Of asters, bees and birds

Asters are reliable fall flowers. They bloom year after year from mid September until late October without requiring much care. Cutting them down once in early June delays the flowers a little bit and they show up when the summer flowers begin to fade.

Aster display in 2014 (Foto Hubert Steed)

Now, most asters are gone, but a few weeks ago, they were in full bloom. We mostly grow the non-double-flowered kind that produces nectar and pollen in the yellow middle of each flower. Both are eagerly collected or sipped by bees and butterflies.

Aster flower with honey bee (left) and wild bee (right).

Monarchs love asters, too. (Foto Hubers Steed)

These insect visits guarantee that the flowers are pollinated and produce seeds. The seeds germinate readily in the following spring. This is one reason we have Asters in colors from light pink to dark purple. They are a genetic mix of the flowers from the previous year. Each new plant is a surprise.

This year, I contemplated cutting the faded aster flowers off. This way, I would not have to weed out as many aster seedlings next year. After all, I need to keep some space for other plants as well. But then I noticed that now, after nectar and pollen are spent and bees and butterflies are gone, the flowers are visited by other animals: Our resident house sparrows are harvesting the seeds of my aster plants. Since this food has to be much better for them than bread and cookie crumbs from the trash can, I put my shears away. If the sparrows eat the seeds, I don’t have to worry too much about weeding next year either.

Female house sparrows, perched on my border fence, nibble on aster seeds.

A handsome male is watching in the distance.