COLUMN: Fall 'power' flowers

Michele Olson
Jones County Naturalist

     I’ve had several people ask me what to plant to help migrating monarch butterflies and our fall pollinators.

     September and October typically bring cooler temperatures and shorter daylight. Planting native fall “power” flowers is the best way to help attract monarchs, fall pollinators, and migrating hummingbirds to your area and provide them with vital nutrients and energy.

     Some of the best fall “power” flowers are native asters. These beautiful fall flowering superstars are not only beautiful, have multiple blooms, and flower for a long period of time, they also contain large amounts of nectar required and preferred by migrating monarchs and fall pollinators.

     Asters are usually one of the last flowering plants available to a great diversity of late season pollinators and migrating monarchs. There are many species of these daisy-like flowers, ranging in color from white, light pink, blue, and purple to almost all colors in-between. They brighten up a fall flower garden while providing needed nutrients and energy for fall insects.

     Derived from the Greek word for star, asters have a complex floral structure. Belonging to the daisy family, they have a central disk with numerous tiny florets and rays giving the appearance of a single flower. In fact, each of these disks we call an aster flower might contain up to 300 tubular florets.

     New England asters are one of the showiest local native asters, growing from two to four feet tall. Preferring full sun, they do best in open areas or in edge habitat. Their vibrant deep pink purple flowers bloom over a 2-3 week period and are a favorite of many fall pollinators. Their growth resembles a small bush, and if pruned back in July, will stay lower and less likely to flop over.

     Another purple to pink native aster in Eastern Iowa is the silky aster. These smaller shorter asters prefer dryer sandier soil. Their leaves, with plentiful hairs covering the undersides, have the appearance of a silvery sheen. Aromatic asters look similar but lack the silvery sheen of dense hairs and when the leaves are crushed give off a pleasant aromatic scent.

     There are many species of blue asters, including several with heart shaped leaves such as the blue wood aster and Drummond’s aster. Many have lance-shaped leaves, including smooth blue aster, sky blue aster, and the purple stemmed aster. The crooked aster has unique crooked shaped leaves aiding in plant identification.

     White is another common color in fall asters and lends beautifully to garden borders and flower beds. The most common native white aster is often the panicled aster. Other white aster species include heath asters, awl asters, northern bog aster, Ontario aster, and the calico aster.

     A wonderful website to visit for more information on identifying asters in your neighborhood or learning more about your native wildflowers is Minnesota Wildflower website at This website includes detailed information on each species including preferred soil, habitat type, appearance, and range maps.

     Fall and spring are perfect times to add asters to your neighborhood. When planning next year’s flower gardens, add asters to your list of must haves!   




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