.

White Wood Aster in Groundcover-like Habit, Erie County, PA
White Wood Aster in Groundcover-like Habit, Erie County, PA
Photo by Alex Zorach

Uses in a Garden - Groundcover, Border Plant, Shade Wildflower

White wood aster makes an outstanding and attractive groundcover in shady areas.  The leaves have a distinctive and attractive shape.  Its shade-tolerance and the dense nature of its foliage allows it to hold its own against a number of weeds and other groundcovers.  It can even sometimes out-compete aggressive plants like English Ivy.

Another great use of this plant is in borders, especially rocky ones on shaded slopes.

You can also grow this plant, however, intermixed with other plants, adding variety and diversity to both foliage shape, and fall bloom color.  When grown among other plants, it is more likely to grow with an upright habit.

White Wood Aster in its Native Habitat

The foliage is very attractive even when the plant is not in bloom. Learn to identify the plant by its leaves, so you can spot seedlings and spare them from weeding.
White Wood Aster, Little Mountain, PA
White Wood Aster, Little Mountain, PA
Photo by Alex Zorach
Side View of White Wood Aster, Little Mountain, PA
Side View of White Wood Aster, Little...
Photo by Alex Zorach

Propagation - Easy to Grow From Seed or Division

I have had good luck propagating this plant by division,

Vegetative: The white wood aster tends to grow somewhat colonially, spreading slowly by underground rhizomes.  Less commonly, it will spread by layering, with the stems rooting from nodes.  You can reproduce this plant both by division or by layering.

For division, isolate a stem or group of stems that is growing from a clump of these flowers, and dig them up, separating them from the root system and transplanting them to a new area.  The disruption of the root system may cause some of the leaves to wilt, but my experience is that these plants usually transplant easily, and after a month or so, they will be growing again.

For layering, bend a stem to the ground and cover it in soil or leaf litter, then return later when the buried part of the stem has grown roots, and separate it from the original plant.  Again, cutting the source stem may cause the leaves to wilt, but the plant will soon recover.

Shelter new plants that you have transplanted, divided, or layered, making sure they get ample water and are not exposed to too much direct sunlight.

From Seed: This plant is relatively easy to grow from seed; however, you may need a lot of seed in order to get good germination.  Because seed production is small though, I recommend being cautious about gathering seed from wild populations. Only gather from the wild in areas where this species is abundant.

If you don't want to bother growing the plants yourself, you can look for seedlings, which are often common around the parent plants.  But if you want to grow the plants yourself from seed, gather them in late fall or early winter, once they are mature but before they blow away in the wind.  Sow seeds in fall and many will germinate in spring.  If conditions are right and you use a lot of seed, you may even get some germination by merely scattering the seed, but keep in mind the seeds are loved by wildlife so many will get eaten if you scatter them.

Watch carefully for the tiny seedlings.  In shade, seedlings will grow slowly and may only reach a couple inches in height by the end of the first year.

A similar plant, preferring slightly sunnier conditions, but still flowering well in shade.
The blue wood aster, Symphyotrichum cordifolium, a wildflower native to eastern North America: growing info and uses for this plant in gardening and landscaping.
A comprehensive article on shade-tolerant asters, comparing this species to others.
Shade tolerant asters, which grow, thrive, and bloom in part shade to full shade, in Eastern North America.
Updated: 04/29/2015, cazort
 
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cazort on 08/09/2014

Thanks!

I'd be cautious of growing plants like this in the UK, especially a robust plant like this with wind-dispersed seeds. Here, our ecosystems are being devastated by a lot of plants introduced from Europe and Asia, and I'd be worried that plants like this could cause the same sorts of problems there.

The problem is that plant in a given area co-evolve with insects. So like, here, these plants are good for the ecosystem because they support lots of native insects that eat them, which in turn support birds and other wildlife. The introduced species are often eaten by far fewer local insects, which gives them an advantage over the native plants--they thus grow more vigorously and out-compete them, and the food web falls apart because there are so many fewer insects.

I see this a lot where I live...there are areas where forests are overtaken by huge thickets of Japanese knotweed, Japanese stiltgrass, or meadows overtaken by canada thistle (introduced from Europe, in spite of the name), or areas where the main trees are Norway Maple or Ailanthus altissima. These areas, while lush and green, are like ecological dead-zones, with much lower insect biodiversity, poorer habitat for native birds too.

LizMac67 on 08/08/2014

Great to see your American flowers. In the 1700's a John Tradescant brought many wild flowers from America back to the U.K.

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