Today’s post comes to us from Discovery Program Specialist Dave Sproule.
In mid-August, Ontario’s landscape begins to change color. A little gold here, swathes of white there, and even a touch of purple in some places. No, autumn has not yet arrived, although the occasional maple tree may think it has. It is actually the “second bloom of summer” and lasts well into fall.
While many of the flowering plants in the landscape have abandoned this season, asters and goldenrods are just getting started.
Since they begin to bloom in mid-August and continue until fall, when few plants bloom, asters are an important food source for many animals:
These asters decorate a portage trail in Kawartha Highlands Provincial Park
- Monarch butterflies need fuel for their long migration to Mexico
- Bumblebees and solitary bees remain active until autumn and need food until they hibernate.
- Migratory and resident birds take advantage of aster seeds.
- small rodents like voles store the seeds for the long, cold winter
Asters grow in a variety of habitats, from dry roadsides to dark, moist forests and wetland edges. Asters and goldenrods are part of the sunflower family and are also known as “Composition.” Its flowers look like a single inconspicuous flower, but are actually made up of dozens of small flowers grouped into a single head.
Goldenrod seed head. Look at all the little seeds and their tiny “parachutes”
This strategy of having many flowers together may make it easier for pollinators such as bumblebees and butterflies to pollinate aster flowers. The numerous single-headed seeds are carried by the wind on their tiny feather umbrellas. The strategy is successful and makes their family the most diverse on the planet.
Looking for asters in Ontario parks?
Large-leaved asters They grow in the shady forest and have large leaves to gather extra light in the darker habitat. They only bloom when there is more light, so when trees fall in the forest and create gaps, asters take advantage and bloom. Without that light, they spread underground by taking root.
Flat top Asters are common white flowers and are the only food source for the Harris’s Checkerspot butterfly caterpillar, a pretty orange, white and black butterfly. There are several species of butterflies that feed on a single species of aster.
swamp aster It is a small plant with purple flowers that tends to grow in moist, acidic sphagnum bogs. It’s not seen often, so you’ll have to keep your eyes open for one.
You can find the New England Aster in Sturgeon Bay Provincial Park.
New England Aster It is a very common aster in Ontario, despite the name. It has a pretty purple flower with many petals, making it a popular garden plant as well as a native aster.
canada goldenrod is one of several native species of goldenrod in Ontario, but they tend to look very similar to the casual observer. Goldenrods are an important source of nectar for insects, partly because they have many flowers and partly because they are abundant in the landscape.
Canadian goldenrod is a cheerful companion for hikers in many provincial parks, including Restoule Provincial Park and Killbear Provincial Park.
Grouse, porcupines, marmots, voles and deer occasionally feed on goldenrod.
Ready for an aster adventure?
Asters make it feel like summer all fall long.
You can find its colorful petals in many Ontario parks, including: