Short’s Aster, A Wonderful Fall Flower


Short’s Aster is a perennial wildflower native to the Eastern United States. Scientifically known as Symphyotrichum shortii, it grows 1-4′ tall in full shade to partial sun, preferring to grow in medium to dry soil. Blooming 4-6 weeks in late Summer to Fall, the nectar and pollen attract bees and butterflies while other insects feed on leaves.

In this article:

What is Short’s Aster

One of the many members of the Asteraceae family, Short’s Aster is a late-blooming herbaceous perennial flower. Typically found inside or near the edge of a forest, it will generally begin blooming in September and continue into October making for a very showy appearance. This is one of the more showy Asters, although it does have a tendency to lean or flop over in almost any setting due to the weight of so many flowers. [1][2]

First described in 1834, Short’s Aster is a somewhat short-lived perennial. It is clump forming through rhizome roots. It will also slowly colonize an area via self-seeding.

Native Range of Short’s Aster

The native range of Short’s Aster is the Eastern-Central United States forming a triangle from Minnesota/Iowa to Alabama, then back up to Pennsylvania.

Native Range of Short’s Aster, Symphyotrichum shortii. Source [1]

Short’s Aster Reference Table

Scientific NameSymphyotrichum shortii
Common Name(s)Short’s Aster
Native Range, USDA ZoneCentral to Eastern United States, USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8
Bloom TimeLate Summer to Fall
Bloom Duration, Color4-6 weeks, purple / lavender
Height1-4′ (30-120 cm)
Spacing / Spread1-2′ (30-60 cm)
Light RequirementsPartial sun to full shade
Soil TypesSandy loam to loam
MoistureMedium to dry
Fauna Associations / Larval HostsBees, butterflies, hosts Silvery Checkerspot and Pearl Crescent
Source [2][3]

What are the Pros & Cons of Short’s Aster

Pros

Full shade

Short’s Aster is a woodland Aster that can grow well in full shade. This makes it a great addition to wooded lots or homes with a tall canopy.

Dry soil

Naturally found on slopes of forests and along woodland edges, Short’s Aster grows well in dry conditions provided it doesn’t receive too much sunlight.

Beauty

Short’s Aster is absolutely packed with flowerheads, giving this plant a beautiful display in late Summer to Fall. My plants alone had hundreds of flowerheads by their second year.

Wildlife

The numerous flowerheads attract a large number of pollinators in Autumn. Furthermore the nectar provided can help migrating Monarchs on their journey to Mexico in Fall.

In addition to pollinators, Short’s Aster hosts two caterpillars of two butterflies. In a woodland setting turkey and other large game birds will also feed on the seeds.

Cons

Leaning / flopping

Short’s Aster is one of those plants that will flop over just about when it is time to bloom. This is due to the weight of the numerous flowerheads. To prevent this or reduce the likelihood, you should cut it back in mid June by 1/2 it’s height.

Rhizome Spreading

Like some other Asters, Short’s Aster will slowly spread via Rhizomes. To help prevent this you can remove unwanted seedlings in Spring, or plant it within a pot lined with landscape fabric.

Grow and Care for Short’s Aster

Sunlight Requirements

Short’s Aster will grow best in partial sun, which is 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day. It can also tolerate full shade, and grows well on the forest edge.

It is possible to grow it in full sun (I have), but it will likely require supplemental watering. In full sun the lower leaves of Short’s Aster will turn brown and whither.

Soil Requirements

For soil, Short’s Aster grows well in loose forest soils containing organic matter. It can also grow in sandy loam to clay loam, as long as it isn’t too compacted. The soil should be well-drained.

Moisture Requirements

For moisture, Short’s Aster will prefer a medium moist soil. If grown in a partial or full shade environment Short’s Aster can tolerate dry conditions and drought.

Maintenance

The large amount of flowerheads on Short’s Aster will make it more likely to arch or lean over. So, if in a prominent location Short’s Aster should be trimmed via the Chelsea Chop method in June.

Short’s Aster will spread slowly via rhizomes. So, unwanted plants may need to be removed or relocated. To contain the spread, you could always try our method of stopping plants from spreading.

Fertilizer

Short’s Aster will not require any supplemental fertilizer. In fact, it should be avoided as any supplemental nitrogen will make the plant more likely to flop over.

How to Grow Short’s Aster from Seed

Growing Short’s Aster from seed is quite easy. To break dormancy you should give it 30 days cold stratification or Winter Sow the seed.[4] But, like most other Asters there is no planting depth. The stratified or winter-sown seed should simply be pressed into the surface and kept moist. Also, keep pots in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade to help prevent them from drying out.

Short’s Aster seedlings that were Winter Sown.

To direct sow, you simply scatter Short’s Aster seed on disturbed soil, and then walk on it in late Winter or very early Spring.

