Gateway to the Classics: Wild-Flower Study by Anna Botsford Comstock
Wild-Flower Study by  Anna Botsford Comstock

The Asters

Teacher's Story

dropcap image ET us believe that the scientist who gave to the asters their Latin name was inspired. Aster means star  and these, of all flowers, are most starlike; and in beautiful constellations they border our fields and woodsides. The aster combination of colors is often exquisite. Many have the rays or banners lavender, oar-shaped and set like the rays of a star around the yellow disk-flowers; these latter send out long, yellow anther tubes, overflowing with yellow pollen, and add to the stellar appearance of the flower-head.

"And asters by the brookside make asters in the brook."

Thus sang H. H. of these beautiful masses of autumn flowers. But if H. H. had attempted to distinguish the species, she would have said rather that asters by the brookside make more asters in the book; for Gray's Manual assures us that we have 77 species including widely different forms, varying in size, color and also as to the environment in which they will grow. They range from the shiftless woodland species, which has a few whitish ray-flowers hanging shabbily about its yellow disk and with great, coarse leaves on long, gawky petioles climbing the zigzag stem, to the beautiful and dignified New England aster, which brings the glorious purple and orange of its great flower-heads to decorate our hills in September and October.


1. an aster flower-head enlarged;

2. a disk-flower;

3. a banner-flower.

Luckily, there are a few species which are fairly well marked, and still more luckily, it is not of any consequence whether we know the species or not, so far as our enjoyment of the flowers themselves is concerned. The outline of this lesson will call the attention of the pupils to the chief points of difference and likeness in the aster species, and they will thus learn to discriminate in a general way. The asters, like the goldenrods, begin to bloom at the tip of the branches, the flower-heads nearest the central stem, blooming last. All of the asters are very sensitive, and the flower-heads will close promptly as soon as they are gathered. The ray or banner-flowers are pistillate, and therefore develop seed. The seed has attached to its rim a ring of pappus, and is ballooned to its final destination. In November, the matured flower-heads are fuzzy, with seeds ready for invitations from any passing wind to fly whither it listeth.




The Asters

Leading thought—There are very many different kinds of asters, and they all have their flowers arranged similarly to those of the sunflower.

Method—Have the pupils collect as many kinds of asters as possible, being careful to get the basal leaves and to take notes on where each kind was found—that is, whether in the woodlands, by the brooksides or in the open fields. This lesson should follow that on the sunflower.


1. What was the character of the soil and surroundings where this aster grew? Were there large numbers of this kind growing together? Were the flowers wide open when you gathered them? How soon did they close?

2. How high did the plants stand when growing? Were there many flowers, or few, on each plant?

3. Study the lower and the upper leaves. Describe each as follows: the shape, the size, the edges, the way it was joined to the stem.

4. Is the stem many-branched or few? Do the branches bearing flowers extend in all directions? Are the stems hairy or smooth, and what is their color?

5. What is the diameter of the single flower-head? What is the color of the ray-flowers? How many ray or banner-flowers are there? What is the shape of a single banner as compared with that of a sunflower? What are the colors of the disk-flowers? Of the pollen? Do the disk-flowers change color after blossoming?

6. Look at the bracts below the flower-head. Are they all the same shape? What is their color? Do they have recurved tips or do they overlap closely? Are they sticky?

7. Take the aster flower-head apart and look at it with a lens. In a disk-flower, note the young seed, the pappus, the tubular five-parted corolla, the anther tube and the stigmas. In the ray-flower, find the young seed, the pappus and the stigma.

8. Watch the bees working on asters, and find where they thrust their tongues to reach the nectar.

9. Study an aster plant in November, and describe the seeds and how they are scattered.

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