Meet-Up at a Native Meadow

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Buckeye butterfly, Junonis coenia, on a late-blooming aster

One more time, I think to myself, one last walk to see some blooming flowers before the year stretches inevitably to its conclusion and color vanishes from the fields until spring. It is late in November, but I know where some asters, a group well-known for their persistence, are likely to still be in flower.

The Andre Bluemel Meadow is on land once owned and farmed by George Washington, who gave it the name ‘River Farm.’ It’s just up the Potomac from Mt. Vernon. The American Horticultural Society owns it now, and uses it as their headquarters. In 2004, four acres around the farmhouse there was transformed  from a thirsty, fertilizer-craving lawn needing constant mowing into a sustainable, wildlife-friendly meadow consisting of native plants.

Fortunately, the meadow was indeed sporting asters, pale blue drifts amid a brown tapestry of grasses crowned with graceful seedheads.  And I was not the only one who had come seeking them out! A veritable party of late pollinators had convened in this hospitable spot featuring the native plants that would nurture them.

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The buckeye butterfly, Junonis coenia was present in large numbers. This butterfly has an interesting set of defenses. They use host plants  containing compounds known as iridoid glycosides that protect the caterpillars, but then are metabolized during the pupal stage and are gone by the time the adult emerges. The adult, instead of a chemical defense, must depend on its eye spots to fool predators into thinking it is actually something big and scary.

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A number of bees and wasps were pushing one another aside for space on preferred blossoms. A solitary skipper butterfly by some miracle held still long enough for a photo.

I leave the meadow as refreshed and revitalized as the busy pollinators. Driving home past knock-out roses and pampas grass, I was so glad the natives were there for us all!

© 2012 – 2013, Suzanne Dingwell. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. […] Previous posts have shown some of the great visitors you can find on our asters. But previous posts have also talked about some of the problems that gardeners have with asters in the garden. Mainly, that they tend to be large and gangly and take up more than their fair share in the garden.  They also tend to have what I endearingly call ‘aster ankles’ – and benefit from a shorter plant in front of them to hide their less than picturesque brown stems.  Most of the asters that gardeners are familiar with have these problems – such as New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) and New York Aster (Symphyotrichum novi-belgii).  These are two of the more commonly found native asters for sale.  New England Aster gets so tall that it often is guilty of ‘leaning’ as Ursula Vernon so aptly described in an earlier post.  And New York Aster puts out so many runners and spreads so fast that I started weeding it out of my garden thinking it was goldenrod before I realized that I was actually weeding out the very plant I had planted the year before!  Now don’t get me wrong – these are both great plants when in the right place – but they can be frustrating for gardeners with smaller spaces.  They do best in large perennial borders where they have plenty of room.  So I understand that they don’t exactly fill the same landscaping niche as mums do.  But so what is everyone supposed to do?  Just give in and buy mums every year? […]

  2. […] Aster (Aster), support 112 species. This is a huge family, with species that thrive in prairie, meadow, pasture, roadside, and woodland environments. There are both spring and fall blooming species which means that you should choose a wide variety of species. Try to avoid the cultivars and opt instead for true native species. The asters provide abundant pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies and are a wonderful choice for any wildlife garden. […]

  3. […] Aster (Aster), support 112 species. This is a huge family, with species that thrive in prairie, meadow, pasture, roadside, and woodland environments. There are both spring and fall blooming species which means that you should choose a wide variety of species. Try to avoid the cultivars and opt instead for true native species. The asters provide abundant pollen and nectar for bees and butterflies and are a wonderful choice for any wildlife garden. […]

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