Identification and Characteristics of Short’s Aster

Stalk

Growing up to 4′ tall, the stalk of Short’s Aster is light green and can be smooth to slightly hairy. There is usually some branching at the upper half of the plant. And it frequently leans over due to the weight of the flowers. [3][5]

Leaf

Leaves of Short’s Aster are alternate and generally ovate to lanceolate in shape, and up to 6″ long by 2″ wide at the base, becoming smaller as they ascend the stem. Leaves have smooth margins and nearly hairless. [3][5]

Flower

Panicles of flower heads occur on the upper portion of the stems. Individual flowers are daisy like in appearance and are about 1″ diameter with 10-20 ray florets (petals) surrounding the central disc florets. The central disc florets begin yellow, changing to red-purple color as they age. [3][5]

Close up of Short’s Aster Bloom. Note that this specimen has 18 ray florets surrounding numerous disc florets.

The blooming period begins in late Summer and lasts for 4-6 weeks, ending in Autumn. About 3 to 6 weeks after blooming, fuzzy seed heads will form where the flowers were.

Once they look fuzzy and dry, you can save seed from Short’s Aster by cutting off the seed heads and storing in a brown paper bag for a week or two to let them further dry. After this time, simply pluck the seeds (with their feathers attached) and store them for 1-2 years in a cool dry place, in a zip-lock bag or envelope.

Root

The root of Short’s Aster is fibrous and will produce clump forming rhizomes, which will spread the plant. [3]

Wildlife, Pests, and Diseases associated with Short’s Aster

Pollinators

Numerous bees are attracted to Short’s Aster in late Summer to Fall. For butterflies, you will primarily see smaller specimens such as the Pearly Crescent and Silvery Checkerspot, whose larvae are also hosted by this plant. But pollinating flies and skippers are also attracted to this plant, as well as moths.

Bumblebee on Short’s Aster

Various leafminers, flies, and moths will also feed on the foliage.

Birds

Large game birds such as Quail, Turkey, and Grouse also feed on the seeds and foliage.

Deer and Rabbits

Deer and rabbits will browse the foliage of Short’s Aster. It is recommended to protect the plants with liquid fence until established.

Disease

Where you can buy Short’s Aster

Short’s Aster is not typically sold in nurseries, as it isn’t a typical ‘garden friendly’ plant. But it can be purchased at specialty nurseries that deal in Native Plants. You can find native plant nurseries near you on our interactive map.

Where to buy seeds

We have ordered a variety of native flower seeds from Everwilde Farms, which you can order right from Amazon through our link on our RECOMMENDED PRODUCTS PAGE. (We may earn a small commission when you purchase through our links, at no cost to you. This helps support our website.)

Uses of Short’s Aster

Garden Uses

For garden uses, Short’s Aster makes a great border perennial along the forest edge or in open woods. It can look nice in more formal flower beds, but it will likely be necessary to do the Chelsea Chop to avoid having the plant lean or flop.

Short’s Aster growing bordering some Northern White Cedar trees at my home.

Companion Plants

Short’s Aster will grow well with many other members of the Aster genus. If you wish to have Asters blooming for a long time, consider pairing it with Aromatic Aster in that they both can thrive in partial shade, but Aromatic Aster will begin blooming towards the end of Short’s Aster blooming period, thereby prolonging beautiful lavender-purple flowers well into Fall.

Some other plants that it can bloom with that can be made to tolerate similar conditions include Showy Goldenrod, Fall Phlox, Heath Aster, and Heart-Leaf Aster.

For companion plants that bloom earlier, try Eastern Red Columbine, Jack-In-The-Pulpit, Virginia Bluebells, and Dutchman’s Breeches.

Medicinal Uses

The Native American Tribe Potawatomi utilized the flowers in an infusion to treat unspecified ailments. Leaves are also reported to be antispasmodic and carminative. [6][7]

Final Thoughts

For a late-blooming woodland flower, Short’s Aster makes a showy appearance. It is much more attractive, prominent, and showier than most shade flowers that can give an area some beautiful purple color at the same time many other people are putting their gardens to bed. If in a more formal location, it will definitely benefit from a late Spring trimming by cutting it back 50%, which should help it to stand upright longer.

The wide variety of insects that feed on the nectar, pollen, and foliage area testament to it’s value to wildlife. As there are generally fewer sources of nectar and pollen in Fall, it can be a great addition to benefit your local environment.

Find more native plants here

References:

[1] – USDA NRCS. Accessed 01OCT2022. https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/home/plantProfile?symbol=SYSH

[2] – Wasowski, Sally. Gardening with native plants of the South. Dallas, Tex. : Taylor Pub. Co. 1994. pp

[3] – Picton, Paul. The Gardener’s Guide To Growing Asters, Newton Abbot [England] : David & Charles ; Portland, Or. : Timber Press, 1999, pp.139

[4] – Corsello, Rachel. Increasing Germination Rates and Population Growth of Native Plant Gardens on College Campuses. Diss. Wittenberg University, 2020.

[5] – Cuthbert, Mabel Jaques. How To Know The Fall Flowers, Dubuque, Iowa : W.C. Brown Co., 1975, pp159

[6] – Short’s Aster, North American Ethnobotany Database. Accessed 01OCT2022. http://naeb.brit.org/uses/species/3877/

[7] – Singh, A. P. (Amrit Pal). Compendium of medical plants of the world, Enfield, NH : Science Publishers, 2006, pp.85

Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over 10 years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! You may have seen some of my videos I create on our YouTube channel, GrowitBuildit (more than 10 million views!). You can find my channel here: https://youtube.com/@growitbuildit Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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